Tartuffe

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Religion and Satire

  1. After you've read the play and the prefaces once, go back and reread the three petitions included with the playtext. What important ideas does Molière address there? Can we see those ideas emerging in the play itself? How?
  2. Do you believe Molière ridicules religion in the play? Or does he ridicule people who practice religion the wrong way? How can you tell them apart—where is the line that separates these two forms of ridicule?
  3. What is “satire”? Molière exposes hypocrisy through comedy and satire. Give one or two moments from the play that you consider representatively satirical.

Genre, Structure, and Order

  1. Comedies, as we have learned in other readings, often end with the restoration of communal order, after having explored what's broken. Sometimes this restoration occurs through a marriage, to "declar[e] that good inevitably triumphs" (Norton 305). Being as specific as possible, what is "broken" in the play? How is "order" restored in the end? Have the questions raised by the rest of the play been answered?
  2. How do you read the deus ex machina—or, more properly, the "roi ex machina"?
  3. Consider the romantic subplot in the play. What is the relationship between this subplot and the main plot concerned with the exposure of Tartuffe's hypocrisy? If you don't remember what we said about "plot" and "subplot" in earlier classes, look it up in a reliable dictionary of literary terms.

Class and Bourgeois Family Structure

  1. Consider issues of class difference in Tartuffe. Who are the servants? What kinds of roles do they play? Is this expected, or unexpected? Of what class is Orgon? Why might this be important, given the historical context of Molière's play?
  2. One scholar has described Orgon as “obsessed, less with piety than with his own desire to achieve a kind of total power and authority in his household, a kind of domestic absolutism” (Worthen 304). Do you agree? Where might we look in the text to help us understand this claim?
  3. How does this play treat images of property and credit? Keep in mind the significance of the word "credit" as also meaning "belief." (see below) Trace these motifs throughout the play, and focus on one or two representative moments that can help us engage this question.

Illusion and Reality

  1. Tartuffe is in part about the tension between illusion and reality. What illusions do individual characters indulge in throughout the play?
  2. Which characters seem easily to distinguish between reality and appearance? Find several representative moments in the text where reality and appearance, or the ability to correctly interpret what appears to be, are discussed.
  3. Who is the most sensible person in the play, and why?
  4. Belief is an important component of our construction or understanding of reality. How does Tartuffe explore questions of belief?

Historical Context

  1. How is Tartuffe a product of the historical contexts discussed in your introductory material? What themes discussed there seem evident in Tartuffe?
  2. Molière himself played the role of Orgon in the original production. What might this suggest about the dominant themes in the play?
  3. What is the importance of reason and passion in the 17th century context?
  4. This is a play written in an absolutist political context. How does this historical context help us interpret the play? You should look up "absolutism" if you don't know what it is or cannot glean it from your textbook.

Reason and Reasonability

  1. What is Clèante's role in Tartuffe? What does he seem to represent? What does he actually do for the plot? What are Dorine's and Elmire's roles in the play? What do they do for the plot? Thoughts on these matters?
  2. How does "reason" seem to operate in Tartuffe? How is the concept used in the play? What about "Nature" or passion? Trace the motifs of reason, reasonability, nature, and passion, and choose one or two representative moments to help us engage this question more deeply. You might also consider how reason and passion signify in the 17th century context.
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