Study Guide

Tartuffe Act 1, Scene 1

By Molière

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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.

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