There's a storm brewing at Orgon's house. According to his mother, Madame Pernelle, Orgon's family has become decadent and depraved. They're unable to see the greatness of Tartuffe, a beggar and holy man Orgon recently took in. According to the rest of Orgon's family, Orgon has been "taken in." They think Tartuffe is a hypocritical, self-righteous con artist. When Orgon returns from the country, we find that he's become obsessed with Tartuffe; he would rather hear about him than about his sick wife. Orgon is offended when his brother-in-law, Cléante, tells him he's been acting like an idiot. When Orgon attempts to explain why Tartuffe is such a great and admirable man, Cléante sees right through his brother-in-law's unsound reasoning. Cléante asks Orgon about the rumored postponement of Mariane's (Orgon's daughter) wedding. Orgon confirms that it has indeed been postponed, but he will say nothing further. Cléante is rightfully concerned.
Orgon calls Mariane in for a chat. He wants to know how she feels about Tartuffe. When she acts surprised, he tells her how she's supposed to feel: she respects him, is fond of him, and will marry him. Mariane is speechless, but luckily Dorine, a saucy servant, isn't. She comes in and asks Orgon if Mariane is really going to marry Tartuffe. When her boss confirms this, she makes fun of him, calling the idea ridiculous. Dorine proceeds to annoy Orgon, preventing him from talking further with Mariane.
Once Orgon leaves, an irritated Dorine tells Mariane that she can't believe how weak she acts in front of her father. Although she is hard on Mariane, Dorine eventually relents and agrees to help the girl. Valère, Mariane's fiancé, enters. He's heard the bad news about their wedding plans. Soon enough he and Mariane are arguing over nothing in particular. Dorine gets them to kiss and make up. The clever servant instructs Mariane to stall the wedding to Tartuffe and tells Valère to spread word of Orgon's foolishness around town.
When Damis, Orgon's son, hears about his father's plan to marry Mariane to Tartuffe, he flips out and tells Dorine that he's going to give Tartuffe a knuckle sandwich. Dorine has a better idea: she's arranged for a meeting between Tartuffe and Elmire, Orgon's wife. Damis insists on watching, and spies on the conversation while hiding in a closet. During the meeting, Tartuffe makes a rather awkward attempt to seduce Elmire. When he fails, Elmire strikes a deal with him. If he refuses to marry Mariane, she says, she won't tell Orgon about what just happened. While Tartuffe seems fine with this, Damis does not. He leaps from the closet and confronts Tartuffe. When he tells Orgon – who just happens to walk in – what he's just seen, Orgon doesn't believe him. As a result, Orgon disinherits Damis and gives Tartuffe the rights to his whole estate.
Cléante attempts to reason with Tartuffe and get him to give Damis a second chance, but Tartuffe refuses. All the while, things get worse: Mariane can no longer bear the stress of her impending marriage. When Orgon appears, marriage contract in hand, Mariane, Dorine, and Elmire plead with him. Though he has pangs of conscience, he stands firm. Elmire takes matters into her own hands, and promises to show him the truth about Tartuffe. She makes him hide under a table and tells Dorine to call in Tartuffe.
When Tartuffe arrives, she does her best to "seduce" him. He is skeptical of the whole situation, given the quick about-face, and demands that she give him some concrete sign of her affection. Elmire becomes increasingly antsy, and eventually asks Tartuffe to step outside the room and look to make sure her husband – Orgon – isn't around. When he does, Orgon pops out from under the table, enraged. Elmire tries to get him to hide again, in order that he might watch more and really make sure he's satisfied, but Tartuffe comes in before he can hide. When Orgon confronts Tartuffe, Tartuffe reminds him that he has the rights to Orgon's property and promises to get his revenge.
As it turns out, not only does Tartuffe have the rights to Orgon's property, he also has a number of documents that, if they were to come to the attention of the King, could get Orgon in serious trouble. Damis returns, ready to fight Tartuffe – literally – but he's interrupted by Madame Pernelle. She can't believe the rumors she's heard about Tartuffe. Orgon attempts, unsuccessfully, to convince her, and only becomes frustrated in the process. Their argument is cut short by the arrival of Monsieur Loyal, a messenger sent by Tartuffe. He serves Orgon with a notice of eviction, and let's them know that he and his family should be out of the house by the next morning. Just when things seem like they couldn't get any worse, Valère comes in and tells Orgon that he must flee the country, as Tartuffe has denounced him to the King.
