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Tartuffe, written in France in 1664 by Moliere, is ultimately about hypocrisy and deception. Tartuffe, a deceptive man aims to pry money from the wealthy people around him. He goes through the lengths of pretending to be Catholic to have a connection to the wealthy members of the community and the play opens with Tartuffe already having a hold on Orgon by trying to marry his daughter Mariane while at the same time seducing Orgon’s wife Elmire. Orgon is a middle class man who served in the recent war and won honor by serving the king. Throughout the story, Tartuffe is trying to deceive him to get what he wants but Orgon is the only one falling for it, his family sees through Tartuffe and recognizes that he is just a con man. The plot device that this play follows is called deus ex machina as it ends with a big resolution. According to TDF Theatre Dictionary, deus ex machina, translated to god from the machine in Latin, was originally when a tragic playwright would create these dramatic situations and then write abrupt endings where a hero would be delivered by a crane of some sort to the stage to solve a crisis but it eventually evolved into something a little different. Instead of a God saving the day, it just needed to be a new element of some sort to solve the problem. Deus ex machina can seem to be a lazy way to end a story but it is one that has survived all this time and is ultimately very effective. The use of deus ex machina seems to make the use of hypocrisy even more impactful for the audience when Orgon finally realizes who Tartuffe really is and understands that he has been conned.
The play of Tartuffe follows as Tartuffe is brought into Orgon’s family home and is respected by Orgon and Madame Pernelle. Madame Pernelle is extremely critical of everyone in the house especially Elmire, Orgon’s wife. Madame Pernelle wishes for the house to follow Tartuffe as she sees him as a man of the church but the rest of the family, besides Orgon, see through his deception and recognize him as a fraud and that he is more interested in wealth than the church. She is not happy about this and eventually leaves in frustration. Cleante and Dorine recognize that Tartuffe has almost put Orgon under a spell and it appears that he is obsessed with him and sees no flaws in him. Damis wonders if his father Orgon will still want Mariane to marry Valere so Cleante attempts to talk to Orgon about it. It is evident that he only cares about Tartuffe as he only wants to know how he is doing and doesn’t care that his own wife is sick. When he is asked about his daughter marrying Valere he avoids it until she arrives to which he announces he wants her to marry Tartuffe and that he thinks they would make a better pair. Dorine is appalled by her not refusing and criticizes her when Valere arrives as well and is not happy since he thinks she consented to marrying Tartuffe. They talk about it and once they reconciled, Dorine and them decide they need to make Orgon aware of Tartuffe’s deception. Damis is on the same page but Dorine says that Elmire will take care of of it herself. Damis hides in the closet of the room they are speaking in and witnesses Tartuffe flirting with her and proposes that they get together to which Damis reveals that he was listening to the whole time and tells Orgon. However, he is still so blind to Tartuffe’s deception that he thinks Damis is the evil one and disowns him as his son. Orgon decides he wants Tartuffe to be his only heir and his son-in-law. It isn’t until Elmire begs Orgon to hide and watch Tartuffe as he speaks with her. Tartuffe arrives and approaches Elmire, telling her his love for her and talking poorly about Orgon to which Orgon is finally convinced of his deception. He orders him out of the house to which he responds that he legally owns the house as Orgon had signed over all of his property. Madame Pernelle arrives back and doesn’t believe anyone until news is spread that Tartuffe is having the family evicted. It isn’t until the court announces that the King has seen through Tartuffe’s actions to which he imprisons him and returns Orgon’s property back to him.
