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Religion, Piety, and Morals Theme Analysis

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.
Religion, Piety, and Morals Theme Icon

French culture at this time closely linked society and religion; the Church held an enormous amount of power, and piety was considered an essential part of everyday life. Tartuffe, however, misuses religion, his shows of faith contrasting with the quiet but true faith of characters such as Elmire. Though Tartuffe has become a symbol of religious hypocrisy, the play does not condemn religion; rather, Moliere seeks to illustrate the difficulty of discerning the difference between true piety and false pious gestures. Tartuffe does not use religion for good, but rather as a tool to manipulate those around him. He displays piety when others are watching, but drops his act as soon as he sees something he covets (such as Elmire, or Orgon’s wealth). Although he occasionally performs good deeds, such as giving money to beggars, he does so only in order to make his charade of faith more believable.

In contrast, Elmire acts piously even when it is not advantageous to do so. She rejects Tartuffe’s advances only to beg Damis not to tell Orgon about the incident. She would rather hide her own virtue than upset her husband. This fact is particularly ironic considering that at the beginning of the play Madame Pernelle condemns Elmire for her impious ways, noting how she wears stylish clothes and entertains many callers. This utterly incorrect judgment yet again illustrates the problems of distinguishing between true and false faith. Elmire seems sinful, yet is in fact virtuous and faithful. Tartuffe, meanwhile, seems pious even though he is a greedy, lustful liar.

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Religion, Piety, and Morals Quotes in Tartuffe

Below you will find the important quotes in Tartuffe related to the theme of Religion, Piety, and Morals.
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 5 Quotes

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. 

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 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. 

Act 4, Scene 3 Quotes

Sir, by that Heaven which sees me here distressed,
And by whatever else can move your breast,
Do not employ a father’s power, I pray you,
To crush my heart and force it to obey you,
Nor by your harsh commands oppress me so
That I’ll begrudge the duty which I owe—
And do not so embitter and enslave me
That I shall hate the very life you gave me.

Related Characters: Mariane (speaker), Orgon
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

Commanded by Orgon to marry Tartuffe, Mariane begs her unyielding father to spare her from this terrible fate. She acknowledges that it is "a father's power" and right to give his daughter to whomever he chooses. Mariane's acceptance of this fact illustrates the immense power of the patriarchy during this time period, while also illustrating her obedience as a daughter. 

Despite her meek and humble nature, Mariane hates Tartuffe so much that she is moved to beg her father for mercy. Pious to a fault, Mariane even uses the name of "Heaven" to make her father understand what it would do to her to marry Tartuffe. Equally striking is her threat that, should she be married to Tartuffe, she would "hate" her very existence. Although a good daughter, Mariane is also a highly emotional character; as we see here, as her heart conflicts with what she perceives as her duty. 

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. 

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.