Orgon is just about to leave with Valère, when Tartuffe shows up, accompanied by a police officer. He tells Orgon what he already knows and, after being insulted, tells the officer to arrest Orgon. The officer arrests Tartuffe instead, telling Orgon that the King saw through Tartuffe's scheme immediately. Turns out, Tartuffe is also a well-known criminal. Orgon is pardoned by the King, on account of his loyalty and prior aid to the Crown. Orgon begins to curse Tartuffe, but Cléante makes him stop. Instead, he tells Orgon, we should pray for his salvation. Orgon relents, and tells everyone to get ready to see the King. Once the King has been properly thanked, Orgon says that Valère and Mariane can finally be married.
Act 1, Scene 1
A Note On Scene Changes: When it comes to scene changes – and a lot of other things, when you think about it – the French do things a little differently. The scene changes whenever characters enter or exit the stage. This means that sometimes you'll get a scene that's only a few lines long. It's not a big deal, but it takes a bit of getting used to.
- We find ourselves in Paris, inside the house of Orgon.
- Madame Pernelle, Orgon's dear mama, is headed out the door, and fast. She's sick of what's going on in her son's house.
- Everyone – meaning Elmire, Orgon's second wife, Damis, his son, Mariane, his daughter, and Cléante, his brother-in-law – try their best to get her to chill out. Nothing, however, can stop the old lady from complaining and hating on anything and everything.
- It seems that Madame Pernelle is angry because her man Tartuffe gets no respect. She thinks he's a stand-up guy and totally righteous – generally, but most especially in the religious sense. But Elmire and company think he's just self-righteous, a total fake, a thief and, as the full title of the play suggests, a hypocrite.
- Each member of the family has their own strategy for convincing Madame Pernelle: Damis just sort of gets angry, Elmire pleads, Cléante appeals to her reason, and Dorine, well…Dorine is, as you'd expect from a French maid, pretty saucy.
- None of this works, of course. Madame Pernelle tells them they should all be grateful to have Tartuffe bossing them around and telling them how to live. As far as she's concerned, he's pretty much the ultimate life coach.
- When Cléante snickers at her speech, Madame Pernelle tells him to shut up, slaps Flipote, her maid, in the face, and makes her exit, followed by most of the household.
Act 1, Scene 2
- Cléante and Dorine stay behind and discuss the situation.
- Cléante is amazed at how quickly Tartuffe has bamboozled Madame Pernelle.
- Dorine agrees, but she's even more afraid of the way he's tricking Orgon. Though he was once a wise and prudent advisor to the king, he seems to have gone a bit soft in the noggin. Now, she says, he's obsessed with Tartuffe and ignores everyone else. Dorine points out that Tartuffe has been growing rich and fat thanks to his ignorance – this is what we literary types call exposition.
Act 1, Scene 3
- Elmire, Mariane, and Damis come back, looking worn out. They've been getting another lecture from Madame Pernelle.
- Elmire has seen Orgon coming, and she decides to head upstairs.
- Cléante agrees to have a chat with him, and promises to bring up the question of Mariane's upcoming marriage to Valère – he wants to make sure he can marry Valère's sister once all is said and done.
Act 1, Scene 4
- Orgon rolls in, having just come from a trip out of town.
- He proceeds to ignore Cléante.
- He wants to hear about what's happened to the family in the time since he left.
- Dorine tells him that Elmire has been sick with a fever, but all Orgon really wants to hear about is Tartuffe. Every time Dorine tells him anything about his wife – all about how she's felt sick and suffered – he says, "And Tartuffe?"
- Dorine tells him that he's been doing fine, eating, drinking and sleeping altogether too much for such a pious guy.
- That doesn't stop Orgon from exclaiming "Poor fellow!" again and again. This goes on for a while. It's what a comedian might call a "routine" or a "bit."
- When Dorine has had enough, she goes off to tell Elmire how "sympathetic" Orgon has been.
Act 1, Scene 5
- Now it's time for the title bout between Cléante and Orgon.
- Cléante tells his brother-in-law that Dorine was disrespecting him – and with good reason. He asks him how he could fall for Tartuffe's tricks.
- Orgon will hear none of this. He tells Cléante about how cool, how brilliant and humble Tartuffe is. Soon enough, Orgon promises, Cléante, will see the light. Oh, and Orgon also says that, thanks to Tartuffe and his most excellent teachings, he could lose his whole family, mother, children, brother and wife, and not feel a thing. Yuck.
- Cléante listens to Orgon babble on for a while, listens to him talk about his first encounter with Tartuffe. It seems that Orgon found him praying, weeping loudly, kissing the ground, and all sorts of overly showy stuff. This didn't stop Orgon from developing a huge man-crush on Tartuffe and, well, before you know it, he was living in Orgon's house.
