Summary and Analysis
Orgon explains that the strongbox contains some papers which were left in his keeping by a friend. If the papers were made public, both Orgon and his friend would be in serious trouble. Earlier, Tartuffe had persuaded Orgon to allow him to keep the entire strongbox and now Tartuffe has taken the secret papers and left.
Orgon cannot understand how anyone could be so base and wicked as Tartuffe; he vows to hate the entire race of men. Cléante advises him to learn to practice restraint. At this point, Orgon's son, Damis, rushes in and tells his father that he will be only too glad to put an end to Tartuffe's life. Again, Cléante has to recommend restraint and moderation.
These opening scenes are devoted to pushing the plot forward and explaining the amount of difficulty Orgon has gotten himself into as a result of his devotion to Tartuffe. It is ironic that earlier Orgon was not concerned about money — said to be the root of all evil — but, having now been enlightened he is suddenly very much concerned about worldly things. And, in the same way that Orgon was a fanatic about his devotion to Tartuffe and his religious feelings, now he is seen as being equally fanatic about his hatred of all pious men.
Cléante, who, as noted previously, represents the voice of reason in an age devoted to reason, offers the advice which everyone in the audience in Molière's day would recognize as the ideal of the century. The point of Molière's comedies was to ridicule any type of extravagant emotion and to emphasize the rational middle course. The person who goes to absurd extremes is to be ridiculed and Cléante explains this to Orgon. He advises him to learn to distinguish between the true man of worth and the charlatan, and to be cautious in bestowing his admiration.
As Cléante speaks of the need for a reasoned view of life, Damis runs in, impetuous and hot-tempered, determined to kill Tartuffe. Again, Cléante has to calm him, with words which were obviously spoken to flatter the King of France and the aristocracy in the audience. Cl6ante maintains that murder is not the proper way of handling things in this enlightened age, and that in a just kingdom such as France, one does not resort to violence.
If we remember that Molière was under the protection of the king and often had to appeal directly to him in order to get his plays produced, then it is understandable why he included such blatant flattery as this.