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Tartuffe or The Hypocrite

A synopsis of the play by Molière

This article was originally published in Minute History of the Drama. Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. p. 46.

The first three acts of TARTUFFE were presented at Versailles, May 12, 1664. The play was first produced in its present form, February 5, 1669, in Paris.

ORGON, a well-to-do Parisian householder, has been so deceived by the hypocritical cant of a poor beggar named Tartuffe, that he has made the latter an honored guest in his household. In no time at all Tartuffe has made himself practically master of the house and the doings of its occupants. Orgon, far from being incensed, ascribes this to Tartuffe's unselfish interest in his, Orgon's, welfare. He is on the point, in fact, of repudiating his promise to young Valère that he shall marry Orgon's daughter, Marianne, in order that her hand and her dower may go to Tartuffe and attach him permanently to the family.

I an effort to save her step-daughter's romance, Elmire, Orgon's wife, meets Tartuffe to beg him to refuse such a marriage. Tartuffe, believing they are alone, proposes a clandestine love affair to the wife of his benefactor. Orgon's son, Damis, steps forth from a closet where he has been hiding during the interview, just as Orgon enters the room. Damis denounces Tartuffe for the scoundrel he is. Orgon, however, refuses to believe either his son, Damis, or his wife, Elmire. Instead he disinherits his son and drives him from the house. Not satisfied with these amends to Tartuffe's wounded "innocence," he forthwith makes Tartuffe a deed of gift for the house itself. He declares, moreover, that the marriage with Marianne shall take place at once.

Elmire, in desperation, asks Orgon if he should behold Tartuffe's treachery with his own eyes and hear it with his own ears if he would believe. Upon Orgon's incredulous assent, she conceals him under the table and leads Tartuffe on to a second avowal of illicit love. When Orgon in righteous indignation orders him from the house, Tartuffe reminds his benefactor that the house is no longer his. In fact, the bailiff presently arrives to oust Orgon and his family. At the same time Valère comes with word that Tartuffe has reported Orgon to the King for harboring property belonging to a political fugitive and that even now Tartuffe and an officer are on their way to arrest him.

As Orgon is about to flee in Valère's carriage, Tartuffe and the officer arrive. The hypocrite has at last overplayed his hand, however. Upon his appearance before the King, His Majesty had recognized him as a criminal with a long record and many aliases. So now Tartuffe is arrested in Orgon's stead. His Majesty graciously forgives Orgon his indiscretion on account of his recent conspicuous bravery in military service. His property is restored to him and Valère and Marianne are free to marry with Orgon's blessing.

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Molière Index
Moliere Monologues
Molière: Poems

Related Dramatists

Pierre Corneille
Jean Racine

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