- He goes on to tell Cléante how Tartuffe helps to "keep an eye" on Elmire, and that he's a veritable sin detector. Heck, he won't even hurt a fly.
- Cléante, ever reasonable, can't believe what he hears.
- When Orgon accuses him of impiety, he flies off the handle – in the most reasonable way possible, of course – and tells Orgon what a dunce he is to believe in all of Tartuffe's righteous clap-trap.
- Cléante makes it clear that he's no atheist – he simply knows the difference between truth and lies, real piety and hypocrisy. The difference between the two of them is, well, that Cléante isn't a gullible idiot. Cléante likes big, important terms like Nature and Reason and he, well, really likes to use them. A lot. He talks a lot.
- Orgon makes some sarcastic remarks about how wise Cléante is, which only pushes him to speak some more. He talks more about the difference between true men of religion and hypocritical con artists and he names all sorts of obscure philosophers and thinkers to justify his claims.
- He lists some key virtues which all good, Christian men should demonstrate: humility, good intentions, a desire to do good works, sincerity, humility, humility and…humility.
- At this point, Orgon is sick to death of hearing Cléante lecture, and he asks if he can leave.
- Cléante lets him go, but quickly gets him to come back.
- He asks about the whole Mariane-Valère wedding thing, as per Damis's wishes.
- Orgon tells him that, yes, he gave them his blessing and set a date. Cléante asks if he's now postponed it. Orgon has, but he won't say why. Cléante presses him until, finally, Orgon tells him that he plans "to be guided by Heaven's will."
- This is not, Cléante knows, good news for Mariane and Valère.
Act 2, Scene 1
- Orgon decides it's time he had a little heart-to-heart with Mariane, but before the confab can begin, he checks the room for eavesdroppers.
- That done, he starts buttering her up, telling her how good a daughter she is. He goes on to say that in order to repay him for his love she should do what she's told. She, being the good daughter that she is, responds in the affirmative.
- Orgon pops the question, or, uh, a question: How do you like Tartuffe? It's the kind of thing you might have had your best bud do for you in Middle School – he's like Tartuffe's wingman.
- Mariane doesn't really know what to say and, so, she tells Orgon that whatever's good for Daddy's good for her.
- Unfortunately, Orgon wants her to marry Tartuffe.
- Mariane is horrified, and when Orgon tries to get her to say that she loves the hypocrite, she tells him it'd simply be a big fat lie.
- Just when things are about to get nasty…
Act 2, Scene 2
- Dorine shows up; Orgon accuses her of eavesdropping and tells her to buzz off.
- Dorine says to Orgon, that the gossip around town is that he wants to Mariane to marry Tartuffe, The maid says that the idea is so silly she has to laugh.
- Orgon can't believe that Dorine can't believe that he would want Mariane to marry Tartuffe.
- The more he tries to convince her the more she mocks him.
- She tells Mariane that it's all just a hoax and that she shouldn't believe her father.
- Dorine finally drops the hoax thing and tells Orgon straight out that nobody can believe he's acting like such a twit. How could you have your daughter marry a man who claims to be so religious? And what about that whole poverty thing – Orgon's a rich gentleman after all.
- Orgon tells Dorine that Tartuffe lost his "earthly fortune" because he was so occupied by heavenly things. He says Tartuffe needs only a little monetary support, in order to regain his estate (2.2.17). (Sound familiar? You may have received some junk mail to that effect.)
- Dorine tries another strategy. Wouldn't it be something of a strange match, she asks Orgon, considering that Mariane really doesn't like Tartuffe? Because, she says, when a bride doesn't like her groom, she usually cheats. Oh, and a father who gives her daughter to such a man will pay for his sins. Yeah, she really lays it on thick.
- Orgon can't believe what he's hearing from the servant-girl; he tells Mariane to ignore Dorine. Oh, and it turns out that Valère gambles and doesn't go to church too often.
- Orgon tries to convince Mariane that he's doing the right thing.
- Dorine continues to make fun of him and Tartuffe.
- She interrupts him again and again, until Orgon finally threatens to hit her.
- The saucy servant immediately starts acting coy, making comments only when Orgon turns his back.
- Orgon tries to hit her, but misses, and soon leaves the room in anger.
Act 2, Scene 3
- Dorine criticizes Mariane for not taking a stand against her father.
- Mariane doesn't really have a good answer. She's just used to doing what she's told; she's done it for so long.
- Dorine puts her on the spot. Do you love Valère, she asks, or don't you?
- Mariane is insulted for a bit, but then she tells Dorine how much she loves, really loves Valère, She says she would rather kill herself than marry Tartuffe.
