MADAME PERNELLE, Orgon’s mother, is totally deluded by Tartuffe until near the end of the play.
ORGON, husband of Elmire, son of Madame Pernelle, and father of Mariane and Damis, is the central character of the play and comes entirely under the influence of the hypocrite Tartuffe. Yet, whereas Tartuffe is the obvious hypocrite and scoundrel, Orgon is a much more complex character. Thus, Orgon’s religious fanaticism seems more directly correlated to his basic nature, which is characterized by Cléante as being extravagant and uncontrolled in all respects. Thus, having once adopted a life of piety, Orgon tries to become the epitome of the pious person and goes to absurd extremes both in his words and deeds. In contrast, when he discovers the hypocrisy of Tartuffe, he reverses himself and determines to hate and persecute all pious men.
ELMIRE, Orgon’s second wife, is reasonable and represents the opposite of her husband throughout most of the play.
DAMIS, Orgon’s son and Elmire’s stepson, uses his common sense to see through Tartuffe, but when he tries to prove him a hypocrite to his father, he is disinherited.
MARIANE, Orgon’s daughter, is in love with Valère and is being forced by her father to marry Tartuffe.
VALÈRE, Mariane’s suitor, is rejected by Orgon in favor of Tartuffe.
CLÉANTE, Orgon’s brother-in-law, tries, usually unsuccessfully, to get everyone to view things with calm and reason.
TARTUFFE, a hypocrite, is a superb scoundrel who can don any pose and become a master of it. As a religious ascetic, he convinces Orgon and Madame Pernelle that he is a devoutly pious and humble man; his obvious hypocrisy, however, is apparent to the audience. Tartuffe’s superiority lies in the fact that he can accurately analyze the weaknesses of his victims and then exploit these flaws for his own advantage. He is no simple or ignorant charlatan; instead, he is an alert and adept hypocrite who uses every means to bring about his success.
DORINE, Mariane’s maid, is a stock character found in many of Molière’s comedies and, in fact, has become a type found in comedies of all periods. She is the wise servant who sees through all pretense, and, while being the inferior in terms of social position, she is the superior in any contest of wits.