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Theatre / Tartuffe

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Le pauvre homme...

Tartuffe, ou, l'Imposteur is possibly the most famous play of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, a.k.a. Molière. Tartuffe is a con man who has the well-to-do Orgon convinced that he's a pious, generous, and all-around good guy. Everyone else (save for Orgon's mother) can see right through the ruse and try desperately to make Orgon see Tartuffe for the fraud he is — especially when Orgon disinherits his son in Tartuffe's favor and attempts to make his daughter jilt her eligible suitor to marry the hypocrite. Worse yet, Orgon has admitted covering for a friend involved in a political plot — and Tartuffe has no scruples about informing when this proves to be advantageous to him.

Published and performed in 1664, Tartuffe almost immediately drew the ire of some Catholic clerics (notably the Archbishop of Paris), who believed the play to be an attack against them (partly because, in the earliest performances, Tartuffe was costumed like a dévot, a member of the extreme Catholic party at court). They banned the play and threatened to excommunicate anyone who performed in or even saw it. In later versions, the author revised the character, to make him more secular. Fortunately for the dramatist, the King remained firm in his support, and he was able to avoid the threatened excommunication.

Tartuffe, ou, l'Imposteur provides examples of:

  • All Men Are Perverts: Played with, as one scene has Tartuffe going on at length (in-character) how one female character is showing too much cleavage. However, it's also obvious he's admiring the view.
  • Antagonist Title: The title refers to Tartuffe, a lustful hypocrite who has fooled the family patriarch into thinking he's a holy man.
  • Arranged Marriage: Orgon tries to marry off his daughter Mariane to Tartuffe, despite her furious objections and her previous engagement to the lovely Valère.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Valère proves himself the true romantic hero of the play when he swoops in during the last act to warn Orgon that he is in legal trouble, offer to escort him away and give him a huge sum of money to guarantee his safety in exile. Even though the conflict is resolved another way, the fact that he was willing to act so selflessly despite Orgon's refusal to let him marry Marianne elevates him in the patriarch's eye, and encourages him to agree to the marriage after all.
  • Catchphrase: In an early scene, when Dorine is describing how Tartuffe has been gorging and swilling while Elmire had been suffering from a dangerous illness, Orgon's only response is a repeated, "The poor man!" Dorine later uses the phrase herself ironically.
  • Character Filibuster: Cleante will frequently go on large rants on morality and trustworthiness to provide some of the only sound ethical commentary in the play.
  • Con Man: Tartuffe is one of the faux-religious kind.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dorine, Mariane's handmaiden, sees right through Tartuffe's lies and dryly mocks her masters for being taken in by his deceptions and for failing to do anything about when they do learn.
  • Deliberately Painful Clothing: The titular character wears a hair shirt... but in a sign that his supposed piety is all an act, he wears the shirt inside out, so that he doesn't actually feel any discomfort.
  • Deus ex Machina: At the end of the play the King (none other than the Sun King, Louis XIV) has Tartuffe sent to prison for numerous unspecified crimes. It is a comedy, after all, made with the King's money, and the final scene goes to great lengths to describe how intelligent, just, and merciful the King is.
  • Dirty Old Monk: Tartuffe is a lecher pretending to be a man of God while using his "holiness" to seduce a man's wife.
  • Engineered Public Confession: Tartuffe reveals his true colors to Elmire, unaware that Orgon is listening.
  • Exact Words: Tartuffe uses that in order to pretend to help Orgon. Since he does hold his exiled friend's compromising papers, royal agents are bound to come and question him; so if he hands them to Tartuffe, he can swear he doesn't have them and not commit perjury…
  • Good Stepmother: Elmire is not Damis and Mariane's mother, but she looks out for their interest and happiness all the same.
  • Grande Dame: Madame Pernelle, the Matriarch, is the only one besides Orgon who is taken in by Tartuffe's ruse. In the opening scene she complains that nobody pays attention to her.
  • Hidden Depths: Orgon. During the rebellion of the Fronde he acted bravely in support of the king; also, he had a friend amid the rebels who found it advisable to leave France but dared not carry compromising papers, so Orgon agreed to keep them safely.