- Dorine thinks this is just about the stupidest solution to the problem she can think of. She has no sympathy for that kind hopelessness. She tells Mariane to buck up.
- When Mariane agonizes over disobeying her father, Dorine mocks her, telling her how great a husband Tartuffe will make for her, how much fun she'll have visiting her awful in-laws, etc.
- This is too much for Mariane to take; she falls into despair again.
- This time, Dorine takes pity on her, and the two set about making a plan.
Act 2, Scene 4
- Valère comes in, looking concerned. He's heard that Mariane is supposed to marry Tartuffe now, and he wants some answers.
- Mariane gets him up to speed.
- When Valère asks Mariane what she's going to do, she's reluctant to tell him.
- Eventually, she says, she doesn't know what she's going to do.
- Valère, clearly annoyed, tells her to go ahead and marry Tartuffe.
- Mariane tells him that of course she'll follow his advice. The two continue fighting – for no reason in particular – while Dorine watches.
- Valère says he knows that Mariane never really loved him, and that, like, whatever, he doesn't need her. He can get some loving just like that, Mariane'll see soon enough. Turns out there's some kind of "mystery woman" waiting in the wings for him.
- Of course, when Mariane calls his bluff and tells him to get lost, Valère pretends not to hear her.
- At this point, Dorine has had enough, and she tells the both of them to get their acts together. She gets them to put aside their silly, totally made-up problems, at least long enough to discuss the whole Orgon-Tartuffe problem.
- Dorine tells Mariane to pretend to play along with her father's plan, but to find anyway possible to delay the proceedings-- faking sick, seeing bad omens etc.
- Valère, on the other hand, has to go tell his friends what's up and try to get them to pressure Orgon. Oh, and they'll get Damis and Elmire on their side too.
- With everything settled, Mariane and Valère finally kiss and make up.
- Dorine has to forcibly separate them before things get out of control.
Act 3, Scene 1
- Damis is ready to kick the crap out of Tartuffe.
- The servant tries to calm him down and redirect his energy into some more productive enterprise like, maybe, talking to Elmire. Elmire, it seems, has some "power" over Tartuffe – power, no doubt, of the feminine persuasion – and thus might be the key to catching the scoundrel.
- Dorine has also gotten word that Tartuffe is on his way downstairs.
- She tells Damis that she's going to intercept him.
- Damis insists on listening in on the conversation and manages to hide in a close just before…
Act 3, Scene 2
- Tartuffe enters, talking loudly to his servant Laurent, who is off-stage; he's going to go to the prison, he says, to give money to the prisoners.
- Dorine can't stand his pretentiousness.
- Tartuffe can't stand the sight of Dorine's breasts, and he gives her a handkerchief to cover her bosom; he says the sight of it creates unclean thoughts – no doubt in his dirty mind.
- Dorine calls him out and says that she would feel nothing if he were prancing around naked.
- Tartuffe doesn't want to listen to her jibes – and he doesn't have to; Dorine is on her way out. Elmire, she tells him, is headed downstairs to have a chat with him.
- When Tartuffe gets too excited about this, Dorine thinks her suspicions have been confirmed. She leaves.
Act 3, Scene 3
- Elmire enters.
- Tartuffe immediately showers her with blessings. She asks him to sit down.
- Tartuffe asks about her health, and tells her that he prayed and prayed for her…but that he didn't think his prayers were enough.
- Elmire thanks him for his concern and tells him not to worry. Still, Tartuffe does not stop. She tells him that there's an important matter she'd like to discuss. She's glad there's no one around to annoy them.
- Tartuffe is very glad to hear her say this… It seems he's prayed and prayed for the chance to be alone with her.
- Elmire asks him to be open with his answers.
- He agrees, but before he goes any further he reassures you that all his visits were prompted only by religious feeling and respect.
- At this point, he starts trying to put the moves on her…but he's not very smooth.
- He takes her hand, but manages to pinch her.
- When he puts his hand on her knee – and is caught – he tells Elmire that he was only feeling the fine fabric.
- Elmire starts moving away from him, but he continues. He feels the lace on her collar and compliments its quality.
- Elmire ignores him and gets down to business. She asks him if the whole Tartuffe-Mariane wedding thing is true.
- Tartuffe tells her that he's heard something about that, but that he'd rather be united with someone else.
- Elmire takes this to mean that he has no interest in worldly things.
- Tartuffe tries to tell her that a man of God can appreciate worldly beauty, and that it's especially easy to see the magnificence of God's creation in her. He confesses his love to Elmire, and tells her that his fate is in her hands.
- Elmire tells Tartuffe he should have thought a little longer before opening his trap.
