Literature Study GuidesTartuffeAct 3 Scenes 3 4 Summary

Tartuffe | Study Guide

Molière

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Tartuffe | Act 3, Scenes 3–4 | Summary

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Summary

Act 3, Scene 3

Elmire invites Tartuffe to sit down with her. He asks after her health and says he's been praying for her recovery. Elmire thanks him and explains she wants to talk with him about "a private matter." Tartuffe happily misunderstands her words and makes a passionate declaration of love and desire. He promises he would be discreet and offers her "Love without scandal, pleasure without fear." Elmire asks what he would do if she were to tell her husband of his offer, and Tartuffe hopes she'll be forgiving and remember he's "but flesh and blood, and ... not blind." She offers to keep his secret if he'll "advocate ... the marriage of Valère and Mariane."

Act 3, Scene 4

Before Tartuffe can respond, Damis bursts out of his hiding place. He announces he will tell his father everything he heard, and no entreaties from Elmire can dissuade him. Damis is pleased to see his father enter the room.

Analysis

In Act 3, Scenes 3 and 4 Molière again draws on the comic techniques of farce. Elmire tries to speak directly and plainly to Tartuffe but instead uses ambiguous phrases, resulting in misunderstanding. When she says she wants to discuss a "private matter," she means a private family matter—Mariane's engagement. But Tartuffe can easily misinterpret this as a private liaison between himself and Elmire. The audience knows what each means and gets a laugh out of it. Similarly, when Elmire says she hopes Tartuffe will be "unconstrained" with her, she means she wishes them to have an honest discussion, but he can easily interpret it to mean he will cease to be constrained by social mores or even constrained by clothing.

There is also a great deal of physical comedy in Scene 3, with Tartuffe attempting to touch Elmire—her fingers, her knee, her collar—and trying to draw his chair close to hers. All the while, she tries to avoid his touch and moves her chair away from him. His extended declarations of love are full of exaggeration, as well, even calling her God's "triumph of self-portraiture." He tries to make his very physical desire for her seem to be born of religious fervor.

Just as she gets to the point, believing she has the ammunition to force Tartuffe to drop his claim on Mariane, Damis pops out of his closet and—as foreshadowed in Scene 1 of this act—throws a tantrum and ruins the plan. This draws on dramatic irony: the audience knows what will happen while the characters do not. Neither Tartuffe nor Elmire is aware of Damis's presence until he reveals himself, but the audience has been expecting him to pop out ever since Dorine predicted it.

In his attempt to get Elmire to satisfy his desires, Tartuffe shows himself to be all the vile things Cléante and others believe him to be. When he shows concern for health, asking about her fever, it is probably for show. Similarly, his heartfelt—and very long—declarations of love are probably just the necessary means of getting what he wants. Have such tactics worked for him in the past? He seems fairly confident of success and even assures Elmire that, as a religious man, it's in his own interest to keep her reputation intact. Molière actually wrote the character for an actor in his company who had formerly played the roles of young lovers. He was a large, still handsome man, by all accounts. This indicates the fictional Tartuffe might have had some success in pursuing women and is using tried-and-true wiles on Elmire.

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