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1 MOLIERE’S “THE MISANTHROPIST” CONTEXT The playwright history knows as Molière was born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin in Paris

in 1622. The young Molière likely established his affinity for theater at an early age, given the cultural and theatrical fertility of the Paris of his youth. One should note, however, that his plays are not entirely French-influenced, as he borrows from Spanish and Italian influences as well. Molière was well educated: he studied at the Jesuit Collège de Clermont and later studied law. He even had a brief career in law, which may partly explain his inclusion of lawsuits and legal strife in The Misanthrope. After a brief stint as a lawyer, Molière turned his attention to acting around 1642, at which point he joined in creating the Illustre Théâtre, a company whose success, although sporadic, gave Molière opportunity to commit himself full-time to the theater. Though he is best known as a playwright, Molière never stopped acting. His experience as an actor led to the creation of some of the most intense character studies in theater at the time, plays that require great effort and skill on the actor's part. The Misanthrope (1666) is at least partially autobiographical, although the extent to which Alceste mirrors the playwright is a point of contention among scholars. Molière was likely involved in a lawsuit while he wrote parts of the play, and he is known to have been in poor health, both of which may have given rise to misanthropic behavior. Nonetheless, it is difficult to imagine that Molière's misanthropy reached the extent of Alceste's bitterness. The Misanthrope is far more sophisticated than a simple autobiography, and critics have generally stayed away from searching for incessant parallels between Alceste and Molière. The farcical element of The Misanthrope is more subdued than in Molière's other comedies, such as Tartuffe (1664) or Those Learned Ladies. Perhaps discouraged by the 1666 banning of Tartuffe, a play many found offensive because of its assault on church hypocrisy, Molière embarked on a more serious study of human relationships with The Misanthrope. He does poke fun at French aristocracy, but this satire is overshadowed by Molière's attention to those human flaws to which all are subject. Although Molière typically worked within certain stylistic and traditional constraints, he was unique in his quest to experiment and to create new types of theater. The Misanthrope demonstrates Molière's twisting of the traditional farce or satire, which

2 typically used flat stereotypes to make a broad comment on social or political issues. Alceste and Célimène, along with the play's other characters, are more multidimensional, their behavior more ambivalent. In The Misanthrope, Molière uses a style that allows the audience to sympathize with his characters and to seek more subtle meanings in his work. While Alceste is not a stereotype, he is an extreme, implying Molière's criticism of certain human traits—a departure from his earlier attacks on broader class traits. Additionally, The Misanthrope is distinct from Molière's other work in its relative lack of movement. The fact that not much happens in the form of plot development forces the audience or reader to pay particularly close attention to character behavior and motivation. Plot Overview Alceste, a French aristocrat, raves to his friend Philinte about the corruption of French society. Alceste identifies hypocrisy as one of mankind's worst flaws. Despite Philinte's objections, Alceste insists that truth and honesty, no matter how painful, are essential to true integrity. Philinte contends that honesty must be balanced with manners, arguing that flattery might justly take the place of offensiveness. He believes that human nature should be allowed its faults. Over the course of the conversation, we learn that Alceste is presently involved in a lawsuit. During the conversation between Alceste and Philinte, Oronte, a marquis of the Court enters, proposing that he and Alceste commit to being friends. Alceste makes no such commitment, suggesting that they get to know each other first. Shortly thereafter, Oronte asks Alceste to critique a sonnet he has written. Alceste reluctantly agrees. He despises the poem, and scolds Philinte for flattering Oronte. When Oronte asks Alceste's opinion, Alceste suggests that Oronte give up his aspirations as a poet. Insulted, Oronte leaves. Alceste confronts his love interest Célimène (whose house is the setting for the play) about her recent behavior, which he considers inappropriate. He criticizes her for entertaining too many suitors; she insists that her flirtation is harmless and that her true affections lie with him. Célimène's manservant, Basque, announces the arrivals of Acaste and Clitandre, two marquises hoping to court Célimène. In protest, Alceste announces that he will leave, but he does not. All of Célimène's suitors, excluding Alceste, gather with her and her female cousin, Éliante, to hear Célimène's gossip about the people of the Court. Célimène criticizes