- Tartuffe uses the whole "I'm just a man, I'm not an angel!" defense, and tells her that he simply couldn't refuse her charms. He promises her that everything will be one hundred percent secret, on the down-low.
- Elmire asks Tartuffe if, you know, he might be a little afraid of her telling on him.
- Tartuffe knows, he says, that she'd never do such a thing.
- Elmire agrees to tell no one about what happened, as long as he convinces Orgon to let Mariane marry Valère.
Act 3, Scene 4
- This is where things get a bit crazy.
- Damis jumps out of the closet – remember, he's been hiding in there the whole time – and contradicts Elmire's promise.
- He wants to tell everyone about what a liar and a sleaze Tartuffe is; it's the second best thing to punching him in the face.
- Elmire tries to do some damage control and convince Damis to keep his mouth shut; she wants to honor her promise and avoid upsetting Orgon.
- Damis can't imagine letting Tartuffe get off so easily. He, who has seen his marriage prospects nearly disappear, craves justice, and he's just had the perfect opportunity served up on a silver platter.
- Elmire's attempts to calm him down fail; he wants only revenge, and he intends to get it.
Act 3, Scene 5
- When Orgon enters the room, Damis lets the cat out of the bag. He tells Orgon all about Tartuffe's "adulterous offer," how Elmire was going to keep it a secret, and how he, Damis, just had to let Orgon know.
- Elmire defends her position, tells Damis that he should have kept silent, and leaves.
Act 3, Scene 6
- Orgon immediately asks Tartuffe if what Damis is saying is true. (Remember, the old hypocrite has been watching this whole thing unravel).
- Tartuffe tells Orgon that he is, in fact a bad guy, that he's awful, sinful, terrible, the worst person this side of Judas. He tells Orgon to believe what he has just been told, and to kick him to the curb, please. No, really.
- Orgon doesn't seem to hear what Tartuffe has said. He screams at Damis and calls him a liar.
- Damis can't believe it; he can't believe Tartuffe's little reverse psychology trick has worked. When he goes to reason with Orgon he's cut off.
- Tartuffe steps in to defend Damis. He reiterates that he, Tartuffe, is full of it, a liar, a hypocrite, an awful human being.
- He turns to Damis, kneels before him, and asks him to accuse him some more; he says that he deserves every last bit of punishment.
- Orgon comforts Tartuffe then turns and insults Damis.
- Damis tries to talk some sense into him.
- Orgon insults his son, asks Tartuffe to stand up, then insults him again.
- This cycle repeats itself a few times until Tartuffe finally falls to his knees again and asks Orgon to pardon Damis.
- Orgon is, of course, blown away by Tartuffe's kindness. He insults Damis some more, then declares that he'll have Mariane marry Tartuffe this night. He then asks Damis to kneel down and beg Tartuffe for forgiveness.
- When Damis refuses to do this, Orgon threatens to beat him, then tells him to scram, for good, and never come back. Oh, and he disinherits him too.
Act 3, Scene 7
- Once Damis's out of the room, Tartuffe tells Orgon how awful Damis has made him feel.
- Orgon runs to the doorway through which Damis has just exited and shakes his fist, cursing his son some more.
- Tartuffe tells Orgon he simply has to leave, that he's caused too much trouble for everyone.
- Again, Tartuffe proves himself a master of reverse psychology…or maybe just proves that Orgon is a buffoon. Or both.
- Orgon talks Tartuffe into staying – as if he really needed the encouragement.
- When all that is settled, Tartuffe makes one more request: he tells Orgon that he simply must avoid Elmire, just in case, you know, something might happen.
- Orgon will hear nothing of the sort. He wants to get back at his mean, deceitful relatives. In order to do so, he tells Tartuffe to spend as much time as possible with his wife. He also decides to make him "his only son and heir"; he matters more, he tells Tartuffe, "than wife, child or kin" (3.7.21).
- Tartuffe is cool with the arrangement; as far as he's concerned it's God's will.
- He and Orgon set off to write up the contract.
Act 4, Scene 1
- We find Cléante and Tartuffe having a conversation concerning the recent ruckus between Damis and Orgon.
- Cléante tells Tartuffe that the town's abuzz with rumors about the conflict, then lays down a hypothetical: Assuming that Damis's to blame, shouldn't Tartuffe, being a good Christian and all, forgive him and let him reclaim his inheritance?
- Tartuffe tells Cléante that he would love to patch things up with Damis, but at this point it really isn't possible; it's just not in the divine cards. If he were to start acting nice now, he says, things would just look suspicious, like he were just trying to stop Damis from defaming him.
