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Themes and Colors
Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Reason vs. Emotion Theme Icon
Religion, Piety, and Morals Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Tartuffe, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Hypocrisy Theme Icon

The title character of this work, Tartuffe, is the ultimate hypocrite: his sinful actions completely contradict the Catholic values that he preaches. Although Tartuffe claims to be pious, charitable, and holy, he is in fact lustful, greedy, and treacherous. His hypocrisy is infectious and dangerous, destabilizing Orgon’s entire household and negatively impacting those who believe in this supposedly pious man. In fact, those who trust Tartuffe become hypocrites themselves. Madame Pernelle, who preaches Christian charity, strikes her own maid, while Orgon commits a host of sins against his own family.

Of the characters who stand against Tartuffe’s hypocrisy, Cléante, Dorine, and Elmire are the strongest. Cléante and Dorine each use rhetoric – language – to try to combat Tartuffe, but though their arguments are logical, they cannot prevail against Tartuffe. In the end, it is Elmire who unmasks Tartuffe for what he truly is, using Tartuffe’s lust for her in order to prove his hypocrisy to her husband Orgon. Even Elmire’s bravery, however, cannot fully thwart Tartuffe, who still has a legal claim over the family’s property. True defeat comes for him in the form of a royal decree from the King negating his claim. This final plot twist is called a deus ex machina, in which an almost magical solution (in this case, the King’s decree) overcomes a seemingly impossible situation (Tartuffe’s legal claim). Moliere intends for the King’s decree to seem miraculous and unbelievable, in order to illustrate the disastrous and dangerous nature of hypocrisy.

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Hypocrisy Quotes in Tartuffe

Below you will find the important quotes in Tartuffe related to the theme of Hypocrisy.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

Damis: Your man Tartuffe is full of holy speeches…
Madame Pernelle: And practices precisely what he preaches.

Related Characters: Damis (speaker), Madame Pernelle (speaker), Tartuffe
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

The family of Orgon comes together to debate the merits and defects of Tartuffe. Madame Pernelle, Orgon's mother, and a prideful, short-sighted woman, believes Tartuffe to be a holy man, true to his word and totally pious. She refuses to hear a word against him, no matter how much her family tries to tell her that Tartuffe is a greedy, grasping fraud. 

Damis, on the other hand, Orgon's hot-headed son, hates Tartuffe and makes no secret about his loathing. He claims that Tartuffe is "full of holy speeches" but does not actually follow the pious commands that he speaks. Madame Pernelle, on the other hand, believes that Tartuffe always does "precisely" what he says, completely blind to the many ways in which Tartuffe actually breaks the laws that he himself articulates. 


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Act 1, Scene 4 Quotes

Orgon: Has all been well, these two days I’ve been gone?
How are the family? What’s been going on?

Dorine: Your wife, two days ago, had a bad fever
And a fierce headache which refused to leave her

Orgon: Ah. And Tartuffe?

Dorine: Tartuffe: Why, he’s round and red,
Bursting with health, and excellently fed.

Orgon: Poor fellow!

Related Characters: Orgon (speaker), Dorine (speaker), Tartuffe, Elmire
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Orgon, the patriarch, returns, and is greeted by his family. Despite having been away, Orgon does not care in the slightest about his family's welfare. Although Dorine tells him that his wife, Elmire, has been sick, Orgon only wants to hear about how Tartuffe has been. He has lost his emotional connection with his family, unable to put their needs over those of Tartuffe. 

In fact, blind has Orgon become in his devotion to Tartuffe, that even when Dorine tells him that Tartuffe is healthy, "round and red," he still responds with "Poor fellow!" In Orgon's mind, Tartuffe is a persecuted and pious holy man. No matter what Tartuffe does to prove that the contrary is true, Orgon refuses to see or to hear. He has lost his reason, and is completely under the influence of Tartuffe. 

Act 1, Scene 5 Quotes

There’s been no loftier soul since time began.
He is a man who…a man who…an excellent man.

Related Characters: Orgon (speaker), Tartuffe
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Orgon debates with his family about Tartuffe, refusing to hear a single word against his supposed friend. Yet despite his insistence that Tartuffe is the best man he's ever known, Orgon cannot actually find a single substantive compliment to give Tartuffe. Instead, he simply stammers, attempting to find an attribute of Tartuffe's to praise, but failing to say anything at all.

