ssay I wrote for a World Lit class, comparing Elmire and Dorine from Tartuffe. Feedback??
ENGL - World Literature II
Dorine and Elmire, Fire and Ice
Tartuffe, the fantastic French Neoclassical comedic play written by Molie in 1664, exposes the virulent hypocrisy of the day, and how a con-man charlatan almost ruined a prominent family. Some of the main characters include: Orgon, the protagonist and family patriarch, an upper middle-class loyalist to the King of France; Elmire, the beautiful and well-liked wife of Orgon and stepmother to his son Damis and daughter Mariane; Dorine, the lowly, but well-meaning and straight forward servant to Elmire and the family; and of course Tartuffe, the story's antagonist, false prophet, fraud, con-artist, and general all-around creep. The focus of this writing is on the two most influential women in Orgon's life, Elmire and Dorine. Both are great influences on Orgon and his entire family. And, in addition, are the two that are responsible for Tartuffe's unfortunate turn in life. They are instrumental in exposing Tartuffe and saving the entire family from Orgon's foolishness and stupefaction. Dorine and Elmire are two strong, smart and able-bodied women of different classes and backgrounds. They have in common the fact that their primary purpose in life is to serve, and save, Orgon and the family order, but do so in opposite ways.
Dorine is sarcastic, sharp-tongued, brave and intelligent, and above all a realist. A standout example of her sarcasm and almost condescending wit is from Act I, Scene IV: "Both of them are now quite fine; I'll now be going up to tell your wife Of your deep concern at this threat to her life." (50-53). Dorine said this to Orgon after he returned from a trip, and seemed to only be concerned with how Tartuffe was doing. Dorine told him Elmire had been very sick, and quite sarcastically, that Tartuffe had suffered from gluttony and pampering, and Orgon's reaction was worry and concern only for Tartuffe. Act I, Scene IV:
"Dorine: The first day your wife had a bad fever And a headache that just wouldn't leave her.
Orgon. And Tartuffe?
Dorine. Tartuffe? He's in splendid shape, Fat and flabby, with red lips, and a shining face.
Orgon. Poor fellow!" (12-18)
Later on, it is made clear that Dorine was still just an expendable lower-class servant. We see this when she is treated so lowly that Orgon felt it was ok to strike Dorine when she upset him with her tart tongue! From Act II, Scene II: "Dorine [running away]. I'd thumb my nose at such a silly spouse. [Orgon tries to slap Dorine and misses.]" (188-190). Dorine still has the courage to speak her mind and hurt people's senses. And is willing to pay the price. This is in stark contrast to Elmire who, although she appears to agree with Dorine, wouldn't dare stand up to Orgon like Dorine does.
Elmire is beautiful, well-mannered, obedient, and intelligent. She was the sternly loyal wife. She was part of the privileged upper class. Her marriage to Orgon made her part of that class because he was in great favor with the King of France (who was the ultimate power over everyone in France), and a well-off landowner. She felt her obligation was first and foremost to her husband and keeping their marriage smooth and problem free while relieving him of any stress. When Tartuffe attempts to seduce Elmire, her stepson Damis catches him in the act and wishes to expose him to Orgon. Elmire objects because she does not want to rock the boat, she is intent on keeping Orgon worry and stress free, Elmire from Act III, Scene IV: "Don't make me retract what I have avowed. I don't choose to discuss scandal out loud: A woman laughs at these masculine foibles, And never plagues her mate with paltry troubles" (13-17). While Elmire played the subservient, supporting cast role of wife to Orgon, his mother and others felt she was too much of a flirt, putting herself out there, and had other ways about her that a woman in her position shouldn't possess. Because of her nature, and what she felt was the right thing to do, she was quite and timid with her thoughts and feelings, she couldn't be outspoken and brash like her counterpart Dorine in trying to save Orgon.
Elmire and Dorine appear much different on the surface, but deeper down are quite similar. Dorine proves to be the most attuned and in-sync with the situation that has come about as a result of Tartuffe's conniving and treachery. We don't hear about Dorine's looks much, though there is a scene where Tartuffe tells her to cover up. She replies in her usual biting sarcastic manner.
