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Written by Molière
Date premiered 1664
Original language French
Genre Comedy
Setting Orgon's house in Paris, 1660s.

Tartuffe, or The Impostor, or The Hypocrite (pronounced: [taʁtuf]; French: Tartuffe, ou l'Imposteur), first performed in 1664, is one of the most famous theatrical comedies by Molière. The characters of Tartuffe, Elmire, and Valère are considered among the greatest classical theatre roles.


Molière wrote Tartuffe in 1664. Almost immediately following its first performance that same year at the Versailles fêtes, it was censored by King Louis XIV, probably due to the influence of the archbishop of Paris, Paul Philippe Hardouin de Beaumont de Péréfixe, who was the King's confessor and had been his tutor.[1] While the king had little personal interest in suppressing the play, he did so because, as stated in the official account of the fête:

"...although it was found to be extremely diverting, the king recognized so much conformity between those that a true devotion leads on the path to heaven and those that a vain ostentation of some good works does not prevent from committing some bad ones, that his extreme delicacy to religious matters can not suffer this resemblance of vice to virtue, which could be mistaken for each other; although one does not doubt the good intentions of the author, even so he forbids it in public, and deprived himself of this pleasure, in order not to allow it to be abused by others, less capable of making a just discernment of it."[2]

As a result of Molière's play, contemporary French and English both use the word "tartuffe" to designate a hypocrite who ostensibly and exaggeratedly feigns virtue, especially religious virtue. The play is written entirely in 1,962 twelve-syllable lines (alexandrines) of rhyming couplets.[3]


Character Description
Orgon Head of the house and husband of Elmire, he is blinded by admiration for Tartuffe.
Tartuffe Houseguest of Orgon, hypocritical religious devotee who attempts to seduce Elmire and foil Valère's romantic quest.
Valère The young romantic lead, who struggles to win the hand of his true love, Orgon's daughter Mariane.
Madame Pernelle Mother of Orgon
Elmire Wife of Orgon
Dorine Family housemaid, who tries to help expose Tartuffe and help Valère.
Cléante Brother of Elmire, brother-in-law of Orgon
Mariane Daughter of Orgon, fiancé of Valère
Damis Son of Orgon
Laurent Servant of Tartuffe (non-speaking character)
Argas Friend of Orgon who was anti-Louis XIV during the Fronde.
Flipote Servant of Madame Pernelle (non-speaking character)
Monsieur Loyal A bailiff
A King's Officer/The Exempt An officer of the king


Orgon's family is up in arms because Orgon and his mother have fallen under the influence of Tartuffe, a pious fraud (and a vagrant prior to Orgon's help). Tartuffe pretends to be pious and to speak with divine authority, and Orgon and his mother no longer take any action without first consulting him. One could even say Orgon has a single-minded obsession with Tartuffe, as clearly demonstrated in Act I, Scene 5.

Tartuffe's antics do not fool the rest of the family or their friends; they detest him. Orgon raises the stakes when he announces that he will marry Tartuffe to his daughter Mariane (already engaged to Valère). Mariane, of course, feels very upset at this news, and the rest of the family realizes how deeply Tartuffe has embedded himself into the family.

In an effort to show Orgon how awful Tartuffe really is, the family devises a plan to trap Tartuffe into confessing to Elmire his desire for her. As a pious man and a guest, he should have no such feelings for the lady of the house, and the family hopes that after such a confession, Orgon will throw Tartuffe out of the house. Indeed, Tartuffe does try to seduce Elmire, but their interview is interrupted when Orgon's son, Damis, who has been eavesdropping, is no longer able to control his boiling indignation and jumps out of his hiding place to denounce Tartuffe.

Frontispiece and titlepage of "Tartuffe or The Imposter" from a 1739 collected edition of his works in French and English, printed by John Watts. The engraving depicts the amoral Tartuffe being deceitfully seduced by Elmire, the wife of his host, Orgon who hides under a table.

Tartuffe is at first shocked but recovers very well. When Orgon enters the room and Damis triumphantly tells him what happened, Tartuffe uses reverse psychology and accuses himself of being the worst sinner:

Oui, mon frère, je suis un méchant, un coupable.
Un malheureux pécheur tout plein d'iniquité
(Yes, my brother, I am an evildoer, a guilty man,
An unhappy sinner full of iniquity) (III.vi).

Orgon is convinced that Damis was lying and banishes him from the house.Tartuffe even gets Orgon to order that, to teach Damis a lesson, Tartuffe should be around Elmire more than ever. As a gift to Tartuffe and further punishment to Damis and the rest of his family, Orgon signs over all his worldly possessions to Tartuffe.

In a later scene, Elmire takes up the charge again and challenges Orgon to be witness to a meeting between herself and Tartuffe. Orgon, ever easily convinced, decides to hide under a table in the same room, confident that Elmire is wrong. He overhears, of course, Elmire resisting Tartuffe's very forward advances. When Tartuffe has incriminated himself beyond all help and is dangerously close to violating Elmire, Orgon comes out from under the table and orders Tartuffe out of his house.

