HomeLiterature Study GuidesTartuffeAct 3 Scenes 5 7 Summary

Tartuffe | Study Guide

Molière

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Tartuffe | Act 3, Scenes 5–7 | Summary

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Summary

Act 3, Scene 5

When Orgon enters, Damis blurts out what has happened: By making an "adulterous offer" to Elmire, Tartuffe has sought to "reward" Orgon's generosity with "a pair of horns," the symbol of a deceived husband. Elmire tells her husband she is adept at "keeping men at bay" and feels it was not necessary to trouble him with this information. Saying she wishes Damis had said nothing, she leaves the room.

Act 3, Scene 6

Orgon demands to know if this is true, and Tartuffe says it is. He is such a sinner that Orgon is free to ascribe any crime to him and cast him out of the house. This convinces Orgon of Tartuffe's innocence, and he accuses Damis of lying. But Tartuffe tells Orgon to believe Damis and invites Damis to keep calling him names. Orgon tells Damis to by silent or he'll "tear [him] limb from limb." Tartuffe won't hear of it and begs Orgon to pardon Damis. Orgon accuses the entire household of conspiring against Tartuffe and says he's going to get back at them "by giving him [Mariane] as his bride ... this very night." He demands Damis "kneel down ... / And ask [Tartuffe's] pardon." When Damis refuses, Orgon throws him out of the house and threatens to disinherit him.

Act 3, Scene 7

Tartuffe asks Orgon to forgive Damis, which only makes Orgon angrier with his son. With the household against him, Tartuffe suggests it would be better for him to leave. Orgon begs him to stay, and Tartuffe relents. However, he thinks he should at least avoid Elmire. Orgon won't hear of it, saying he wants everyone to see Tartuffe with Elmire "night and day." And in order to "drive them to despair" he decides to make Tartuffe his "only son and heir." Tartuffe, he says, means more to him than his family. Will Tartuffe accept, he asks. Tartuffe replies, "let the will of Heaven be done."

Analysis

In Act 3, Scenes 5 and 6, audiences witness a confrontation between two quick-tempered men—Orgon and his son, Damis. They are very much alike. Each is completely confident in his beliefs and interprets any evidence presented in light of those beliefs. Damis is convinced Tartuffe is an evil charlatan and believes he has incontrovertible proof of this. When his father does not trust his and Elmire's account of events, Damis is flabbergasted. Because Orgon already thinks Tartuffe can do no wrong, he needs very little prompting to be convinced what Damis has said is nothing but a "foul ... lie." Both men are also hot-headed, and their confrontation quickly escalates. Neither stops to think about the consequences of his actions. This is clear when Damis, despite Elmire begging him not to, tells his father Tartuffe was trying to seduce her. By doing so, he dooms Mariane's hopes of marrying Valère and his own of marrying Valère's sister. By continuing to argue with his father, he pushes the older man toward his decision (in Act 3, Scene 7) to disinherit him. Unfortunately for Damis, the household is a microcosm of the kingdom, and like the king, Orgon wields absolute power. He has the right and the ability to throw his son out and to disinherit him.

Orgon's decision at the end of the act to disinherit his family and name Tartuffe his heir will prove disastrous for him, as well. Like his son, Orgon has not thought through all the potential consequences of his actions.

The only man in these scenes who has a clear view of consequences is Tartuffe. Unlike Orgon and Damis, he is in perfect control of his speech and actions during these three scenes. Everything he says and does is carefully calculated to achieve his goals. His acceptance of guilt is carefully contrived to make him look innocent. He doesn't admit he made advances toward Elmire; he admits he is a sinner and claims he's willing to accept the blame for anything anyone cares to accuse him of. He has certainly done many bad things, he says, while managing to imply this particular bad thing was not among them. As soon as he is confident Orgon is convinced of his innocence, Tartuffe offers to leave, knowing Orgon will not permit it. By ostentatiously and repeatedly forgiving Damis while Damis continues to accuse him, Tartuffe prompts Orgon to compensate for his son's insults, making Orgon still angrier with Damis. Orgon's anger makes Tartuffe's equanimity seem all the more saintly. Ultimately, Tartuffe's continued protestations of his general guiltiness and his insistence on forgiveness have the exact opposite effect on Orgon—just as Tartuffe knew they would. Orgon reveres Tartuffe more highly than ever and loses all trust in his family. Tartuffe has not only solidified his hold on Orgon's affection and trust; he has won Orgon's permission to spend all his time with Elmire and has entirely usurped Damis's legal position in the family. Moreover, he has done all this through reverse psychology.

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