HomeLiterature Study GuidesTartuffeAct 5 Scenes 6 7 Summary

Tartuffe | Study Guide

Molière

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Tartuffe | Act 5, Scenes 6–7 | Summary

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Summary

Act 5, Scene 6

Valère brings the family "more bad news": Tartuffe has shown the contents of the strongbox to the king, and a warrant has been issued for Orgon's arrest. Valère has brought his carriage so he can drive Orgon to a safe place; he also gives Orgon a thousand ducats. Gold ducats were the first international currency, introduced in Italy in the 13th century. Their use spread through much of Europe in succeeding centuries. Ducats were adopted and minted in France beginning in the 14th century. Most commonly minted in gold, they also were struck in copper and lead. No indication is given in Tartuffe to the ducat's relative value, but they would have been commonly available to individuals such as Valère.

Act 5, Scene 7

Before Orgon and Valère can leave, Tartuffe arrives with a police officer and announces Orgon is to go to prison by order of the king. When asked how he can do this to someone who helped him so much, he says his greatest duty is to his king. Tartuffe tells the officer to arrest Orgon, but the officer arrests Tartuffe instead. He tells Orgon the king immediately saw through Tartuffe and recognized him as a wanted criminal. To thank Orgon for his support in a recent civil war, the king has restored Orgon's property and pardoned him for keeping "an exile's documents." Cléante stops Orgon from rubbing Tartuffe's face in this turn of events and suggests they go thank the king. Orgon agrees. As soon as they return, he says, Valère and Mariane are to marry.

Analysis

If things looked bad at the end of Act 5, Scene 5, by the end of Scene 6 they look even worse. But Valère has proven his loyalty to Orgon just as Orgon once proved his loyalty to his friend Argas. Valère is not only willing to give him a substantial amount of cash, but he will also risk his own arrest by helping Orgon flee. A few hours earlier, Orgon chose to go back on his earlier agreement with Valère by ordering Mariane to marry Tartuffe instead. Valère, however, is generous and good-hearted and it's likely he is also acting out of love for Mariane. His actions in this scene prove him to Orgon, who rewards him in the next.

Tartuffe arrives just in time to prevent Orgon's escape. Even now, when he is fully unmasked, he claims to be serving God: "Those who serve Heaven must expect abuse." Even Cléante cannot resist a sarcastic rejoinder. But Tartuffe has an audience—the police officer—and is probably keeping up appearances for his sake. That may be why he suddenly seems to place his duty to the king over his duty to Heaven: "My first duty is to serve my King. / ...other claims, beside it, do not count." Tartuffe clearly expects to move in higher social circles and it's likely he expects these sentiments will reach the royal ear and benefit him later on.

Tartuffe is quickly disabused of any such expectations. It turns out the police officer is there to arrest him, not Orgon. Like Elmire in Act 4, Scene 5 the king has made use of Tartuffe's arrogance. Tartuffe doesn't believe it's possible for him to be bested. But the king has conned the con man by convincing Tartuffe to go willingly with a police officer who will take him into custody.

What's more, the dangers threatening Orgon and his family have been wiped away by the king's hand. When an outside force suddenly swoops in and saves the day, this is known as deus ex machina, or "god from a machine." It is a device frequently employed at the end of Ancient Greek plays, in which a crane would lift a god over the stage and that god would resolve the plot by saving the protagonist or salvaging an otherwise untenable situation. In modern literature, deus ex machina has come to refer to the unexpected introduction of a new character, thing, or event that makes everything okay again when nothing else could. In a science fiction plot, this might mean the sudden appearance of a well-armed allied spaceship. In a western, it might be the sudden arrival of the cavalry. In Tartuffe, the deus ex machina appears in the final scene with the entrance of a representative of the king, who previously has not even been mentioned. Now, through a few decrees, he makes all Orgon's problems disappear.

Some critics have found fault with Molière's use of a deus ex machina to resolve Tartuffe. They would have been preferred Orgon pay the price for his credulity and abuse of his family. Yet this would not have conformed to the rules of comedy, in which everything must turn out happily. Moreover, it would not have satisfied audience's desire to see Tartuffe brought to justice. Until the police officer steps forward, Orgon has suffered greatly as he realized wrong he was and how much damage he has done those who love him. It would be unfair for that lapse in judgment to adversely affect him and his entire household for the rest of their lives. Through the deus ex machina Molière avoids punishing Orgon more than he deserves. Without it, evil would triumph and be free to continue destroying the lives of good people.

In arresting Tartuffe, the police officer gives a long speech. Here, Molière makes use of another Ancient Greek dramatic device, the messenger speech. Because he is following the Aristotelian convention of using just one setting, it is impossible to show events that happen elsewhere. Therefore, they must be reported either by characters or by some messenger introduced solely for this purpose. Molière uses both types of reporting: Orgon relates how he first saw Tartuffe in Act 1, Scene 5 and Valère brings the news that Orgon is to be arrested in Act 5, Scene 6. In Scene 7 the police officer arrives solely to deliver Molière's messenger speech. The officer reveals what really occurred at Tartuffe's meeting with the king and what the king has done as a result of that meeting.

In the 1660s this messenger speech served a second purpose. In addition to relating events, the police officer makes a long statement praising the king's intelligence, piety, justice, and honor. Although Louis XIV is not explicitly named, it would have been clear to the audiences of Molière's day that the playwright was referring to the Sun King. (Revolutionary censors would later cut these lines, but that would not be for another 100 years.) Despite their relatively close relationship, it made good sense for Molière to placate Louis. First of all, he had petitioned the king three times to allow him to produce Tartuffe, and the king had finally lifted his ban. This speech praises the fairness of that decision. Also, Louis was the patron of Molière's theater company, so it was natural for Molière to curry favor with the man on whom he depended for financial support. Finally, the king had the power to make or break any artist, and Molière needed to keep him happy.

At the same time, the exaggerated praise in the messenger speech can also be interpreted as verbal irony, especially taking into account the message of Tartuffe's portrayal of a fraudulent member of the clergy—followed by and the five-year ban on the play's production. Did the religious hypocrites of the day perhaps manipulate the king into doing their will just as Tartuffe manipulated Orgon? If he suspected such collusion, would Molière have implied it? Some critics have suggested just that.

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