Literature Study GuidesTartuffeAct 5 Scenes 1 3 Summary

Tartuffe | Study Guide

Molière

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Tartuffe | Act 5, Scenes 1–3 | Summary

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Summary

Act 5, Scene 1

Orgon confides to Cléante what was in the strongbox: papers given him by his friend Argas when he fled the city. Orgon wanted them out of his hands so if he was interrogated, he could honestly swear he didn't have the papers. Cléante remarks that, having given Tartuffe such power over him, he should have "acted in some subtler way." Orgon is so angry at Tartuffe that he is "through with [all] pious men." Cléante accuses Orgon of being too "extravagant" and urges him not to "humor fraud" or to "asperse true piety." He must not vilify or scorn piety, but he needs to discern between piety and fraud.

Act 5, Scene 2

Damis joins Orgon and Cléante. He has heard about Tartuffe's "threats" and offers to do his father "the favor" of killing Tartuffe and thus end Orgon's "distress." Cléante tells him to calm down: "In this just kingdom, this enlightened age, / One does not settle things by violence."

Act 5, Scene 3

Madame Pernelle has heard "strange tales of very strange events" at her son's house and has come to see for herself. Orgon tells her how Tartuffe tried "to induce [Elmire] to misbehave" and is now threatening to evict Orgon and turn him into "a pauper, as [Tartuffe] began." But Madame Pernelle will not believe a word spoken against Tartuffe. She insists the family has "turned [Orgon] against him with a clever lie." Orgon insists he saw it with his own eyes, but his mother says, "We cannot always judge by what we see." Madame Pernelle now doubts Orgon just as he earlier doubted his family. Cléante tries to get them to develop a level-headed strategy in case Tartuffe takes Orgon to court. Orgon sees someone arriving and tells Dorine to say he's busy. Monsieur Loyal enters.

Analysis

Cléante's good advice can sometimes prove a bit grating, as happens in Act 5, Scene 1. After all, the advice comes much too late. Not only has Orgon long since entrusted Tartuffe with Argas's incriminating documents, he has already goaded Tartuffe into throwing him and his family out of the house. In such a situation, Cléante would do better to realize his advice will only upset people and he could easily come across as a bit of a know-it-all.

Fortunately, by Act 5 Orgon is more disposed to listen to Cléante's advice as both he and Damis do in Scene 2. However, it is worth noting Damis did not think through his offer to do away with Tartuffe. It's very likely such an inexperienced boy would get killed himself if he took on both the wily Tartuffe and his staunch henchman, Laurent. And if he did manage to kill Tartuffe, he would probably be arrested and executed for murder—causing further pain and scandal for his family.

Verbal irony may again appear in the last lines of Scene 2 as Cléante mentions "this just kingdom, this enlightened age." It is hard to know whether Molière is serious here. After all, Tartuffe was unjustly banned for five years. And he is hardly likely to have considered as "enlightened" the very forces that pushed to ban the play. Still, in the end, the fate of Orgon and his family will be decided by the king's justice and enlightenment.

In Act 5, Scene 3, the tables have been turned on Orgon. Now he is the one recounting what he has witnessed to someone under Tartuffe's spell, namely his mother. She is as convinced as he had been of Tartuffe's innocence. Madame Pernelle's failure to grasp the truth annoys him, just as his idolization of Tartuffe had frustrated his family. The absurdity of her clinging devotedly to the falsely pious man and the justice of her refusal to believe her son are a delightful turnabout not just for Dorine but also for the audience. Like Orgon, Madame Pernelle will not be convinced until, in the next scene, she sees the bailiff come to evict her son from his own house. The printed eviction notice is something she cannot deny.

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