It is evident in the play how extremely hypocritical and deceptive Tartuffe is with Orgon and Madame Pernelle. A hypocrite in the time Tartuffe was written is something different than it is today. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word hypocrite and the use of it in theatre comes from the Greek word hypokrites which literally translates as “an interpreter from underneath”, but over time it meant anyone wearing a figurative mask and pretending to be someone they are not, especially in French Theatre. Hypocrisy is extremely evident in Tartuffe as he exactly fits the definition of a hypocrite. He takes advantage of the church to portray himself as a holy and just man and Orgon and Madame Pernelle fall for it. His goal was ultimately to get money out of a wealthier person who would take charity on Tartuffe. Orgon did exactly this and the con went even further than that. It wasn’t enough for Tartuffe to be accepted by Orgon, the man of the house, and to be invited to live there with them. He had to go further to get more out of it. He planned to use other members of Orgon’s family to get what he wanted, including Orgon’s wife and daughter. With the support of Orgon, Tartuffe wanted to marry Mariane and prove to Orgon that Damis shouldn’t be the heir to his property and money. Eventually, Orgon falls for this and even signs over his property to Tartuffe before he realized that it was just a big con. While planning to marry Mariane to get the money and property, he was also lustfully seducing Elmire, Orgon’s wife out of his own selfish desire which was ultimately where he went wrong and how Orgon came to find out what was going on. His actions very clearly proves how much of a hypocrite he was and how he was able to almost get away with stealing Orgon’s money and property from him but because Orgon is such a good man and a man of honor, the King was able to save the day and imprison Tartuffe.
The king coming in at the end of the play and saving Orgon and his family from the deceptive Tartuffe is an example of the use of a plot device called Deus Ex Machina which, as I have stated before, is when a new element comes in to save the day. The King having his court announced that he has seen through Tartuffe’s actions and that he has deceived and taken advantage of Orgon and his family that the audience is able to take a breath of relief and know that everything is going to be okay. Using hypocrisy seems to make the use of a deus ex machina much more captivating to follow. Rather than having an obvious villain who is obviously not going to win in the end as that is not how plots generally work so it isn’t as much relief when a villain is taken down at the end. However, when there is a hypocrite who is deceiving two of the characters while the rest of the characters spend the whole time trying to convince them that they’re being deceived is a huge relief to see the villain taken down at the end. You can see this through Orgon’s family with him as well as Madame Pernelle. Since she isn’t present throughout the whole play though, it is more evident with Orgon. Orgon is seen by readers as a good man, someone who simply wanted to take in Tartuffe because he believed Tartuffe needed the help and was being charitable and kind for doing so when in reality, that wasn’t what was happening at all. It is so easy to tell that Orgon sees the good in people and wants the best for his family and his property. The deception that Tartuffe puts Orgon through extends much past Orgon and negatively affects his family as well and forces Orgon to betray his family and put them through misery. He wishes for Tartuffe to marry his daughter Mariane when she wants to marry Valere and his son Damis wants this too as he wishes to marry Valere’s sister but ultimately Tartuffe leads Orgon to decide that he wants Tartuffe to marry Mariane to be apart of the family and when Damis tries to convince his father of Tartuffe’s deception Orgon is so blind to it then he disowns his own son and signs over all of his property to Tartuffe making him the only heir of Orgon. This is obviously hurtful for Mariane and Damis as their own father has chosen to favor someone else over his own children. All of these ties into Tartuffe’s hypocrisy and as the audience watches it causes so much frustration and sadness for the characters that when the deus ex machina comes in at the end it is such a relief that a hypocrite like Tartuffe didn’t get away with his deception.
Throughout the story of Tartuffe, readers witness many of Tartuffe’s deception and it is just that that makes the play so frustrating yet so rewarding at the end. The use of deus ex machina is this kind of play makes it almost like a thriller. The audience or readers are so enthralled with the plot and what is happening with Tartuffe and how he is managing to deceive everyone so well that when he is ripped off of his figurative high throne at the end, it is such a relief to see Orgon and his family will be able to recover from this as even the king is on their side and saw through Tartuffe’s deception and hypocrisy. Despite Orgon’s poor actions during the play, it is obvious that he is genuinely a good man, father and wife to his family but when someone so manipulative comes into a person’s life and forces that poor behavior it isn’t that person’s fault which is what makes the audience and reader feel for him and for his family. Tartuffe losing everything at the end and being imprisoned is the biggest relief and such a triumph for all of the characters and the audience and the readers. The use of deus ex machina in the ending is so clearly a well placed device and gives the audience or readers an ending that is good for everyone involved.
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