Orgon's inability to say anything good about Tartuffe illustrates the dangers of hypocrisy. Tartuffe is a complete empty shell. Orgon sees whatever he wants to see in Tartuffe because he does not have any actual attributes. At the same time, none of Orgon's family members can catch Tartuffe in a lie because he is so slippery and cunning. 

Under his tutelage my soul’s been freed
From earthly loves, and every human tie:
My mother, children, brother, and wife would die,
And I’d not feel a single moment’s pain.

Related Characters: Orgon (speaker), Tartuffe
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Orgon again praises Tartuffe for having "freed" him from worldly cares, such as his children and his wife. Orgon believes that this sort of apathy towards family life is holy, and that in feeling this way he has ascended to a higher plane. However, Orgon has it completely backwards. In French society of this period, caring for your family--and obeying your king--was innately holy. By displaying disdain for his family, Orgon is in fact betraying his holy duty as a patriarch.

Conversely, although Orgon no longer cares for his family, he has become increasingly obsessed with Tartuffe. His adoration for his mentor has become a kind of worship, with Orgon essentially having replaced God with Tartuffe – which boils down to blasphemy. 

He used to come into our church each day
And humbly kneel nearby and start to pray.
He’d draw the eyes of everybody there
By the deep fervor of his heartfelt prayer;
He’d sign and weep and sometimes with a sound
Of rapture he would bend and kiss the ground.

Related Characters: Orgon (speaker), Tartuffe
Related Symbols: The Catholic Church
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Orgon describes meeting Tartuffe for the first time, and describes Tartuffe's various signs of prayer – weeping, rapturous noises, and kissing the ground – as evidence of his piety. In fact, Tartuffe's loud and attention-grabbing manner of worship shows just the opposite. He makes sure that all eyes are watching him, and only then does he begin to pray, proof of the fact that he feigns faith rather than feeling it. 

Real faith, the play makes clear, does not attempt to draw focus to itself. Instead, it manifests as obedience for your king, care for your family, and good will towards all. Orgon, though, fundamentally does not understand this truth. He mistakes appearance and reality, believing that since Tartuffe displays a great deal of faith, he must feel that faith as well. 

He guides our lives, and to protect my honor
Stays by my wife, and keeps an eye upon her;
He tells me whom he sees, and all she does,
And seems more jealous than I ever was!

Related Characters: Orgon (speaker), Tartuffe, Elmire
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

Still attempting to prove that Tartuffe is a holy man and a loyal friend, Orgon begins to speak of how conscientious and attentive Tartuffe is towards Elmire. He describes Tartuffe's various efforts to ensure that Elmire is faithful, not understanding that, in fact, Tartuffe lusts after Elmire and is jealous of those whom she sees.

This speech displays just how deluded Orgon's thinking really is. He believes that Elmire – a paragon of virtue and fidelity – might actually be unfaithful to him. At the same time, he has no conception that Tartuffe, his supposedly faithful companion, has designs on his wife. Orgon is not simply blind, but backwards. He has completely reversed the facts of the world, seeing them as he believes them to be rather than as they actually are. 

How do you fail to see it, may I ask?
Is not a face quite different than a mask?
Cannot sincerity and cunning art,
Reality and semblance, be told apart?

Related Characters: Cléante (speaker), Tartuffe, Orgon
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

After hearing Orgon praise Tartuffe and express apathy towards his own family, Cléante is appalled. Trying to use reason to reach Orgon, he deconstructs Tartuffe's false identity, trying to explain to his brother-in-law that Tartuffe's holy act is simply a "mask." He highlights the difference between appearance and reality, and attempts to explain to Orgon that one can tell the difference between "[r]eality and semblance" if one only looks.

What Cléante fails to understand, however, is that Orgon is far past a point where reason can reach him. He has been so taken in by the charlatan that he has completely lost the use of his logical faculties. No matter how much Cléante presents evidence that Tartuffe is false and deceitful, Orgon will never believe him. 

