Literature Study GuidesTartuffeAct 4 Scenes 1 3 Summary

Tartuffe | Study Guide


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Tartuffe | Act 4, Scenes 1–3 | Summary



Act 4, Scene 1

Cléante approaches Tartuffe to convince him to forgive Damis. "The whole town," he tells Tartuffe, "is scandalized." He hopes Tartuffe will help Damis "regain his father's love." Tartuffe explains he would like nothing better, but fears the town would interpret his kindness to the boy as an attempt "to buy his silence with a show of love." Cléante finds this argument "badly warped and stretched." He says it's not their job to enforce Heaven's laws but God's. They should just do what's right. Tartuffe assures Cléante he has forgiven Damis but doesn't want to live with someone who has libeled him. Cléante changes tack and asks whether God has commanded Tartuffe to "indulge [Orgon's] whim" to make Tartuffe his heir. Tartuffe insists he is accepting the gift in order to ensure it is used "for Heaven's glory and mankind's benefits" rather than for "purposes of sin and crime"—an argument Cléante finds offensive. He asks whether religion teaches "lawful heirs [should] be deprived of what is theirs" and whether it would not be better for Tartuffe to leave than for the "son of the house" to be banished. Tartuffe remembers he has "certain pious duties" and leaves.

Act 4, Scene 2

Dorine begs Cléante to help Mariane, who is to marry Tartuffe tonight. Dorine and Elmire are going to try to change Orgon's mind, and she asks Cléante to "stand together" with them.

Act 4, Scene 3

When Orgon arrives, Mariane drops to her knees and begs him not to make her marry Tartuffe. She will give up Valère if he wishes, but marrying Tartuffe would make her hate living and force her "to contemplate some desperate course." Orgon is touched but relentless. Mariane begs him to spare her and let her join a convent instead. Orgon makes fun of her, saying, "All lovesick girls have the same thought." Marrying Tartuffe will be good for her soul. Dorine and Cléante try to reason with him, but he won't listen.

Finally, Elmire gets angry. She says he must be "bewitched, to take no warning" from their report of Tartuffe's treatment of her. Orgon believes Damis was lying and that Elmire didn't contradict him out of affection for the boy. Had it been true, he says, Elmire "should have looked more angry, more upset." She replies such a show should be unnecessary; "a polite and cool rebuff" is sufficient. She challenges Orgon to hide and see for himself what happens when she is alone with Tartuffe. Orgon is confident nothing will happen, but agrees to her challenge.


In these scenes, Cléante is again trying to help his sister's stepchildren. It is likely he and Elmire are about the same age as Mariane and Damis, yet Cléante and Elmire seem much more mature and worldly wise. This may well derive from Orgon's tight control of the household. He has not allowed his children to take on responsibilities that might allow them to mature. Thus, Cléante must go to bat for Damis and join Elmire and Dorine in defending Mariane.

Cléante is the antithesis of Tartuffe. Both like to present what appear to be incontrovertible arguments. When the two men meet in Act 4, Scene 1, Cléante supports his first and foremost with sound logic and factual evidence. In contrast, Tartuffe supports his through evasion, impressive-sounding references to religion, and emotional language. Cléante has no trouble seeing through Tartuffe's gobbledygook. When the impostor realizes he can't out-argue Cléante, he remembers a prior engagement and leaves. No one has witnessed their encounter, however, and it changes nothing.

Yet, even if Orgon had been present for Cléante's talk with Tartuffe, he would not have recognized the truth. He is not a man given to intellectual discussions. He judges people on what he sees, not what he hears. He saw Tartuffe praying and giving to the poor, and he formed his opinion of the man based on those observations. Up to now, he has not seen anything to dissuade him from admiring Tartuffe—just the reverse, in fact. What he has seen is the anger of his family, which he interprets as petty jealousy, and calm forgiveness in Tartuffe, which supports his faith in the man.

In Act 4, Scene 3 both Mariane's appeal to her father's emotions and Cléante's appeal to his logic fail to change Orgon's mind. Elmire, who knows her husband, forms a plan based on that knowledge. If she can't make Orgon believe her words, she will let him observe Tartuffe's actions. She will allow Tartuffe himself to change Orgon's mind.

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