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Analysis of Tartuffe based on Aristotelian Methods

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The given circumstances of Tartuffe are few, yet they are essential to the reading of the script. The time of Tartuffe is displayed through several ways: while no specific time is ever mentioned, we know that the play takes place sometime after 1640 because the currency mentioned (the Louis) was established in 1640. And since now specific time references are mentioned, we can assume the play takes in ‘modern times’ i.e. during the time it was written (the 1660’s). The action of the play takes place in a single day.

Tartuffe takes place undoubtedly in France as shown by the currency, the use of French throughout the script and our assumption of it’s modernity as mentioned above. The currency points exclusively to France because it is named after King Louis XIII of France and was used only in France. The French language is used throughout the script specifically in the names and was originally written in French. The specific locale of the play is in Orgon’s house.

In the society of Tartuffe it is common practice to employ servants and maids and is completely acceptable to hit them as Orgon attempts to hit Dorine and the other characters make nothing of it. Parties are a touchy subject since most of the family think it ok to throw parties while Mme. Pernelle disagrees, thinking them most distasteful. Gambling is unacceptable, seen through Orgon’s dismissal of Valère because he has heard Valère gambles. Family is invariably important since the play is centered around a single family.

The society of Tartuffe views social rank as extremely important: Orgon is of high rank and wealth and his family sees it deplorable for him to have befriended a poor beggar. Tartuffe is often put down, ironically by the servant Dorine, because of his low rank and lack of money.

Politics and law play a large part in the play. The ruling authority is a King and his laws are enforced by bailiffs and officers. Treachery is particularly offensive. Harbouring an exile’s documents is also a grave offence.

Religion is obviously a huge factor in the play, as Tartuffe wins Orgon over by pretending to be a devout and pious man. While no specific religion or sect is named, we can deduce that it is a Bible based Christian religion and research tells us Roman Catholicism dominated the countries religious beliefs.

Of the exposition in the play we know that Orgon has been visiting the country for two days and during that time Elmire has fallen ill, Tartuffe has been taken in by Orgon and is living in the house as a spiritual guide, Aragas has fled the country and commissioned Orgon to look after his incriminating papers and that it has been agreed that Mariane and Valère are to be wed.

Learning and the arts are not specifically mentioned.

Action AnalysisBecause Tartuffe is written in the style of French scenes, it is difficult to find the actions of each scene. The main actions are:•1.4 Orgon returns home and asks about Tartuffe, ignoring the plight of his wife•2.1 Orgon tells Mariane she will marry Tartuffe•2.4 Mariane and Valère argue and then formulate a plan with Dorine•3.3 Tartuffe confesses his love for Elmire•3.4 Damis catches Tartuffe and Elmire•3.5 Damis tells Orgon about Tartuffe and Elmire•3.6 Orgon accuses Damis of slander, turns him from the house and disinherits him•3.7 Orgon makes Tartuffe his heir•4.4 Orgon hides under the table•4.6 Orgon admits Tartuffe is a hypocrite•4.7 Orgon confronts Tartuffe, who is now the owner of the house•54. The Bailiff comes to serve Orgon with an eviction notice•5.7 Tartuffe is arrested and order is restoredThe central through-action of the play is Orgon ignoring his family’s evidence that Tartuffe is a hypocrite.

The counter-action is Tartuffe pretending to be devout and pious. The point of attack it fairly early, we get the impression that Tartuffe has not been staying with them long. The inciting incident is when Orgon returns home and ignores his family in 1.4. The turning point is when Orgon discovers the truth whilst hiding under the table which is also the main climax. The dĂ©nouement is when the officer arrest Tartuffe instead of Orgon. The obstacles are mostly Orgon’s pride and refusal to believe his family because he is placing religious piety as the most important thing in life, over truth.

CharacterCharacter FunctionDamis and Elmire serves as a transitional characters, his hotheadedness and her impatience move the plot along. ClĂ©ante functions as the normative character; not being closely related to the action he brings a voice of reason to the play. ClĂ©ante often brings news of the town and of society. Dorine’s jokes and wise comments allow her to function as the fool stock character. She gives little glimpses into the other characters. Mariane and Valère function as the young lovers. Orgon is of course the protagonist, receiving the action from the antagonist Tartuffe.

Composition and Super Objectives of Main CharactersOrgon is dominated by his will and gets his way through his authority as father, husband and master. His super-objective is to find guidanceTartuffe is dominated by his thought and focuses his arguments on logic, since he is able to trick Orgon. His super-objective is to find a place to hide.

Dorine is dominated by her feeling and argues by emotion since her responses are often passionate and her caring. Her super-objective is to restore the natural order of the houseProtagonist AnalysisOrgon wants more than anything to find guidance. The main reason he has accepted Tartuffe is because he believes Tartuffe’s piety and devoutness will be able to guide him. When Tartuffe is unmasked in front of him, he feels lost: he can’t make decisions. He should go with Valère, but doesn’t and just accepts his situation.