- Cléante doesn't buy Tartuffe's reasoning and he tells him so. You should do the right thing, he says, no matter what other people will think.
- Tartuffe tells him that he has already forgiven Damis, but even so he doesn't have to live with the jerk who defamed him.
- But, Cléante asks, surely you didn't have to accept Damis's inheritance.
- Tartuffe insists he doesn't really care for earthly things; he just wants to, you know, make sure bad guys don't get their hands on it. Just like he watches over Elmire to make sure bad guys don't get their hands on her.
- Cléante counters; as far as he can see, Damis should at least be given the chance to use the wealth. He sums up his old arguments again but – surprise, surprise – Tartuffe doesn't listen.
- Tartuffe takes his leave.
- All Cléante can say is "damn" (4.1.9). Damn, indeed.
Act 4, Scene 2
- Dorine, Mariane, and Elmire roll in looking concerned.
- It seems Mariane isn't taking the whole "marrying Tartuffe that evening" thing too well.
- She wants to do whatever she can to stop it from happening.
Act 4, Scene 3
- Orgon comes in and interrupts their brainstorming session before it's even begun.
- He has the marriage contract in his hand and wants Mariane to sign it.
- Mariane pleads with her father, asking him not to force the marriage upon her. She tells him that she'll hate her life.
- The girl says, that if Orgon insists she not marry Valère, the least he could do is not force her to marry Tartuffe.
- She alludes that if the marriage is forced on her she may take some unspecified "desperate course" (4.3.2).
- Orgon is moved a bit by her appeal, but he stands firm.
- Mariane goes on, telling him that he can give Tartuffe his property and, if he wishes, her own inheritance, but that she would rather live in a convent than wed Tartuffe.
- Orgon acts as though Mariane is just being a silly little girl. Then he drops a real bomb on her: the more you hate your husband, he says, the more virtuous you'll be!
- Dorine attempts to get a word in, but she's denied. As is Cléante.
- Elmire steps into the fray and tells Orgon what a gullible dope he is.
- Orgon accuses her of being "partial" to Damis, implying that the whole thing was a ploy to discredit Tartuffe. If it were the real deal, he says, you should have been angrier.
- Elmire resents Orgon's claims, and tells him that she prefers to play it cool. She's not a catty prude, she tells him, but a classy broad.
- When Orgon still won't budge, Elmire tells him that she can show him that she, Damis, and everyone else is telling the truth.
- Though Orgon resists, Elmire convinces him to at least give her a chance.
- Elmire tells Dorine to fetch Tartuffe and gets everyone else, save Orgon, to leave the room.
Act 4, Scene 4
- Elmire pulls up a table and tells Orgon to get underneath.
- He's a little confused by the whole thing, but he eventually consents.
- Elmire warns him that things are going to get a little bit weird, a bit shocking maybe, but that it's all an act. She's going to do her best to encourage Tartuffe, to fan the flames of his lust, as it were. You have the right to stop things whenever you've seen enough, she says, but before she can finish telling him…
Act 4, Scene 5
- Tartuffe strolls into the room.
- Elmire gets right to the point…but not before telling Tartuffe to close the door and "look about for spies" (4.5.2).
- He apparently doesn't look very well, as he fails to find Orgon.
- Elmire tells Tartuffe that she only acted the way she did earlier in the day because she was caught off guard.
- Now that everything has blown over, she tells him, they can get busy without fear of interference.
- Tartuffe is justifiably confused by this turn of events.
- Elmire tells him to chill out. If he didn't see what was going on, it's only because he doesn't understand what women want.
- Women, according to Elmire always act coy; even when they say no, or perhaps especially when they say no, they really mean yes. (Note to all the dudes reading this: THIS IS NOT TRUE. Even Molière knew this was garbage.)
- Would I have listened to your whole confession of love, she asks, if I didn't, you know, want you? Would I have asked you to convince Orgon to let Mariane marry Valère if I didn't want to keep you all for myself?
- Despite the persuasiveness of her arguments – at least compared to those of Tartuffe – the trickster is still wary of being tricked. He won't believe her, he says, until she demonstrates her love "somewhat more concretely."
- At this point, Elmire is getting a little creeped out. She coughs to let Orgon know that she's a bit uncomfortable.
- Elmire tries to buy herself a little time, but Tartuffe won't let up. She tries again – but no luck. He's a veritable animal.
- When Elmire pulls the whole "Isn't this a sin?" card, Tartuffe promises that he can clear the whole thing up with the Man Upstairs.
- When she acts surprises, Tartuffe promises to teach her all his tricks, let's call it Hypocrisy 101. He also tells her that, if anything goes down, the fault will be his.
