Literature Study GuidesTartuffeAct 3 Scenes 1 2 Summary

Tartuffe | Study Guide

Molière

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Tartuffe | Act 3, Scenes 1–2 | Summary

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Summary

Act 3, Scene 1

Dorine has enlisted Elmire's help in her plan to stop Mariane having to marry Tartuffe, and Elmire has requested Tartuffe come talk with her. Damis insists he wants to listen to their conversation. Dorine tries to dissuade him for fear he will "start a brawl ... and spoil it all." But suddenly Tartuffe is approaching, and Damis hides in a closet.

Act 3, Scene 2

Tartuffe comes in, calling to Laurent, who is offstage, to put away his "hair shirt" and "scourge"; Tartuffe's next stop is the prison to "share / [His] last few coins with the poor wretches there." Dorine comments, "What affectation! What a fake!" Tartuffe then hands Dorine a handkerchief and tells her to cover her bosom with it so he won't be tempted. She makes fun of him, remarking his "soul ... has very poor defenses"; she herself would not be tempted if he were "naked as a beast." He's insulted and about to leave, but she says "Madame" wants to speak with him. Learning that has "a softening effect," which tells Dorine she was right about his interest.

Analysis

From Act 3, Scene 1 it is clear the audience's earlier impression of Damis as hot-tempered is accurate. He is eager to have it out with Tartuffe. Dorine is concerned that allowing him to listen in on Elmire's conversation with the con man could backfire. Her concern foreshadows what will occur in Act 3, Scene 4.

In the second scene in Act 3, the audience finally meets Tartuffe, and he lives up to expectations. In the preceding scene, Dorine mentioned Tartuffe was finishing his prayers, and now he comes in while ostensibly still speaking to his servant, Laurent. If anyone were in doubt about how he prayed, his directions to Laurent make it clear. A hair shirt is a shirt traditionally made from rough animal hair. It is painful to wear and was therefore worn by penitents trying to punish themselves for their sins. A scourge is a whip; penitents would whip themselves while praying, again as a punishment for their sins. True penitents, however, would keep these practices secret, not broadcast them as Tartuffe does. Doing so is an indication of his hypocrisy. Similarly, true charity would not be announced loudly. One is reminded again of the Bible verses from Matthew about how one should pray secretly if one hopes to be rewarded openly.

In the 17th century women were viewed as temptresses, luring men away from living pure lives. Tartuffe therefore makes a great show of telling Dorine to cover up as if it were her fault he's a lecher. His demand offers her the opportunity to make a pointed and accurate observation that he seems to have little control over his fleshly desires. Dorine intends to exploit this weakness and his obvious interest in Elmire.

While Tartuffe is not a farce, Molière wrote many farces, and Act 3 draws much of its comedy from that genre. The goal of farce is to make the audience laugh. Farce makes use of physical comedy, bawdiness, double entendre, misunderstandings, and exaggeration. There are a lot of close calls when people are nearly caught together who should not be. This happens at the end of Scene 1, when Tartuffe nearly catches Damis with Dorine. Tartuffe's exaggerated piety in Scene 2 is also farcical, as is the way he draws the audience's attention to Dorine's breasts and his own lust. In the following scenes, Moliere will continue to incorporate elements of farce.

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