Orgon is an older man with two grown children and a young wife. Surrounded by younger people, he is feeling his age. Caught up in a midlife crisis, Orgon seeks solace in religious piety. A good man at heart, he has no suspicions of the seemingly ascetic Tartuffe and allows the wily con man to take over his affections and turn him into an unfeeling tyrant in his own household. By the time his blinders are removed, it's too late; Tartuffe has conned Orgon out of all he owns and betrayed a confidence. Only outside forces can save him from the ruin his gullibility has wrought.
When Tartuffe meets Orgon in church, he quickly recognizes the older man as an easy mark and finagles his way into Orgon's home. Soon he's calling the shots. The next step in his plan is to take over Orgon's house and money. Tartuffe's only Achilles' heel is lust—in particular, lust for Elmire. He also has a long rap sheet, which will prove his undoing in the end.
Cléante is an intelligent man fond of logical argument. From the start Cléante sees Tartuffe for what he is and tries to get Orgon to see it, too. He is also close to Orgon's children and works behind the scenes to make sure they both end up with the partners they love. While Cléante offers good advice, he is not a man of action. Not until the end of the play does Orgon begin to listen to his brother-in-law's advice.
Dorine is clever and insightful. She also considers herself as much a part of the family as either of Orgon's children. She watches over everyone and shows no fear in speaking her mind to each of them. From the first scene it's clear she sees through Tartuffe and offers further insight into his shenanigans by recounting her experiences below stairs with Tartuffe's servant, Laurent. It is Dorine who sets in motion the plan that will reveal Tartuffe's true nature.
Elmire is much younger than Orgon, but her affection for him and his children is real. Intelligent and quick-witted, she immediately sees Tartuffe for what he is. Tartuffe's attraction to Elmire provides the strategy she needs to open her husband's eyes to reality. With her help, Orgon finally recognizes what sort of man he has allowed to take over their home and ruin their lives.