Orgon’s overall choice to ignore his family’s pleads ultimately lead to his downfall. By not believing them, he sets himself up for bigger disappointment when he eventually finds the truth. His choice to make Tartuffe sole heir to his name was completely unfounded since Tartuffe has no right to Orgon’s wealth.

Orgon’s polarity is simple: at the beginning he trusted Tartuffe and at the he realizes Tartuffe is a dirty scoundrel. His transformation comes from seeing first hand the hypocrisy of Tartuffe.

Orgon is described as being loyal (to Tartuffe and his King), wise and of high wealth and rank. His actions show he is stubborn. He also has a moustache which at the time was symbolic of wisdom and stature.

The conflict for Orgon is his family who refuse to be guided by neither Tartuffe nor himself. He believes that since he is seeking the guidance of someone so holy, he should be the guiding authority in the lives of his family members.

Orgon values authority: having it and bending to it. He uses his authority to control his family but also bends to authority when placed on him by the king and the officer. He values religiosity and the subsequent denunciation of the things of this world.

Orgon is completely oblivious to the situations of those around. He has no empathy and no self-knowledge. He forces Mariane to marry someone she doesn’t love and would rather hear how well Tartuffe is than how ill his wife is. He cannot see how ridiculous he is being, despite how often he hears it from everyone else. He cannot see that Tartuffe is making him a cuckold.

Despite how important family is to the plot, Orgon values friendship over family. He says that a good friend is than wife, child or kin.

Other Character Analysis: TartuffeTartuffe is desperately searching for a place to hide. His crimes have been plentiful enough to fill 10 volumes and he is trying to hide from them under the guise of a religious beggar. When he betrays Orgon, he wants to hide behind the money and assets he has taken.

Tartuffe’s choices of telling Elmire he loves her and betraying Orgon to the king are risky and could compromise his entire operation.

Tartuffe’s polarity is simple: at the beginning he was running from the law, at the end he is captured. His transformation comes from incriminating himself when selling out Orgon to the king: he was recognized.

Tartuffe is described almost always negatively as a scoundrel, a hypocrite, an imposter. By Orgon he is described as pious an devout. It is said that he is no young dandy, indicating that he is probably older and not very physically attractive. Tartuffe describes himself as a human with human weaknesses, a wicked man, a wretched sinner and the greatest villain that has ever existed.

Tartuffe’s conflict comes from himself, and is embodied by Elmire. The only thing that complicates his plan, other than the King at the very end, is his own lust for Elmire which is exactly what make Orgon lose faith in him.

Tartuffe has no values. He only has wants and he harms anyone in his way to get them. He goes against all the rules of society: decency, law, friendship just in order to obtain a false sense of security behind the money he’s stolen from Orgon.

Tartuffe is very perceptive and aware of the situations of others. He has to be in order to be able to trick them. He has a high sense of self-knowledge. He knows who he is, a dirty trickster and he obviously sees himself as that and is proud of it because he keeps committing crimes. He is also keenly aware of how others see him, since he must wear a mask to protect his true self.

Relationships are very important to Tartuffe, that is how he has been able to evade capture for so long. He make people trust him and gets close to them in any way he can, which is why he agrees to marry Mariane.

ThoughtThe French title of the play l’Imposteur basically says it all: this play is about an imposter and it doesn’t take long to figure out who the imposter is. The main thought explored in the play is trust and truth. Tartuffe abuses Orgon’s trust, Argas entrusts Orgon with his papers, no one trusts Orgon because they believe he is under the influence of the evil Tartuffe.

In one of the largest speeches of the play, Cléante admonishes dishonesty and uses allusions to people and characters who are famous because of their virtue. Tartuffe urges Elmire to trust him in his long speech. Elmire tells Orgon to trust her when he gets under the table.

Trust is of utter importance in Tartuffe. It is gained by Tartuffe under the mask of religiosity, and lost by lust.

Truth is explored through Tartuffe being a hypocrite. He is not telling the truth, but it eventually must be and is found out: the truth of who he is and his past. Orgon, who was blind to the truth, is ignored when he attempts to tell his mother about the truth.

The ideas of truth and trust are related back to the central actions of Orgon ignoring his family’s evidence that Tartuffe is a hypocrite and Tartuffe pretending to be devout and pious. Orgon ignores the truth and Tartuffe masks it. Orgon trusts Tartuffe, not his family and Tartuffe uses his mask to take advantage of Orgon’s trust.


Aristotle. Poetics. Toronto: Penguin Classics, 1997Moliere. Tartuffe. New York: Hackett Publishing Co., 2008

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