Moliere Tartuffe Acts III-IV the Third and Essay

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Moliere Tartuffe Acts III-IV

The third and fourth acts of Moliere's comedy Tartuffe raise the drama to a climactic confrontation which resolves in an unexpected direction at the end of Act III, allowing for a new twist in the final act. The third act centers around the actual introduction of Tartuffe -- whom we have heard described from the play's opening but have not yet met. His entrance does not disappoint, filled with lofty religious musings and a willingness to call attention to Dorine's bosom while pretending that it summons in him impure thoughts. Elmire, meanwhile, is planning to use her influence with Tartuffe in order to cancel his ludicrous plan to marry Mariane (in order to get her money). Elmire's private meeting with Tartuffe, and Act III Scene iii of Moliere's Tartuffe is, to a certain extent, the moment that the audience has been waiting for from the beginning -- the religious hypocrisy of the title character finally slips, the fondness he shows towards Elmire is now revealed for what it is -- lust -- and he makes a sudden move to seduce Elmire (whom he wrongly interprets as flirting with him). The shock of Tartuffe's sudden lechery must have an obvious effect on the audience -- on the one hand, depending upon how the moment is staged, the audience might feel they are
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witnessing a potential rape, on the other hand it is clearly comic. But in any case, the audience knows -- as Tartuffe does not -- that Damis is hiding in the closet, so our anxieties for Elmire's safety are allayed. After Damis emerges in III.iv and announces he will tell Orgon what he has witnessed, we have a full expectation that the religious hypocrite will finally be exposed. After all, he has just exposed himself (on the hopes of exposing Elmire's naked body in the process).

The cleverest thing about Moliere's comic construction here is that III.v (through the end of the act) is the scene that could and should, ostensibly, end the play. With eyewitness testimony, surely Orgon cannot fail to see the truth of Tartuffe's nature? Yet Tartuffe, proving the truth of the old saw that the devil can indeed quote Scripture to his purpose, manages to turn the tables on Damis, and paint himself as the innocent victim of slander in a hilariously slick parody of piety. He will even confess himself to be

A wretched sinner, all depraved and twisted,

The greatest villain that has ever existed

But even Tartuffe's confession of wickedness sounds absolutely insincere. "Are you so hoodwinked by this rascal's art?" Damis asks, incredulous. But apparently Orgon is, and Damis is thrown out and disinherited. The audience's expectation is…

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