The title character of this work, Tartuffe, is the ultimate hypocrite: his sinful actions completely contradict the Catholic values that he preaches. Although Tartuffe claims to be pious, charitable, and holy, he is in fact lustful, greedy, and treacherous. His hypocrisy is infectious and dangerous, destabilizing Orgon’s entire household and negatively impacting those who believe in this supposedly pious man. In fact, those who trust Tartuffe become hypocrites themselves. Madame Pernelle, who preaches Christian charity, strikes her own maid, while Orgon commits a host of sins against his own family.
Of the characters who stand against Tartuffe’s hypocrisy, Cléante, Dorine, and Elmire are the strongest. Cléante and Dorine each use rhetoric – language – to try to combat Tartuffe, but though their arguments are logical, they cannot prevail against Tartuffe. In the end, it is Elmire who unmasks Tartuffe for what he truly is, using Tartuffe’s lust for her in order to prove his hypocrisy to her husband Orgon. Even Elmire’s bravery, however, cannot fully thwart Tartuffe, who still has a legal claim over the family’s property. True defeat comes for him in the form of a royal decree from the King negating his claim. This final plot twist is called a deus ex machina, in which an almost magical solution (in this case, the King’s decree) overcomes a seemingly impossible situation (Tartuffe’s legal claim). Moliere intends for the King’s decree to seem miraculous and unbelievable, in order to illustrate the disastrous and dangerous nature of hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy Quotes in Tartuffe
Damis: Your man Tartuffe is full of holy speeches…
Madame Pernelle: And practices precisely what he preaches.
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!
There’s been no loftier soul since time began.
He is a man who…a man who…an excellent man.
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.
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.
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?
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.