Tartuffe: The Theme Of Irony

Tartuffe: The Theme Of Irony

Moliere’s masterpiece Tartuffe also known as the imposter was first performed and written in 1664.  This is a religious hypocrisy play that examined the lives of the main characters. Orgon is one of the characters who has been brainwashed by Tartuffe’s deception.  Tartuffe is a man who pretends to be pious, devoted, and humble. Oregon is totally convinced of Tartuffe’s religiosity, and he foolishly invites him to be part of his family.  He hears and obeys everything that Tartuffe has to say because he sees him as his savior. Other characters are also highlighted in the play. These are the King, Dorine, and Cleante.

The other characters are Orgon family members who know and see that Tartuffe is a self-oriented and a hypocritical man. Orgon is so thrilled with Tartuffe’s personality, and he even announces that he will give him his daughter to be his wife. The daughter is Mariane, who loves and engaged to Valere. Maraine obviously is against this planned marriage. She makes an effort of trapping Tartuffe to confess that he loves and desires Elmire. This leads to various comic and tragic events throughout the play. Irony and Satire are the two main themes in this play by Moliere. The author depicts human problems through the use of satire with the goal of exposing and ridiculing these characters according to the opinion of the public. The play presents many themes that reflect the issues of the 17th century. This was the period known as The Age of Reason that was dominated by the attitudes and ideas of reason. This idea was seen as the one that took control of human passion. The play Tartuffe by Moliere is mainly dominated by the themes of irony and satire. These themes are used by the author to show the true personality and characteristics of the subjects.

The play portrays a lot of ideas and themes, but the concept of hypocrisy in characters; mainly in Tartuffe is the strong message of this story. Tartuffe is seen by Oregon as a man who is truly religious, who has a clean heart, ready to help and provide someone with good advice. However, Tartuffe is clearly pretending because he has another different type of religious and holiness appearance in the way   he leads a secret life full of immoral and criminal behavior. Many characters throughout the play know that Tartuffe is a hypocrite, and they see him as a person who does not act what he preaches. For instance, we see a case where Tartuffe informs his servant to inform anyone searching for him that he has no time with them. This is because he is too busy providing to the oppressed and the poor. However, the truth is that he is too busy seducing Orgon’s wife.

Tartuffe also makes use of religion to hide his immoral behavior he even   provides Orgon’s family members with advice on how they should behave. Despite of the idea that Orgon is the head of   his family, all the authority is now bestowed on Tartuffe. This means that the servants and Orgon’s wife, children and brother should adhere to the rules given by Tartuffe. This is because Orgon is considered to be a person of good teaching and guided by the word of God.  In his advice to Orgon, Tartuffe says, “How can you know what I might do, or be? Is it on my good actions that you base your favor? Do you trust my pious face? Ah, no, don’t be deceived by hollow shows; I’m far, alas, from being what men suppose (Moliere 3.6.6-9)”.  This advice shows that Tartuffe is trying to convince Orgon to continue trusting him for he is a trustworthy person and not a hypocrite. He promises Orgon that he will always be telling him the truth.  His ability to convince Orgon clearly shows the manipulative power that Tartuffe had over Orgon.  He uses this power to convince Oregon to give him all his possessions and the house, which we see towards the end of the play.

Moliere has managed to use comedy in his play, which makes the readers laugh and think as   they read or watch the play. Satire is the use of ridicule, sarcasm, and irony to rectify social injustices and errors. Through the play Tartuffe, Moliere is making efforts to improve and modify the behavior of man in the society while at the same time manages to support his message.  He uses Orgon as an example of a man with foolish behavior as seen in the way he chases his son, Damis, from his house as a way of punishing him for the accusations he made against Tartuffe. Damis had called Tartuffe a two face cheater and a hypocrite, which lands him to immense trouble with his father.  He father angrily shouts at him saying, “don’t set a foot in my house anymore…I disinherit you and leave behind everything I have ever gave you….apart from my curses (Moliere 3.6.61-68).

