In many works of literature, it is not uncommon to find loyal servants, whether of the protagonist or the antagonist, whose wisdom save their masters or at least serve their masters well. This paper will examine two characters from two different plays, both of which are maids who have done well for their mistresses – Dorine from Moliere’s Tartuffe, and Oenone from Racine’s Phaedra. First, the paper will give a short review of each character’s qualities and roles in the plays and then compare their similarities. Then the two will be contrasted.
The paper will also examine if there is anything cultural about the differences between the two maids. Dorine is the maid of Orgon’s daughter, Mariane. Orgon is actually the protagonist and Tartuffe is the antagonist. Orgon believes that Tartuffe is a good person, so he is easily fooled by the latter to believe whatever he says. But Dorine is smart. She is the first to know the evil schemes of Tartuffe (Poquelin 33). Indeed, we can even say that even if she is just simple maid, she is definitely the wisest character in the play. Her wits have saved the family from being torn apart by the hypocrite Tartuffe.
As she is wise, she does not keep her mouth shut if it is for the welfare of the family she is serving. She airs her voice even if it means that she gets scolded for her words. Orgon has arranged the marriage of his daughter, Mariane and Tartuffe. Unfortunately, she loves someone else – Valere. Dorine helps her see the true nature of Tartuffe, but as a good daughter, she does not resist her father’s will. However, Dorine’ wits saves her from this marriage by helping the family plot a way to reveal to Orgon the true character of Tartuffe.
At first she spoke out her reason to tell Orgon how wicked Tartuffe is, but he refuses to listen. So, Dorine devices a plan together with Elmire, Orgon’s wife to expose the lusful desires of the hypocrite even to Orgon’s wife. They let Organ stay in a place where he could see the actual actions of Tartuffe towards Elmire and that convinces the master of the house that he has been being played with by the hypocrite for long time (Poquelin 105). Oenone is also a maid in Racine’s Phaedra. She loves her with a love that goes beyond reason that she even plots for her something that she will soon regret.
Her love for her mistress is like that to a mother who will do anything to protect her daughter from people who wish her ill (Racine 17). So, she admonishes Phaedra to allow her to tell Thesseus that his son Hippolytus revealed her incestuous desire to Phaedra, his stepmother thereby causing the king be furious against his own son. While Thesseus is away, Phaedra gets sick. At first, Oenone thinks that her illness is brought by the hate of Hippolytus for her. But she admits that her sickness is brought by her guilt for feeling incestuous love for her stepson.
When news of Thesseus’ death comes, Oenone convinces her mistress to reveal her feeling for her stepson, for which he expressed disgust. Later, Thesseus’ return is heard of, so Oenone, afraid that Hippolytus will tell his father Phaedra’s revelation, plots against the prince (Racine 36). Phaedra regrets the fate of her love, Hippolytus, so she sends Oenone away and blames her for all her ill advice. The poor maid then commits suicide by jumping of the cliff. Both Dorine and Oenone are maids of royal personalities. Both only wish the best for their mistresses.
Dorine wants to protect the royal family, especially Mariane from Taruffe and Oenone wants to protect Phaedra from Hippolytus. Both maids have shown wits in dealing with those that they consider to be posing harm to their masters. The people they work for are also in similar situations where there is someone who is linked to an affair that should not be. Mariane is arranged in marriage to Tartuffe, who is trying to seduce his bride-to-be’s mother, and Hippolytus is charged of incestuous desire for her stepmother, which is not true. It is with the last two similarities that need to start the contrast between the two characters.
Dorine is protecting her employers from a bad person. Tartuffe is a wicked charlatan and should not be allowed to marry Mariane. His inclusion in the royal family will surely bring disaster. So, Dorine is wise to protect the family from him. However, Oenone is protecting her mistress form someone who has not done her any harm. If ever he poses any threat, it is because she thinks ill of him, for Hippolytus is a good man and is even willing to reconcile and set things right. In fact, he never told anyone about what Paedra’s confession of her love.
Oenone has turned evil in her desire to protect her mistress from someone who is not plotting anything against her. That leads to the second difference. Dorine helps the royal family let Orgon catch Tartuffe in the act of seducing the mistress of the house. Because of that, Orgon discovers the true nature of Tartuffe and the family is saved. Oenone, on the other hand, tells Thesseus a lie just to preempt what they fear might happen and that is for Hippolytus to tell his father what Phaedra told her. In fact, it is Phaedra who is the guilty party, but she keeps protecting her with her lies and schemes.
Dorine’s love for the people she works for leads her to do what is right. They are able to set things right because they are in the right. Oenone, on the contrary, starts with something wrong because of wrong information (news of Thesseus’ death) which leads to covering up another mistake. So, one bad thing leads to another, resulting in a tragic ending. Dorine is separate from any other character in the play. Dorine is Dorine and no one else. She is a live character who mingles with the others as an independent person. She is not in any way an extension of any other person in the play. Arguably, Oenone is like another Phaedra.
She is like another side of Phaedra’s personality that tells her the things which she might otherwise do if she were by herself. For instance, in the absence of Oenone, she allowed Thesseus to continue his punishment for Hippolytus because of her jealousy. Her decision is very much like what the audience would expect Oenone to advise her. There is no question that Dorine has a positive character and Oenone has somewhat a negative character. Dorine has used her witts wisely, while Oenone has given counsel that caused tragic events. Nevertheless, as Dorine is a good maid to her mistress, so is Oenone.
All she wants is to protect her from potential harm. It only turns out that her counsel has cause harm to an innocent soul, later causing further grief for her mistress. Dorine just happens to be in a situation where her wits are put in good use and Oenone in one where hers in treachery. Both of them show good examples of loyalty to the people they serve. Servants will just have to remember that evil begets evil and good begets good. Works Cited Poquelin, Jean-Baptiste. Tartuffe. Kessinger Publishing, 2004. Racine, Jean Baptiste. Phaedra. Kessinger Publishing, 2004.
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