The women enter: Madame Pernelle, Mariane, Elmire, and Dorine. Orgon’s mother says that she has heard “strange tales of very strange events.” Orgon tells her that Tartuffe has betrayed him, but Madame Pernelle (as her son did before her) utterly refuses to believe that Tartuffe could ever do anything wrong. She suggests that other members of the family must be trying to slander Tartuffe, and fights with her son about the hypocrite’s reputation. Frustrated beyond endurance with his mother, Orgon asks her what kind of proof she needs to be convinced of Tartuffe’s guilt. Madame Pernelle says that nothing will convince her, and as Orgon fumes, Dorine points out that Madame Pernelle is acting just as Orgon once did.
The tables—quite ironically—have turned. Orgon, who was once as stubborn and misguided as his mother, now must try to convince her of Tartuffe’s treachery. But just like Orgon, his mother cannot be convinced by any “telling” of Tartuffe’s hypocrisy and treachery. Her mind is set.
Cléante reminds Orgon that they are wasting time, and that they must figure out how to stop Tartuffe. Elmire expresses regret at her “little plot,” saying that if she’d known about Tartuffe’s power to hurt her family, she would not have angered him.
Even now, Elmire remains calm and practical, attempting to come up with the most effective way to protect her family from Tartuffe. Yet her regret at the way her “little plot” only angered Tartuffe mirrors in a way the way that the other character’s attempt to sway Orgon only angered him, and emphasizes that Tartuffe has become a kind of monstrous “father” to this family, able to do whatever he wants to it.