But this wily guest means to stay, and Tartuffe finally shows his hand. It turns out that earlier, before the events of the play, Orgon had admitted to Tartuffe that he had possession of a box of incriminating letters (written by a friend, not by him). Tartuffe had taken this box and now tells Orgon that he must leave the house or risk exposure. Tartuffe takes his temporary leave and Orgon's family tries to figure out what to do. Very soon, Monsieur Loyal shows up with a message from Tartuffe and the court itself – they must move out from the house because it now belongs to Tartuffe. Dorine makes fun of his name, not aloud, mocking his fake loyalty.

Later that day, Tartuffe returns with a police officer to begin the eviction. But to his surprise, the police officer arrests him instead. The enlightened King Louis XIV—who is not mentioned by name—has heard of the injustices happening in the house and decides to arrest Tartuffe instead. Even Madame Pernelle has become convinced by this time of Tartuffe's chicanery, and the entire family thanks its lucky stars that it has escaped the mortification of leaving their house to him. It turns out that he has a long criminal history and has often changed his name to avoid being caught. The drama ends well, and Orgon announces the upcoming wedding of Valère and Mariane.


Though Tartuffe was received well by the public and even by Louis XIV, it immediately sparked conflict amongst many different groups who were offended by the play. The factions opposed to Molière's work included part of the hierarchy of the French Roman Catholic Church, members of upper-class French society, and the illegal underground organization called the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement. Tartuffe's popularity was cut short when the Archbishop of Paris issued an edict threatening excommunication for anyone who watched, performed in, or read the play. Molière attempted to assuage church officials by re-writing his play to seem more secular and less critical of religion, but the church could not be budged. The revised version of the play was called L'Imposteur and had a main character titled Panulphe instead of Tartuffe. Even throughout Molière's conflict with the church, Louis XIV continued to support the playwright; it is possible that without the King's support, Molière might have been excommunicated. Although public performances of the play were banned, private performances for the French aristocracy were permitted.[4] In 1669, after Molière's detractors lost much of their influence, he was finally allowed to perform the final version of his play. However, due to all the controversy surrounding Tartuffe, Molière mostly refrained from writing such incisive plays as this one again.[5]

Molière responded to criticism of Tartuffe in 1667 with his Lettre sur la comédie de l'Imposteur. He sought to justify his play and his approach to comedy in general by underlining the comedic value of the juxtaposition of good and bad, right and wrong, and wisdom and folly. These humorous elements in turn were intended to highlight what is actually rational. In his Lettre he wrote:

The comic is the outward and visible form that nature's bounty has attached to everything unreasonable, so that we should see, and avoid, it. To know the comic we must know the rational, of which it denotes the absence and we must see wherein the rational consists . . . incongruity is the heart of the comic . . . it follows that all lying, disguise, cheating, dissimulation, all outward show different from the reality, all contradiction in fact between actions that proceed from a single source, all this is in essence comic.[6]

Production history[edit]

The original version of the play was in three acts and was first staged on 12 May 1664 as part of festivities known as Les Plaisirs de l'île enchantée held at the Palace of Versailles. Because of the attacks on the play and the ban that was placed on it, this version was never published, and no text has survived, giving rise to much speculation as to whether it was a work in progress or a finished piece. Many writers believe it consisted of the first three acts of the final version, while John Cairncross has proposed that acts 1, 3, and 4 were performed.[7] Although the original version could not be played publicly, it could be given privately,[7] and it was seen on 25 September 1664 in Villers-Cotterêts and 29 November 1664 at the Château du Raincy.[8]

The first revised version, L'Imposteur, was in five acts and was performed only once, on 5 August 1667 in the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. On 11 August, before any additional performances, this version was also banned. The final revised version in five acts, under the title Le Tartuffe, began on 5 February 1669 at the Palais-Royal theatre and was highly successful.[7] This version was published[9] and is the one that is generally performed today.[7]

Modern productions[edit]

The seminal Russian theatre practitioner Constantin Stanislavski was working on a production of Tartuffe when he died in 1938. It was completed by Mikhail Kedrov and opened on 4 December 1939.[10]

The first Broadway production took place at the ANTA Washington Square Theatre in New York and ran from 14 January 1965 to 22 May 1965. The cast included Hal Holbrook as "M. Loyal", John Phillip Law as "King's Officer", Laurence Luckinbill as "Damis" and Tony Lo Bianco as "Sergeant".

A production of Richard Wilbur's translation of the play opened at the Circle in the Square Theatre in 1977 and was re-staged for television the following year on PBS, with Donald Moffat replacing John Wood as Tartuffe, and co-starring Tammy Grimes and Patricia Elliott.

Simon Gray's adaptation was first performed at The Kennedy Center, Washington D.C., in May 1982, starring Barnard Hughes and Brian Bedford.