Molière doesn't mean to depict Orgon as a bumbling fool, but as an upright, honorable man who falls prey to the impostor - partly because of his excessive temper.
  • Hiding Behind Religion: Tartuffe uses extremely public prayer and unsubstantiated claims of alms-giving to justify all his rude, greedy, and lustful behavior. When Orgon learns Tartuffe tried to seduce his wife, the latter manages to get him to disbelieve the whole thing by vaguely admitting that he has committed spiritual adultery with his sins against God, using pious admissions of sinfulness to make it unthinkable that he committed the sins he committed five minutes before.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The documents Tartuffe reveals to the king contain proof to his real identity.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: No, really, Orgon, he is not a good person. Really.
  • Hot-Blooded: Upon finding out Tartuffe is a fraud, Damis can hardly contain his rage and immediately wants to confront him, risking exposing Dorine's plan to oust him.
  • Hypocrite: Not only Tartuffe, but his unseen man-servant as well; also Monsieur Loyal the bailiff.
  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog
    TARTUFFE: Sir, it is half-past three; certain devotions
    Recall me to my closet; you'll forgive me
    For leaving you so soon.
  • Knew It All Along: After ignoring all evidence of Tartuffe's obvious hypocrisy against the counsel of everyone in his family, Orgon finally becomes convinced Tartuffe is a hoax and has the gall to claim he suspected Tartuffe of hypocrisy the whole time, after signing over all his property to the man!
  • Moral Guardian: Tartuffe acts like this in Orgon's house towards pretty much everything, from daily activities to fashion.
  • Only Sane Man: Cléante, Orgon's brother-in-law, represents common sense. The argument could also be made that this trope is inverted, and Orgon is the Only Dumb Man.
  • Please Put Some Clothes On: Tartuffe says this almost verbatim to Dorine because she is showing too much cleavage (according to him anyway). Dorine riles him on being so easily troubled, and adds that seeing him naked would not trouble her in the slightest.
  • Reverse Psychology: When Damis catches Tartuffe trying to seduce his stepmother, he denounces the hypocrite to Orgon. Tartuffe turns the tables by declaring that, yes, he is a liar, a sinful man, a miserable deceiver — which convinces Orgon that Damis has slandered his sinless, humble friend and causes the old man to turn his son out of the house.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Orgon. By the time he realizes Tartuffe is a fraud, he's given the man the deed to his estate.
  • Servile Snarker: Dorine doesn't let her lowly status stop her from tearing apart the faulty logic of Madame Pernelle and Orgon.
  • Sinister Minister: Tartuffe, who uses his faux charisma as a façade by which he can scheme against his host, Orgon.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Mariane and Valere only want to love each other in marriage, but Orgon's idiotic gifts to Tartuffe involve giving Mariane's hand over to the false holy man, putting a huge obstacle between the young lovers until the end of the play.
  • Take That!: Against overly publicly pious priests who use their religion as a mask to hide their sinful behaviour and worldly greed.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Awful as he becomes towards his family, Orgon is not heartless, and is clearly touched by how distraught Mariane is at the prospect of marrying Tartuffe.

Particular productions or adaptations provide examples of:

  • Last-Second Word Swap: In Justin Fleming's translation, which like the original is in rhyming verse, Damis has a rant about Tartuffe that rhymes "blunt" with "[significant pause] runt".
  • Setting Update:
    • A translation by Australian playwright Justin Fleming sets the action in 21st-century Australia, making use of Aussie slang and incorporating a number of topical jokes. The deus ex machina at the end takes the form of a TV news crew finishing up an investigation into Tartuffe's activities.
    • An adaptation by actor/author/comedian Andy Jones in rhyming couplets uses a setting of 1939 Newfoundland (that is, before confederation with Canada) and many words and phrases unique to the province.
    • An adaptation by playwright Christopher Hampton sets the action in Los Angeles, with Orgon being a French tycoon living there with his family. The Deus ex Machina references (and takes a few potshots at) American President Donald Trump.
    • In 2018 the Royal Shakespeare Company produced an adaptation set in a contemporary British Muslim household, with Tartuffe himself renamed to Tahir Taufiq Arsuf. It was written by Richard Pinto and Anil Gupta, and directed by Iqbal Khan.