- This prompts Elmire to cough again. Tartuffe comments upon it and offers a piece of licorice to help her feel better. She declines.
- Tartuffe tries to reassure Elmire again, telling her that, really, no one will know about what happens.
- Elmire coughs again and then finally gives up. She tells Tartuffe that yes, clearly she has to "demonstrate" her love. Before anything happens, though, she asks Tartuffe to open the door and check for her husband.
- Tartuffe tells her to chill out; he's got stupid Orgon wrapped around his finger, he says, and she needn't worry.
- Still, she insists, and Tartuffe leaves the room.
Act 4, Scene 6
- Orgon comes out from under the table. He's fuming. He can't believe what a "monster" Tartuffe is (4.6.1).
- Elmire tells him to go back under the table and wait until he's completely sure of Tartuffe's treachery.
- She tells him to hide again, but he can only just manage to hide behind Elmire when…
Act 4, Scene 7
- Tartuffe comes in, ready to go. Everything is clear. He does not see Orgon.
- Orgon comes out, guns blazing. Well, not literally. He starts chewing Tartuffe out, and claims to have "long suspected" him (4.7.2). It seems Tartuffe doesn't have a monopoly on lying.
- When Orgon tells Tartuffe to hit the road, Tartuffe turns the tables. Before running he declares, "This house belongs to me, I'll have you know."
Act 4, Scene 8
- Elmire is confused by this last remark; she asks Orgon what Tartuffe meant.
- Orgon, dolt that he is, has signed a "deed of gift," a document that transfers ownership of something to another party. In this case, that something, seems to be, well, everything. To top it all off, he fears that Tartuffe may have made off with something else very, very valuable that Orgon kept locked away.
Act 5, Scene 1
- At this point, Orgon is running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
- Cléante tries to calm him down. He asks him what's the matter.
- As it turns out, Orgon's fears were confirmed. Tartuffe has made off with the contents of the "strongbox," also known as a safe. It seems that, long ago, Orgon's friend Argas brought him the box just before he, that is, Argas, fled the country. As far as Orgon knows, the papers contained within would ruin Argas's reputation if they were ever released. They're what you might call prime blackmail material…sort of like those nude photos of celebrities you hear about every once in a while. We don't know exactly what they are, but they were bad enough to send Argas fleeing from the government...and that's pretty bad.
- Cléante doesn't understand why Tartuffe would even know about such things.
- Orgon, it seems, saw fit to let Tartuffe hold onto the box; he felt guilty about keeping such a secret.
- Cléante, usually quick with advice, has nothing to say. Orgon has really messed things up this time.
- Orgon curses Tartuffe and swears that he'll never associate with "pious men" and that he'll "persecute them worse than Satan could" (5.1.10).
- Cléante tells Orgon to stop talking such drivel and wise up. One bad apple doesn't spoil the barrel, as far as Cléante is concerned, and if Orgon wants to prevent another debacle he has to stop taking things to the extreme. Cléante reminds him – and the audience – that there are truly righteous men out there and that, as long as he/they is/are cautious, he/they will be able to avoid frauds like Tartuffe.
Act 5, Scene 2
- Damis enters; he's heard the bad news about Tartuffe, and he's ready to help…by killing him.
- Cléante tells him to cool his jets.
Act 5, Scene 3
- Madame Pernelle, Mariane, Elmire, and Dorine show up.
- Madame Pernelle can't believe the stuff she's been hearing.
- Orgon gets his mom up to speed on what's happened. He tells her how Tartuffe duped him, took his stuff, and tried to seduce his wife.
- Madame Pernelle still can't believe what she's hearing and she tells Orgon as much.
- Orgon is flabbergasted – he doesn't know how she can't see Tartuffe for what he is after hearing all that.
- Orgon and his mother argue for a while; she insists that Tartuffe is good, and that he, Orgon, doesn't have enough proof of his guilt. This is what some people call "getting a taste of your own medicine."
- Finally, Cléante tells them to cut it out. Tartuffe, they have to remember, is planning to take control of Orgon's estate.
- Damis and Elmire don't think that Tartuffe has the guts to follow through, but Cléante isn't so sure.
- He, Orgon, and Elmire are talking things through when…
Act 5, Scene 4
- Monsieur Loyal enters. He's looking for the master of the house.
- As it turns out, Loyal has been sent by Tartuffe.
- Before going to meet him, Orgon asks Cléante for some advice. Cléante tells him that he just needs to keep a cool head.
- When Loyal greets Orgon kindly, Orgon takes this as a sign of good will, and hopes Tartuffe is willing to compromise.