Another production at the Circle in the Square Theatre, entitled Tartuffe: Born Again, ran from 7 May to 23 June 1996 (a total of 25 previews and 29 performances). This was set in a religious television studio in Baton Rouge where the characters cavort to either prevent or aid Tartuffe in his machinations. Written in modern verse, Tartuffe: Born Again adhered closely to the structure and form of the original. The cast included John Glover as "Tartuffe" (described in the credits as "a deposed televangelist"), Alison Fraser as "Dorine" (described in the credits as "the Floor Manager") and David Schramm as "Orgon" (described in the credits as "the owner of the TV studio").

The most recent Broadway production took place at the American Airlines Theatre and ran from 6 December 2002 until 23 February 2003 (a total of 40 previews and 53 performances). The cast included Brian Bedford as "Orgon", Henry Goodman as "Tartuffe" and Bryce Dallas Howard as "Mariane".

The Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh staged a Scots version by Liz Lochhead in 1987, which it revived at on 7 January 2006.

The Tara Arts theatre company performed a version at the National Theatre in London in 1990. Performed in English, the play was treated in the manner of Indian theatre; it was set in the court of Aurangazeb and began with a salam in Urdu. A translation by Ranjit Bolt was staged at the National in 2002.

Gordon C. Bennett and Dana Priest published a new adaptation, Tartuffe--and all that Jazz! in 2013 with www.HeartlandPlays.com set in St. Louis 1927, the era of jazz! and Prohibition, both of which figure into the plot. The play contains the original Tartuffe characters plus a few mew ones in keeping with the altered scenario and a surprise ending to the hypocrite's machinations. The authors have created their own rhymed verse in the Molière tradition.

Liverpudlian poet Roger McGough's translation premièred at the Liverpool Playhouse in May 2008 and transferred subsequently to the Rose Theatre, Kingston.[11]

In October 2013, The National Arts Centre of Canada puts on a performance of Tartuffe set in 1939 Newfoundland.



  • The film Herr Tartüff was produced by Ufa in 1926. It was directed by F. W. Murnau and starred Emil Jannings as Tartuffe, Lil Dagover as Elmire and Werner Krauss as Orgon.
  • Gérard Depardieu directed and starred in the title role of a 1984 French film version.
  • A 2007 French film entitled Molière contains many references, both direct and indirect, to Tartuffe, the most notable of which is that the character of Molière masquerades as a priest and calls himself "Tartuffe". The end of the film implies that Molière went on to write Tartuffe based on his experiences in the film.




Later references[edit]


  1. ^ Molière et le roi, François Rey & Jean Lacouture, éditions du seuil, 2007
  2. ^ Molière et le roi, François Rey & Jean Lacouture, éditions du seuil, 2007, p76
  3. ^ Molière, Tartuffe trans. Martin Sorrel, Nick Hern Books, London, 2002,
  4. ^ Pitts, Vincent J. (2000). La Grande Mademoiselle at the Court of France: 1627—1693. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 250. ISBN 0-8018-6466-6. 
  5. ^ "Molière: Introduction." Drama Criticism. Ed. Linda Pavlovski, Editor. Vol. 13. Gale Group, Inc., 2001. eNotes.com. 2006. accessed 26 November 2007
  6. ^ "Molière." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. accessed 4 December 2007
  7. ^ a b c d Koppisch 2002.
  8. ^ Garreau 1984, vol. 3, p. 417.
  9. ^ Molière 1669.
  10. ^ Benedetti (1999, 389).
  11. ^ Philip Key Tartuffe, Roger McGough, Liverpool Playhouse Liverpool Daily Post (15 May 2008)


  • Benedetti, Jean. 1999. Stanislavski: His Life and Art. Revised edition. Original edition published in 1988. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-52520-1.
  • Garreau, Joseph E. (1984). "Molière", vol. 3, pp. 397–418, in McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama, Stanley Hochman, editor in chief. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 9780070791695.
  • Koppisch, Michael S. (2002). "Tartuffe, Le, ou l'Imposteur", pp. 450–456, in The Molière Encyclopedia, edited by James F. Gaines. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313312557.
  • Molière (1669). Le Tartuffe ou l'Imposteur. Paris: Jean Ribov. Copy at Gallica.
  • Brockett, Oscar. 1964. "THE THEATER, an Introduction" published Holt, Rhinehart,and Winston. Inclusive of University of Iowa production, "Tartuffe", includes "The Set Designer", set design and Thesis, a three hundred year commemoration, "A Project In Scene Design and Stage Lighting for Moliere's Tartuffe", by Charles M. Watson, State University of Iowa, 1964.
  • "The Misanthrope and Tartuffe" by Moliere, and Richard Wilbur 1965, 1993. A Harvest Book, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York, NY.
  • "The Misanthrope, Tartuffe, and other Plays", by Moliere, and Maya Slater 2001, Oxfords World Classics, Oxford University Press, Clays Ltd. 2008

External links[edit]