Throughout Tartuffe, Moliere illustrates that appearances can be deceiving. Yet at the same time, he does not condemn that most shallow of virtues, beauty. Rather, Moliere contests that beauty is something to be appreciated and admired, but that it cannot rule our actions. At the beginning of the play, Elmire seems a beautiful, thoughtless flirt. The rigid Madame Pernelle condemns her son’s wife for entertaining too many callers, and caring too much about her appearance, believing that Elmire’s pretty face masks inner ugliness. In truth, however, Elmire is beautiful inside and out—a kind, brave, and loyal wife. Tartuffe, meanwhile, is considered to be a holy, pious man whose outward poverty masks his inner beauty. In fact, he is a hypocrite, using Orgon’s faith in him for his own personal gain. Although he claims to scorn all worldly things, he covets Elmire, his lust for her revealing his own obsession with beauty.
Throughout the play, Moliere shows his audience how complicated the issues of appearance and beauty really are. Dorine, for instance, is a lowly servant, but possesses a powerful intellect and a strong will. On the other hand Madame Pernelle, despite her high social status, has no insight or intelligence whatsoever. This exploration of appearances culminates when Elmire decides to show Orgon the depth of Tartuffe’s treachery after Orgon refuses to believe her. Elmire then uses her husband’s belief in appearances to her own advantage, allowing him to see with his own two eyes how faithless his supposedly holy “friend” really is.
This interest in appearances and beauty makes itself clear in Moliere’s own writing, as well, which consists entirely of rhymed couplets. In his plays, Moliere strives for both clarity and beauty, using language that both embodies his plot and demonstrates his skill as a writer in creating beautiful language.
Appearances and Beauty ThemeTracker
Appearances and Beauty Quotes in Tartuffe
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!
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.
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!
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?
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—
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.