- Instead, Loyal serves him with a writ, a written court document, calling for the eviction of Orgon and Co. from their own home.
- Orgon can't believe it, so M. Loyal elaborates. The house, he tells Orgon, is now the property of Tartuffe. He produces a deed to prove it.
- Hotheaded Damis attempts to intervene, but he's talked down by Loyal.
- Loyal is sure that, with Orgon's compliance, everything will go off without a hitch. He tries to appeal to Orgon, to remind him that he is a wise and "temperate" man, and tells him that he loves "all men of upright character."
- Orgon appeals to Loyal.
- Out of the kindness of his heart, Loyal agrees to give Orgon a reprieve…until the next day.
- Loyal will, he tells Orgon, need to spend the night…and bring a bunch of men to move out stuff…and kick Orgon and everybody else out early in the morning, but he'll do it in the most pleasant way possible.
- At this point Orgon starts to lose his temper; he's ready to sock Loyal right in the nose.
- Cléante steps in and tells Orgon to chill.
- Damis, of course, wants to kick his butt.
- And Dorine tells Loyal to his face that she'd like to see him whacked with a stick. Loyal warns that he might have to take her in if she continues to act like that.
- Cléante tells Loyal to give him the paper and leave, which he does. Orgon curses him as he walks out the door.
Act 5, Scene 5
- Orgon turns to his mother and says, "I told you so."
- Of course now she's shocked by what she's seen.
- Dorine tells them all not to be so ungrateful (sarcasm alert!); after all, Tartuffe's just trying to rid them of all the earthly things that are separating them from heaven.
- Orgon tells her to shut up.
- Cléante reminds everyone that they still don't have a plan.
- Elmire proposes that they let everybody know what a liar and cheat Tartuffe is, in the hope that the resulting backlash – let's call it really, really bad publicity – will prevent Tartuffe from carrying out his plan.
Act 5, Scene 6
- Just then, Valère shows up – and he's got even more bad news.
- He's just had word that Tartuffe has denounced Orgon to the King and used the contents of the strongbox to back up his claims. He tells Orgon that he must flee the country immediately.
- Cléante states the obvious: Tartuffe's done this to make sure he can seize Orgon's estate without trouble.
- Valère urges Orgon to leave; he's got a carriage waiting outside, and enough cash to get him out. He promises to travel with him until they find a safe place to stay.Orgon says his goodbyes and is half out the door when…
Act 5, Scene 7
- Tartuffe shows up, with a police office in tow. He's got even worse news for Orgon: he's headed to prison.
- Orgon curses Tartuffe and calls him a villain.
- Tartuffe pays no attention, saying that "those who serve Heaven must expect abuse" (5.7.3). He still hasn't given up his self-righteous act.
- Cléante and Dorine insult Tartuffe, then Mariane, then Orgon again. He doesn't care; even when Orgon reminds him that he saved him from poverty, Tartuffe merely says that his "first duty is to serve [his] King." He would sacrifice his wife…family…friend…to serve him" (5.7.10).
- Again, Elmire and Dorine insult Tartuffe. Cléante asks him where this newfound patriotic zeal came from, and wonders how he "could condescend" to be the heir of a traitor.
- Tartuffe pays no attention to this; he sics the police officer on Orgon.
- Plot twist! The officer turns around and arrests…Tartuffe. Tartuffe is, of course, blown away.
- The office turns to Orgon and explains himself. The King, it seems, is a little more with it than Orgon; he saw right through Tartuffe's little scheme. He's the kind of guy that Cléante would love: he knows true piety when he sees it, he's wise, and he has experience foiling these kind of liars. Oh, and as it turns out, this isn't the first time Tartuffe has tried to swindle someone; he's got a long criminal record, long enough to fill "ten volumes and be writing still" (5.7.19). He's a bad, bad, bad dude.
- The officer gives Orgon back the papers from the strongbox, and declares that the deed Tartuffe had written up is invalid.
- The King also pardons Orgon for hiding the papers, on account of his loyal deeds in the late civil war. Orgon a war hero? Whodathunkit?
- Everyone breathes a sigh of relief and praises the Lord.
- Except for Orgon. He begins to chew out Tartuffe, but luckily Cléante intervenes before he can say anything too stupid. He reminds Orgon that Tartuffe is already going to suffer for what he's done. Hopefully, he says, Tartuffe can actually find God, become a good person, and maybe get out on parole. You'd be better off, he tells Orgon, thanking the King for his kindness.
- And so Orgon lets bygones be bygones and gets ready to go see the King.
- Once that's been done, he says, we can finally get Mariane and Valère married.
- And they all lived happily ever after.