There’s just one insight I would dare to claim:
I know that true and false are not the same;
And just as there is nothing I more revere
Than a soul whose faith is steadfast and sincere,
Nothing that I more cherish and admire
Than honest zeal and true religious fire,
So there is nothing that I find more base
Than specious piety’s dishonest face—

Related Characters: Cléante (speaker), Orgon
Related Symbols: The Catholic Church
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Having failed to convince his brother-in-law, Orgon, that Tartuffe is a bad influence on him and his family, Cléante grows frustrated. He begins to speak out against all hypocrites, saying that he hates nothing more than false piety and dishonesty – implying, of course, that Tartuffe has displayed both those things.

Even as he expresses his loathing for Tartuffe, the reasonable Cléante also expresses love for that which he believes to be most important in the world: faith, sincerity, and honesty. He is angered by the idea that just because he does not believe Tartuffe, he is branded by Orgon as impious and irreligious. Instead, Cléante states, he is simply able to tell the difference between "true and false." 

Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

Orgon: Poor though he is, he’s a gentleman just the same.

Dorine: Yes, so he tells us; and, Sir, it seems to me
Such pride goes very ill with piety.
A man whose spirit spurns this dungy earth
Ought not to brag of lands and noble birth;
Such worldly arrogance will hardly square
With meek devotion and the life of prayer.

Related Characters: Orgon (speaker), Dorine (speaker), Tartuffe
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

Orgon has announced that he plans to marry his daughter, Mariane, to Tartuffe. Although Mariane attempts to remain obedient to her father, her maid Dorine grows furious. Although Orgon claims that Tartuffe is Mariane's equal in birth though not in wealth, Dorine counters that if Tartuffe were truly holy, he wouldn't claim to be a gentleman; doing so is impious and prideful, she argues. 

Dorine's argument displays a conflict within this play between religion and money. Tartuffe lusts for Orgon's wealth, and uses religion as a ploy to steal his money and property from him. He has turned religion into a tool in order to satisfy his own greed – a terrible sin. Dorine, meanwhile, is espousing that the social hierarchy exists according to God's will, and that people should stay in their places rather than try to "move up in the world." While such a worldview seems strange in modern times, when the play was written it was common.

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

Tartuffe: Hang up my hair-shirt, put my scourges in place,
And pray, Laurent, for Heaven’s perpetual grace.
I’m going to the prison now, to share
My last few coins with the poor wretches there.
Dorine: Dear God, what affectation! What a fake!

Related Characters: Tartuffe (speaker), Dorine (speaker)
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

At last, Tartuffe, who has been the subject of so much conversation but has not yet actually appeared in the play, comes on stage. When he does, he is loudly and ostentatiously telling his servant to put away his "scourges" (with which he presumably beats himself while in prayer) as he goes to give his last pennies to prisoners. With these few lines, Tartuffe has already revealed what a fraud he is. As rational characters like Cléante have already made clear, true faith does not draw attention to itself. The point of piety is not to show off to others, but to display one's faith to God alone. Tartuffe, though, is all about the showing off.

Tartuffe's affected piety should be laughable to all audience members, and for good measure, Dorine ridicules them as well. Yet it is important to remember that despite Tartuffe's barely concealed hypocrisy, Orgon still believes in him – a mark of just how blind and foolish the patriarch of this family truly is. 

Act 3, Scene 3 Quotes

Your loveliness I had no sooner seen
Than you became my soul’s unrivalled queen;
Before your seraph glance, divinely sweet,
My heart’s defenses crumbled in defeat,
And nothing fasting, prayer, or tears might do
Could stay my spirit from adoring you
My eyes, my sights have told you in the past
What now my lips make bold to say at last,
And if, in your great goodness, you will deign
To look upon your slave and ease his pain,—
If, in compassion for my soul’s distress,
You’ll stoop to comfort my unworthiness,
I’ll raise to you, in thanks for that sweet manna,
An endless hymn, an infinite hosanna.

Related Characters: Tartuffe (speaker), Elmire
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

Alone with Elmire, his patron's wife, Tartuffe at last reveals his feelings: he claims to be in love with her. Of course, this is a massive betrayal. Tartuffe is supposedly Orgon's best friend and closest confidante. Beyond his personal connection with Orgon, Tartuffe is also betraying his faith by attempting to seduce another man's wife.

