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

The people of Moliere’s society considered reason one of the highest of virtues, and considered emotion weak and irrational. Throughout the play, Tartuffe uses emotion to deceive those around him, while Cléante, Dorine, and Elmire employ reason to combat him. The contrast between the emotion of Tartuffe and the reason of the other characters clearly illustrates the differences between them. Meanwhile Orgon, the primary target of Tartuffe’s seductive arguments, becomes increasingly swayed by emotion as the play continues. Tartuffe makes Orgon feel betrayed by his family, causing his supposed friend to lash out at those who are attempting to help him. Their reason and logic only further alienate Orgon, convincing him that Tartuffe is the only man he can trust. As he falls further and further under Tartuffe’s emotional spell, Orgon threatens his daughter Mariane, attempts to strike his servant Dorine, and disowns his own son Damis. These are emotional decisions, not logical ones, and within the realm of the play are therefore ill advised and contemptible.

The dangers of emotion also shine through in the subplot of Mariane and her lover Valère. Although the two adore each other, their love makes them unable to communicate. So blinded are they by emotion that they constantly and unintentionally hurt each other. Only the intervention of Dorine, the paragon of reason and logic, can keep their relationship from falling apart entirely. This conflict illustrates how even a positive emotion, such as love, can have negative effects if it is not moderated.

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Reason vs. Emotion Quotes in Tartuffe

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

But he’s quite lost his senses since he fell
Beneath Tartuffe’s infatuating spell
He calls him brother, and loves him as his life
Preferring him to mother, child, or wife.

Related Characters: Dorine (speaker), Tartuffe, Orgon
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Dorine, the family maid, joins the fanmily dispute about Tartuffe. Although lower class, Dorine is far more reasonable and rational than many in the family she serves. She often uses her tart tongue to unmask hypocrisy and foolishness, and does so here, criticizing Orgon for having "lost his senses" under Tartuffe's "spell."

Tartuffe's true evil, in Dorine's view, lies in the fact that he has disrupted the family order. As patriarch, Orgon should care about his family over all else, except for his king. Instead, though, he favors Tartuffe over "mother, child, or wife," putting the supposed holy man's needs above those of his family. 

In addition to Orgon's skewed priorities, Dorine also calls attention to Orgon's complete lack of reason now that he's under Tartuffe's spell. Having "lost his senses," he can no longer think rationally, instead blindly following Tartuffe's suggestions no matter what they are. 


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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 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 4 Quotes

To make a scandal would be too absurd.
Good wives laugh off such trifles, and forget them;
Why should they tell their husbands, and upset them?

Related Characters: Elmire (speaker), Tartuffe, Damis
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

Tartuffe, having tried to seduce Elmire, is discovered by Damis, who resolves to tell Orgon what he has seen. Elmire, however, urges her stepson not to reveal Tartuffe's treachery to his father. She explains that although she is a good and honest wife, she has no wish to make a fuss or cause a scandal. Since her faithfulness is unshakeable, she sees no reason to "upset" her husband with news of Tartuffe's attempted seduction. 

Elmire's speech reveals her subtle and keen mind. Although a moral and faithful wife, Elmire knows the difference between true honesty, and prideful superiority. She chooses always to keep her married life smooth and simple, invested in faithfulness, but also committed to keeping her husband happy and secure. Her rationality contrasts with figures like Mariane and Damis, who are also honest and faithful characters, but who do not have her even temperament and logical disposition. 

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. 

Villain, be still!
I know your motives; I know you wish him ill:
Yes, all of you—wife, children, servants, all—
Conspire against him and desire his fall
Employing every shameful trick you can
To alienate me from this saintly man
Ah, but the more you seek to drive him away
The more I’ll do to keep him. Without delay,
I’ll spite this household and confound its pride
By giving him my daughter as his bride.

Related Characters: Orgon (speaker), Tartuffe, Damis
Page Number: 100-101
Explanation and Analysis:

Infuriated that Damis has tried to tell the truth about Tartuffe, Orgon begins to berate his son. He believes that everyone is against him, and that only he can see Tartuffe's pious and holy soul. Growing increasingly irrational, he accuses his entire household of being deceitful sinners, and resolves to "spite" his family, resolves to give Tattuffe his daughter, Mariane, as a bride.

Most obviously, this passage displays Orgon's immense foolishness and his vicious temper. Completely under the influence of Tartuffe, he has forsaken those who love him in favor of a lying, grasping hypocrite. Yet despite this massive lapse in judgement, Orgon still has power over his family's lives. As patriarch, he controls their money, their house, and his daughter's marriage prospects. Although Orgon seems to display no actual care for his daughter – and though she most definitely does not want to marry Tartuffe – Orgon is free to order her to marry whomever he wishes. 

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 4 Quotes

I’m going to act quite strangely, now, and you
Must not be shocked at anything I do.
Whatever I may say, you must excuse
As part of that deceit I’m forced to use.

Related Characters: Elmire (speaker), Tartuffe, Orgon
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

Elmire comes up with an idea: she will pretend to give in to Tartuffe's advances in order to show Orgon how false his friend really is. Unlike the hypocritical "holy" man, however, Elmire is very clear on the difference between truth and lies. Knowing that her husband finds it impossible to make this distinction between truth and appearance, Elmire makes sure to let him know that she is going to use "deceit," but only because she has been forced to.

It is a mark of the desperate nature of the situation that the honest and straightforward Elmire is willing to use deception in order to ensnare Tartuffe. Although a faithful and loving wife, Elmire knows her own power, and resolves to use her own feminine seductive tactic in order to expose Tartuffe's lies. 

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 1 Quotes

Orgon: Enough, by God! I’m through with pious men:
Henceforth I’ll hate the whole false brotherhood,
And persecute them worse than Satan could.

Cléante: Ah, there you go—extravagant as ever!
Why can you not be rational? You never
Manage to take the middle course, it seems,
But jump, instead, between absurd extremes.

Related Characters: Orgon (speaker), Cléante (speaker), Tartuffe
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

Threatened with financial ruin by Tartuffe, Orgon rants and raves, stating that he hates pious men, and will strive to "persecute them" here on out. 

Calming Orgon is the long-suffering Cléante, who once again reminds his brother-in-law not to give in to excess and passion. Rather than turning against all holy men, Cléante councils, Orgon must instead strive for a "middle course." Neither too trusting or too skeptical, the ideal man (represented by Cléante) is moderate in all things, using his reason and his logic to make the best decision in any given situation. 

Orgon's passion would have been ridiculous to French audiences, who believed reason and logic to be two of the most important virtues a man could possess. 

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.