From this  phrase, we see the way the author  has  used satire in the way Orgon  responds after being told  the actual truth concerning the stranger he trusts most than his son.  This makes Orgon to be seen as the fool by the readers and his close family members because they know that Orgon has been brain washed and fooled by Tartuffe.  However, still, Orgon has to prove his point because he has authority over his household.   Another satire that Moliere has used is Orgon is made fun of by Dorine by   saying that he looks like a wise man, yet he is a fool.  She says this in a sarcastic manner that, “All right, then: we believe you, sad to say. But how a man like you, who look so wise, and wears a mustache of such splendid size, Can be so foolish.” (Moliere 2.2.14-16). The main message that Dorine is telling the readers is that even though Orgon is a powerful man in the society by being in control of his family and a wealthy person who works for the King, he still suffers from lack of wisdom.  Tartuffe compared to Orgon is wise and a genius, he managers to use his convincing power to make Orgon believe and listen to every advice given to him by Tartuffe.   This makes Orgon the fool despite his social power (Cardullo, 2009).

Irony is also a critical theme presented in the play Tartuffe.  When a character is portrayed in an ironic sense, one might have to think that the person can only be saved from his or her   foolishness simply by the divine intervention. This indicates that a person can sometimes act in a way to ridicule someone else. However, later he or she realizes that, all along, he has been the actual subject of ridicule. Irony is shown in Act 5, and Act 4 of the play Tartuffe.  Finally, Tartuffe’s pretence is clearly revealed to Orgon when he caught him red handed seducing his wife Elmire. This makes Orgon learn who Tartuffe is as well as his true personality.  In the fourth act, Orgon hides under a table under the instructions of Elmire.  He learns about the advances that Tartuffe has been making towards his wife even when he was kind and generous enough to offer him Mariane, his daughter for his hand in marriage. Orgon finally comes to his senses by realizing that he has been fooled for long even to the extent of chasing away and disinheriting his own son at the expense of the stranger with ill motif.  He finally believes that Tartuffe is a hypocrite.

Orgon gets extremely furious to know that the man he trusted in was not that he was pretending to be.  He shouts at Tartuffe saying, “Well, so you taught you’d fool me, my dear saint! How soon you wearied of the saintly life-Wedding my daughter, and converting my wife! I’ve long suspected you, and had a feeling that soon I’d catch you at your double-dealing (Moliere, 4.7. 5-16).   Oregon goes on to say that he has now found sufficient evidence to stop trusting in him and has nothing to do with him. He chases Tartuffe for fooling and disrespecting him. This brings out the themes of satire and irony because Orgon has come to the realization that Tartuffe was simply a fraud who he trusted with all his wealth and secretes.

However, from his quote he says that he feels that he had for a long time suspected that Tartuffe was not realistic, yet in the true sense he had no clue or even an idea to suspect Tartuffe’s falsehood.  All along, Orgon had given the people close to him a deaf ear concerning the true personality of Tartuffe. Now that, he has proven this with his own eyes and ears, he realizes that he has been a fool to ignore the advice given to him from his family members. This is the irony that Moliere is passing to readers in that despite the arrogance that Orgon had not to hear from others, he finally sees the truth, which makes him feel like he made the fool out of himself. Even from the quote directed towards Tartuffe, he tries to portray that he is a wise person yet actually he is the fool.

On the fifth act, we see Tartuffe’s efforts to make Orgon be arrested by taking some police officers to Orgon’s house. The Irony, however, is that Orgon is the one to be arrested after the King intervened and knew exactly who the evil person was among the two. This irony is as a result of Tartuffe’s backfired plan. This type of irony is the situational irony. He finally deserves to be arrested because all along the play, he has managed to fool many characters (Simon, Jerome, and Sullivan, 2009).

Moliere’s Tartuffe presents numerous examples of hypocrisy, satire and irony. Since the start of the play, Tartuffe has cheated many and even tricked Orgon to give him all his wealth.   However, at the end he gets punished for his evil behavior. The play is ironic since Tartuffe thought that Orgon deserved to be arrested but, it is him who ends up in prison. The play managed to contribute a change to the literature, particularly, in play writing of the 17thcentury for it inspired many writers to venture into other new literary ideas.


Simon P, Jerome C, and Sullivan C et al (2009) the Norton Anthology of World Literature.  WW Norton& Co, p 444

Cardullo, R (2009) Moliere’s Tartuffe. Academic search premier. Vol 67, p 173-176.  From Galileo library


On November 7, 2012

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