On this note, it is important to look at the language of Tartuffe's profession of love. He claims that he lusts for Elmire despite himself, and that he has tried to fast and pray in order to overcome his attraction. Yet despite this claim of holiness, Tartuffe also promises to worship Elmire as a god if she will become his. Not only does he want to seduce this woman, but he both uses his supposed piety as a part of his "pick-up line," while at the same time making clear that he is willing to cast aside God in favor of her – terrible blasphemy. With one speech, Tartuffe has proved just how hollow and self-serving his "faith" really is. 

Act 3, Scene 6 Quotes

Orgon: Can it be true, this dreadful thing I hear?

Tartuffe: Yes, Brother, I’m a wicked man, I fear;
A wretched sinner, all depraved and twisted,
The greatest villain that has ever existed.
My life’s one heap of crimes, which grows each minute;
There’s naught but foulness and corruption in it;
And I perceive that Heaven, outraged by me,
Has chosen this occasion to mortify me
Charge me with any deed you wish to name;
I’l not defend myself, but take the blame.
Believe what you are told, and drive Tartuffe
Like some base criminal from beneath your roof;
Yes, drive me hence, and with a parting curse:
I shan’t protest, for I deserve far worse.

Orgon (to Damis): Ah, you deceitful boy, how dare you try
To stain his purity with so foul a lie?

Related Characters: Tartuffe (speaker), Orgon (speaker), Damis
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

Damis has exposed Tartuffe to Orgon, revealing that the "holy" man has attempted to seduce Elmire. Orgon, aghast, turns immediately to Tartuffe, to question him about this charge against him. The sly Tartuffe, meanwhile, responds by playing into the pious persona that he has created. Rather then defend himself, he castigates himself as a terrible sinner, saying he will accept the blame for any and every sin with which he is charged. In other words, he makes himself look even more wholly in Orgon's eyes by agreeing so completely about his own sinfulness – because, as Orgon sees it, only a holy man would be so honest about his sins. 

Of course, Orgon responds just as Tartuffe hopes, with furious anger and a refusal to believe his truthful but rash son. This interaction displays the true, dangerous power of Tartuffe's hypocrisy. Even when he tells the absolute truth – he is a "base criminal," and deserves to be ejected from the house – Orgon still cannot see past his lies and manipulations. Nothing will loosen Tatuffe's sway over his patron, making it nearly impossible for any of Orgon's family members to get through to their foolish patriarch. 

Act 4, Scene 3 Quotes

I am amazed, and don’t know what to say;
Your blindness simply takes my breath away.
You are indeed bewitched, to take no warning
From our account of what occurred this morning.

Related Characters: Elmire (speaker), Tartuffe, Orgon
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

As Orgon continues to dictate that Mariane must marry Tartuffe, Elmire tries to step in, but her husband rebuffs her. Shocked and appalled, the usually calm Elmire grows angry. She accuses her husband of "blindness," adding that he has been "bewitched" by Tartuffe's wiles.

Other characters have attempted earlier in the play to shake Orgon out of his infatuation with Tartuffe. Elmire, however, is the most eloquent, effective, and rational character in the entire piece. She accurately diagnoses Orgon's "blindness," instinctively understanding that her husband cannot see what is right in front of his face.

Despite this incisive and infuriated plea, however, Orgon is not swayed. The fact that even the rational, persuasive Elmire, who truly loves her husband, cannot save him from the seductive power of Tartuffe truly illustrates how powerful Tartuffe's spell over Orgon really is. 

Act 4, Scene 5 Quotes

If you’re still troubled, think of things this way:
No one shall know our joys, save us alone,
And there’s no evil till the act is known;
It’s scandal, Madam, which makes it an offense,
And it’s no sin to sin in confidence.

Related Characters: Tartuffe (speaker), Elmire
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

Elmire has laid her trap, and has convinced Tartuffe that she returns his love. Here he tries to seal the deal by explaining to her his philosophy of dishonesty. To Tartuffe, a dishonest action is only "evil" or a "sin" if other people find out about it. As long as he and Elmire keep their infidelity to themselves, he does not believe that there is anything wrong with it.

