Literature Study GuidesTartuffeAct 4 Scenes 6 8 Summary

Tartuffe | Study Guide

Molière

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Tartuffe | Act 4, Scenes 6–8 | Summary

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Summary

Act 4, Scene 6

As soon as Tartuffe leaves the room, Orgon comes out from under the table. His opinion of Tartuffe has completely reversed; Tartuffe is a "perfect monster." Elmire suggests several times Orgon should not be "hasty" but wait until there's no possible doubt. As Tartuffe returns, she hides Orgon behind her.

Act 4, Scene 7

Tartuffe is speaking as he enters, assuring Elmire they won't be discovered. Orgon hastily reveals himself and orders Tartuffe to "leave this household, without more ado." Twice Tartuffe tries to make excuses, but Orgon cuts him off. Then the con man reveals his true colors. He says he is the master of the house now, and Orgon is the one who must leave.

Act 4, Scene 8

Left alone with Elmire, Orgon tells her the deed has been "drawn and signed." He's worried about something else, too, and says they must look for "a certain strongbox" in Tartuffe's room.

Analysis

In Act 4, Scene 6 Orgon is fully focused on what he has learned about Tartuffe. He now despises the man as much as he loved him minutes earlier. Elmire, however, has only learned she was wrong to count on her husband to come to her rescue. To make her annoyance clear to Orgon, she uses verbal irony—language selected to convey a message different from the literal meaning of the spoken words. Unfortunately, he is still too focused on Tartuffe to pay attention.

In Act 4, Scene 7 everything falls apart. At first Orgon is triumphant—and intent on rewriting history. He has discovered Tartuffe's true nature, which, he claims he's "long suspected." The audience is aware he never suspected a thing. Until the preceding scene, Orgon has been Tartuffe's staunch defender. Orgon is already rewriting the story of their relationship to paint himself as the clever man who duped Tartuffe into revealing himself.

An interesting phenomenon is Elmire's apology to Tartuffe for treating him "so slyly." This might be Elmire reverting to her socially dictated role of hostess and being polite to a guest in the house. But it's more likely it's another instance of verbal irony. She says she's sorry but she isn't—especially as Tartuffe himself has regularly treated everyone in the household "slyly." He deserves to have the tables turned.

Then the very dire consequences of Orgon's previous infatuation come to light. When Tartuffe realizes he cannot talk himself out of this, he drops all pretense and declares his victory. He is now the master of the house. Moreover, in the last scene of Act 4 Orgon's words indicate the situation may be even worse. He leads Elmire off to look for a strongbox—a sort of portable safe—in Tartuffe's room. It sounds as if he might have given Tartuffe more than just the family's real property. With the suspense building, the fourth act ends.

Neither the characters nor the audience are aware of it, but in falling for Elmire's trickery in Scene 5, Tartuffe has taken the first step toward his ultimate downfall. From here on, each move he makes against Orgon brings him closer to his arrest at the end of the play.

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