Act III, Scene II:
"Tartuffe. Because seeing your bosom causes me grief. Through one's eyes one's soul may be wounded, And then sinful thoughts may grow unattended.
Dorine. Then you are quite ready for temptation, And bare skin makes on you a big impression. I truly don't know why you feel such passion; I myself think lust is out of fashion, For I could see you nude from top to toe Without your pelt setting my cheeks aglow." (15-27).
From this scene it is hard to tell if perhaps Dorine is also blessed with beauty as Elmire is, or not. Although, early on in the play Dorine infers that Orgon's mother is jealous of her youth and looks. But we are left with no doubt or wondering of Elmire's beauty. Regardless, in this time period Dorine is just an inferior servant to the far superior Elmire. From what is said in the play, Elmire's superiority comes from her beauty and likeable manner, and of course her marriage to a man with clout like Orgon. Dorine doesn't have the fortune of this role in French enlightened society, she is there to be a servant. Elmire's role does give her a calming, almost stoic nature which we see serves everyone in the end. Dorine gets by on her intelligence and may have hidden beauty. While Elmire gets by on her beauty but has hidden intelligence. One is bold and brash, the other is subtle and appeasing.
As we see Dorine constantly critiques Orgon's decisions involving Tartuffe. Sometimes direct and to the point, other times she speaks with a wicked tongue using hyperbole and whatever other tools to expose Orgon's crazed obsession and obliviousness with this Tartuffe guy. All the while turning on his own family. Meanwhile, Elmire is first and foremost committed to ensuring that she keeps calm and order, as to not make any waves in her marriage and life with Orgon. Again, another example of their differences: Dorine is confrontational, states reality and gets by on her brain; Elmire is non-confrontational, keeps things to herself and gets by on her obedience and beauty. It takes time for Elmire to see the same thing that Dorine has seen all along. Perhaps it could be Dorine is smarter than Elmire, or that Elmire is more blinded by her loyalty to Orgon and keeping him happy.
On the surface, in the beginning, the two characters basically are presented as Elmire the pretty faced loyal trophy wife, and Dorine the smart-ass foul-mouthed disobedient servant. As the play moves on we see that both are very intelligent women. Dorine sees all along what is really going on, reads Tartuffe and his motives like a cheap newspaper, is very quick to react to all situations. In addition to Tartuffe, she is also there to force Mariane to grow-up and get over her self-pity. This enables Mariane to find the strength to stand up to her father, though it doesn't literally happen that way. It gave her more strength and courage to fight rather than letting her wallow in self-pity and attention seeking by giving up on the future marriage and life. This leaves us wondering, who really is the glue holding the family together during this Tartuffe fiasco...shouldn't it be the loyal wife and mother, but in reality, is it the lowly servant who does this? It appears so.
In conclusion, Elmire and Dorine are stark contrasts of each other. In modern times terms, you could say one is presented like a pretty, plastic filled reality TV star who is here to look hot and say things to keep people liking them (Elmire). While the other is a smart and driven woman running for political office who isn't afraid to speak the truth no matter who it upsets (Dorine). One hurts equal rights, the other fights for equal rights. But as we come to learn the women have much in common. Although the reality is very ironic because their primary roles in life are to serve, and now save, the same helpless man Orgon. Dorine is the most steadfast in trying to save Orgon from his mindless worship at the alter of Tartuffe, but it is to no avail. Elmire, whom comes across as less intelligent and strong as Dorine, ends up saving Orgon and the entire family. And it was with what got her position in life...her striking beauty and likeability, and her below the surface intelligence. She sets Tartuffe up and assures Orgon he will see the treachery with his own eyes. Elmire tells Orgon in Act IV, Scene IV: "I must be free To flirt. Clearly, that's what it's going to take To prove to you your holy man's a fake...It's for you I'm taking all these chances." (5-7, 11). In the end, I believe it is these two women that save Orgon and the entire family. Both contributed in different ways, and both used their strengths to expose the miscreant Tartuffe and his true intentions. One without the other may not have been able to save everyone from the mess that their 'master' created. But, together they saved Orgon, and saved the entire family's way of life.