This view runs completely counter to the basic tenets of Christianity, which holds that sin is sin no matter who finds out about it. Further, Tartuffe's speech illustrates the depth of his hypocrisy: he truly believes that there is nothing wrong with doing one thing and saying the opposite, so long as he doesn't get caught.

This view comes from a mistaken obsession with appearances. Tartuffe believes that appearances are all that matters, and while he will do whatever it takes to maintain his public, "holy" image, he has no qualms about acting immorally in private. 

Why worry about the man? Each day he grows
More gullible; one can lead him by the nose.
To find us here would fill him with delight,
And if he saw the worst, he’d doubt his sight.

Related Characters: Tartuffe (speaker), Orgon, Elmire
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Still pretending to be in love with Tartuffe, Elmire voices concern that her husband will discover their affair. Tartuffe, however, tries to explain that Orgon will not prove a problem. He has knowingly entranced his patron, rendering Orgon so "gullible" that he can manipulate the foolish man in any way he wants.

One line that Tartuffe speaks is particularly notable: "if he saw the worst, he'd doubt his sight." Although dishonest and evil, Tartuffe has a very clear grasp of what he has done to Orgon: he has made the other man so foolish that even if the truth were right in front of his face, he would not be able to understand or accept it. This line sums up the true power of hypocrisy: by saying one thing and doing another, hypocrites can completely destroy others people's understanding of what is true and what is false. 

Act 4, Scene 7 Quotes

Well, so you thought you’d fool me, my dear saint!
How soon you wearied of the saintly life—
Wedding my daughter, and coveting my wife!
I’ve long suspected you, and had a feeling
That soon I’d catch you at your double-dealing.
Hust now, you’ve given me evidence galore;
It’s quite enough; I have no wish for more.

Related Characters: Orgon (speaker), Tartuffe
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

Enraged, Orgon confronts Tartuffe for his treachery. Yet it's noteworthy that even in this moment the foolish Orgon cares mostly about appearances (even though it was his belief in Tartuffe's appearance that made him follow the man). Here, Orgon claims that he has "suspected" Tartuffe for a long time, and that he knew from the beginning that his friend was false.

Audience members and readers undoubtedly are aware of Orgon's revision of events. His action illustrates that even though he has become clearsighted in regards to Tartuffe, Orgon still remains foolish and self-congratulating. He may have returned to the loving arms of his family, but Orgon cannot face the fact that he was moments away from betraying them. He is no longer in thrall to Tartuffe, but he is still motivated by appearances above all else.

Act 5, Scene 6 Quotes

Sir, all is well; rest easy, and be grateful.
We serve a Prince to whom all sham is hateful,
A Prince who sees into our inmost hearts,
And can’t be fooled by any trickster’s arts.
His royal soul, though generous and human,
Views all things with discernment and acumen;
His sovereign reason is not lightly swayed,
And all his judgments are discreetly weighed.
He honors righteous men of every kind,
And yet his zeal for virtue is not blind,
Nor does his love of piety numb his wits
And make him tolerant of hypocrites.
‘Twas hardly likely that this man could cozen
A King who’s fouled such liars by the dozen,
With one keen glance,
The King perceived the whole
Perverseness and corruption of his soul,
And thus high Heaven’s justice was displayed:
Betraying you, the rogue stood self-betrayed.

Related Characters: Police Officer (speaker), Tartuffe, Orgon
Related Symbols: The King
Page Number: 161-62
Explanation and Analysis:

With Tartuffe about to take Orgon's house, lands, and money, a miracle occurs: an emissary of the King intervenes, punishing Tartuffe, and rewarding Orgon for his service in the recent wars. The representative praises the King, stating that hypocrites like Tartuffe can never fool the monarch, and that the King charts a true middle course between mercy and justice. Both pious and rational, loving and stern, the King is the true symbol of an ideal man.

This ending, though sudden and miraculous, is the perfect capstone for the play. The King, during this period in France, had absolute power over his subjects. They believed him to have a "divine right" as ruler, and he was closely allied with the Catholic Church. In the play, the King is everything that Orgon and Tartuffe are not--honest, wise, and just. He is the ultimate incorruptible authority, and only his decree can save Orgon's family from the terrible troubles that their patriarch has caused them.