Summary and Analysis
Act II: Scenes 1-2
Orgon finds his daughter alone and asks her if she will obey him in all things. Being a dutiful daughter, she tells him it is her pleasure always to please her father. Therefore, Orgon instructs her to say that she finds Tartuffe to be a very worthy man and that she would be delighted to be his wife. Mariane then points out that if she said such a thing, she would be lying. Orgon, however, announces that he is determined to have Tartuffe allied to the family by marrying Mariane.
Dorine, the maid, interrupts the conversation by arriving unexpectedly. She is laughing about a joke she has heard — a joke concerning Orgon's plan to allow Tartuffe to marry Mariane. When Orgon tells her that it is no joke, that it is the truth, Dorine laughs harder, thinking that it is still a joke; she refuses to believe her master.
When Orgon refuses to retract, Dorine points out that Tartuffe has no property and no social alliances; such a man should be content to devote his time to his prayers. She also points out that Tartuffe, who theoretically brags about his poverty, also brags about his lands and birth — a matter which seems, for Dorine, a contradiction. Failing to convince Orgon, she then suggests that if a girl is forced to marry a man whom she dislikes, she is sure to be unfaithful.
Orgon tries his best to ignore her, but finally orders her to be quiet, and Dorine goes to the side as Orgon continues to try and influence his daughter. Then Dorine comments to herself about the absurdity of the situation until Orgon is so infuriated that he has to go out for a walk to calm himself.
As Act I closed with the exposure of Orgon's wrongheaded obstinacy, Act II opens with his putting into action his plans to marry his daughter to Tartuffe. And, without having met Tartuffe yet, the audience immediately recognizes this as an absurd act; immediately, we wonder how much more ridiculous Orgon will become before he regains his sanity. Thus, again, we see that Molière's technique is one of exposing a character's deviation from the norm of behavior until the audience is ready to thoroughly condemn his absurd behavior.
By trying to make Mariane say that she thinks highly of Tartuffe, Orgon takes advantage of the fact that his daughter is a dutiful daughter, who would obey him. It is paradoxical that Orgon, in his enthusiasm, would actually have his daughter lie about her feelings, merely because he is determined to have the wedding take place. At the end of this scene, Orgon has gone to a further ridiculous extreme in determining to force Mariane to marry Tartuffe.
In terms of the development of character and plot, the reader should be aware that Mariane only functions as a convenient vehicle for the other characters. As a person, she acts as an intermediary between the other, more central, characters.
When Dorine enters, we have some delightful comic techniques developed. One of the principal comic devices throughout the drama is the incredible statements made by a character and the absolute wonder of the other characters. Orgon finds himself now in a position of being laughed at because Dorine feels that his suggestions are so absurd that he could not be serious and, instead, is making a joke involving the entire family. The difficulty Orgon has in convincing Dorine of his serious intent is inherently comic and also functions as a commentary on the absurdity of trying to get Mariane to marry Tartuffe.
The second comic technique involves the wise servant contradicting and ridiculing the master. That Dorine is a wise servant is shown in the logical arguments she puts forth against the marriage: (1) she suggests that Tartuffe is not a pious person who worships poverty; this cannot be because he is constantly bragging about his lands and his noble birth. Such wordly pride does not blend with his pretended piety; (2) if Tartuffe really cared for only saintly matters, he would not be interested in marriage or finances; and (3) if one marries a girl to someone whom she detests, this is the easiest way to make a wife violate her marriage vows.
Orgon, in the grips of his absurd proposal, cannot listen to rational arguments. Consequently, Dorine begins to ridicule him. The comic technique then involves the master making a serious assertion only to be cut by a sarcastic observation from the maid. Furthermore, the exasperation which Orgon causes by his proposal is then reversed as Dorine exasperates him. She pretends that she cannot be silent because she loves her master so much that she can't let him make such a dreadful error.
Throughout the scene, we note then that the servant is in control of the situation — and the master. Consequently, since Orgon cannot control even his servant, he is then exposed as being even more ridiculous.