Elmire is what you might call a strong woman. And we're not talking 17th century strong, no sirree. She could go toe to toe with a 21st-century lady and hold her own. Now, this kind of "modern" spirit doesn't really sit very well with some people. Madame Pernelle, for instance, doesn't have many kind words for Elmire:
[Y]our behavior is extremely bad,
And a poor example for these children, too.
Their dear, dead mother did far better than you.
You're much too free with money, and I'm distressed
To see you so elaborately dressed. (1.1.13)
Now, who knows, maybe Elmire does spend her money a bit too freely, and maybe she does dress rather elaborately. Of course, Madam Pernelle isn't really a reliable source of information, and there's absolutely no other evidence in the play of Elmire setting a bad example or anything.
Elmire shows us just what kind of woman she really is in one crucial moment. When Tartuffe tries to turn the charm on and tempt her, she acts completely rationally, and keeps the best interests of her family in mind. It all boils down to a single response:
Some women might do otherwise, perhaps,
But I shall be discreet about your lapse;
I'll tell my husband nothing of what's occurred
If, in return, you'll give your solemn word
To advocate as forcefully as you can
The marriage of Valère and Mariane,
Renouncing all desire to dispossess
Another of his rightful happiness, (3.3.32)
Elmire is willing to compromise, to do things that aren't necessarily Just with a capital J, in order to protect her family. You could say that she believes that the ends justify the means. She doesn't care what "some women" might do. She isn't obsessed with defaming Tartuffe; she just wants to clean up the mess. As we see later, she's even willing to hide her husband under the table and flirt shamelessly to get what she needs. She puts herself in harm's way to save the day – Tartuffe is practically slobbering all over her when she finally ends the charade. That may not be conventional. That may not be "ladylike." But it's sure as heck effective and bold and courageous. What more could you want in a person?
Moliere's Tartuffe - The Character of Tartuffe
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The Character of Tartuffe
Moliere's neoclassic comedy, Tartuffe, is a prime example of his expertise in the comedic technique. The plot is one that keeps the reader or viewer interested and aware. It begins with Madame Pernell visiting her son's house and reprimanding all of them but their boarder, Tartuffe. She believes Tartuffe is a man of astounding character. The members of the house, however, disagree and say that Tartuffe is deceitful and a fraud. After Madam Pernell leaves, Dorine and Cleante, the maid and the brother-in-law of the main character, Orgon, discuss Tartuffe and both agree that he has captivated Orgon. Damis, Orgon's son, wonders whether his father will allow Mariane, Orgon's daughter, to marry Valere, who she is in love with, because Damis is in love with Valere's sister.
Orgon comes and tells Mariane that he wants her to marry Tartuffe instead of Valere because he wants to ally Tartuffe to his house. She is so shocked that she does not say anything. Cleante tries to tell Orgon about Tartuffe's misleading personality, but Orgon does not want to hear it. Valere finds out about this proposed marriage, and Dorine promises to help Mariane and Cleante expose Tartuffe for the hypocrite he is. Meanwhile, Damis has a plan to hide in a closet to try to expose Tartuffe's hypocrisy. He hears Tartuffe profess love to Elmire, Orgon's wife, and suggests that they become lovers. Damis comes from the closet and threatens to tell Orgon what he has said. Damis then tells Orgon, and Orgon is so blind to the truth, that he believes his own son is evil and disinherits him. Later, when Orgon and Tartuffe are alone, Orgon tells Tartuffe of his plans to make him his sole inheritor and his son-in-law. After this, Cleante tries to talk to Orgon about Tartuffe and he confronts Tartuffe in front of Orgon. Tartuffe just dodges the questions, though, and leaves as soon as possible. Elmire then convinces Orgon to hide and find out for himself about Tartuffe, so he does so. Tartuffe comes to see Elmire and once again professes his love. Orgon hears it all, comes from the closet, and bans Tartuffe from his house. Orgon, however, has already signed over his house to Tartuffe and Tartuffe threatens him with this. Orgon is afraid because he has given Tartuffe some secret papers that could ruin his position in the court.
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Tartuffe Moliere Orgon Main Character Hypocrite Closet Wonders Deceitful Madam Viewer
Tartuffe comes back later with officers of the court to try to get Orgon's house, but the king has seen through Tartuffe and sides with Orgon. Tartuffe is ordered to be arrested and the story ends.
A central theme of Tartuffe is the blindness of Orgon and how easily a person can deceive another. Tartuffe has fooled nobody but Orgon - the man who has the power and wealth in this situation. The characters in this play all play a certain role in the plot. Elmire, Orgon's wife, presents a reasonable attitude towards life and the situation. She was the only one able to convince Orgon to see for himself that Tartuffe was a hypocrite. She wants nothing but to save her husband from Tartuffe's control. Damis, Orgon's son, is the unlucky soul to take the blame for his father's misjudgment of Tartuffe. In trying to help his father, he loses his trust and his ties to him. He wants to keep Tartuffe away from his family, but the only thing he succeeds in doing is losing his inheritance. Mariane is the lovely daughter, who is going to be forced to marry a man she does not love or even like. She is part of Orgon's plan to make Tartuffe a member of the household, whether she likes it or not. She just wants to marry the man she loves. Cleante is Orgon's brother-in law. He tries to get everyone to view the situation with calm and reason. He wants the best for Orgon and his family. Tartuffe is the imposter who weasels his way into Orgon's inheritance and then betrays him. He is only looking for the money and is a very greedy man. Orgon is the central character that comes under the influence of Tartuffe. His only want seems to be to make Tartuffe an ally to his house. He is blind to the real situation and seems to have no common sense and no trust in his family and what they are telling him. He is duped by Tartuffe, and is only saved by those he would not listen to before. He is a complex man who makes the story what it is.
Tartuffe is a man of deceit and lust. He lusts for money and this is what becomes his final downfall. He is the villain of the play, which is obvious to both the audience and those in the story, except for Orgon and Madam Pernell. He is a master of disguising his true self. As a religious devotee, he convinces Orgon and Madam Pernell that he is a pious and humble man. He is a superior in the fact that he can recognize his victims weaknesses and play on them. He exploits these flaws for his own advantages. Tartuffe is far from a simple man. He is very alert and uses all methods possible to reach his goal.
Works Cited and Consulted
Bishop, Morris. Eight Plays By Moliere. New York: The Modern Library, 1957.
Fernandez, Ramon. Moliere: The Man Seen Through the Plays. New York: Hill and Wang, 1958.
Gassner, John. Comedies of Moliere. New York: The Book League of America, 1946.
Meyer, Michael. The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1989.
Walker, Hallam. Moliere. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990.