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Tartuffe: Act 5, Scene 1 Summary & Analysis

Act 5 opens a short time later, with Cléante trying to calm down Orgon, who is extremely upset about the previously mentioned strong-box. He reveals that the box was full of the papers of a friend who was disloyal to the King, and that he would be ruined if they were found in his possession. So uneasy did they make him, in fact, that he gave them to Tartuffe for safekeeping. Cléante scolds Orgon for acting so foolishly.
Moliere continues to ratchet up the tension: Orgon’s foolishness could have grievous consequences not just for himself, but for his entire family. And the contents of the strong-box suggests this threat may extend beyond losing their wealth to even more dire consequences. Orgon has been foolish for a long time.
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Orgon bemoans that such a seemingly pious man could be so evil and degraded. He resolves to hate all holy men and “to persecute them worse than Satan could.” Cléante responds by begging Orgon for moderation, telling him that he should attempt to take a middle road instead of jumping between different extremes.
The emotional Orgon, who loved holy men like Tartuffe, now completely hates them. Meanwhile, as always, Cléante remains wise and rational, and makes the case that Orgon’s fundamental issue is not trusting Tartuffe but his emotional extremism, his belief that everything must be entirely one way or entirely the other. Instead, Cléante advises a mindset of rational moderation.
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