implying that Arsinoé's pretentiousness is also a topic of conversation. Alceste enters. should one of them fall out of favor with Célimène for good. She contends that smitten men typically compliment those with whom they are in love. at which point Célimène leaves. mentioning that Alceste's disposition is abnormal. She then tells Alceste that she has a letter proving Célimène's deception of him. Acaste strokes his own ego. Alceste leaves to deal with the matter. An Officer of the Marshals of France arrives to inform Alceste that a lawsuit has been filed against him by Oronte. when he admits that Célimène does not care for him. and her suitors are highly entertained. Arsinoé. He scoffs at her offer. but she suggests that Célimène change her behavior promptly to avoid further conflict. Alceste leaves with Arsinoé to see the evidence for himself. Éliante cautions Alceste not to be hasty in his judgment. Alceste proposes that he and Éliante strike up a relationship in order to make Célimène jealous. bragging about his youth." Arsinoé claims to have taken Célimène's side in the affair. who seeks retribution for Alceste's comments about his poem. while Éliante praises Alceste's commitment to his own value system. Arsinoé takes offense when Célimène states that the older woman's flaws might just be the result of age. Philinte then admits his attraction to Éliante. The dispute ends when Alceste arrives. Acaste and Clitandre find a moment alone to discuss their affections for Célimène. Philinte can hardly believe Alceste's unwillingness to compromise. Philinte and Éliante discuss Alceste's extraordinarily foul behavior before the Marshals of France. infuriated and seeking revenge against Célimène for deceiving him by professing her attraction to another suitor. Alceste interjects during Célimène's discussions to object to the hypocrisy at hand. and his appeal to women. Clitandre and Acaste decide that. His cheerfulness dissolves. Éliante delivers her ideas about men in love. . Célimène comments on Arsinoé's flaws. his wealth. however. Éliante states that Célimène is confused and does not know whom she loves. a cantankerous older woman. As Philinte and Éliante finish their conversation. saying he would be honored to be hers.3 harshly. Arsinoé praises Alceste's integrity and offers to use her influence to acquire him a position at Court. When their conversation turns to Alceste's relationship with Célimène. arrives to tell Célimène that the people of the court have been talking about her "flirtatiousness. Everyone dismisses his comments. Éliante admits that she would accept Alceste's advances if he were to abandon Célimène at any point. he will step aside and support the other's courtship.

he plans to test Célimène's love by asking her to retire with him. and quick to point out faults in others. telling his master to leave immediately. He finds Philinte. He is unforgiving. Arsinoé and Philinte return. She reacts calmly. He is not an evil man. Alceste berates Célimène for her infidelity. enters. He announces that he will isolate himself from society forever. Alceste's servant.4 Philinte and Éliante exit as Célimène enters. He cannot bear flattery or insincere compliment. Du Bois. she refuses to do Célimène's bidding. Alceste exits. Célimène refuses this request. Alceste is not a happy man. The men read the letter aloud. but not to leave with him. he is willing to forgive Célimène. . and Alceste turns to Éliante. For once. Célimène is Alceste's greatest source of agony: Alceste recognizes that love is his weakness and that he cannot reject Célimène. including himself. Shortly thereafter. Character List Alceste . Célimène refuses to do so. stating that she plans to let Éliante make the decision for her. Alceste renounces his love for Célimène. as he has lost his court battle and now runs the risk of arrest. Before leaving. Eventually. Desperate. but he says she must first agree to live with him in solitude. Alceste refuses. however. and Philinte and Éliante follow to encourage him to rethink his decision to retire into isolation. explaining to him that she is too young to make such a drastic decision. which often offends others. She is shocked by his proposal. Éliante professes agreement. Alceste and Oronte confront Célimène.The protagonist and title character. Alceste leaves to find out more about the situation. telling her that it would be unjust for him to ask for her devotion. each of them declaring his wish to end whatever courtship he had with Célimène. Alceste commands Célimène to tell him that the letter was actually written to a woman. She leaves. incapable of coming to terms with the flaws of human nature. who counsels him to challenge the verdict issued against him. both demanding that she choose between them. stating that he wants the verdict to stand as an example of human corruption. Furious. When Éliante enters. Acaste and Clitandre enter with a letter written by Célimène that contains insulting remarks about each of the suitors. Alceste is the only suitor remaining. calling him "foolish" and telling him to believe what he wishes about the letter. She agrees to marry him. announcing her decision to devote herself to Philinte. The highly principled Alceste is brutally honest. and Alceste rages about his uncontrollable love for her. Then. and we may be sympathetic to him given the even manner in which he dispenses criticism—to everyone.

but is appealing in his selflessness. Éliante . but she is unwilling to give herself over to the conventions and decorum of her society. possibly through an arranged marriage. but not without fault. Éliante possesses a deep understanding of the French society in which she lives. Philinte is also admirable for his self-control and patience in dealing with the object of his affection.The object of Philinte's romantic attentions.A polite and tactful man who is well adapted to the society of the play. if a bit confused about where her own desires lie. Acaste. Éliante has found a point of balance between propriety and conformity. Célimène . Oronte . Philinte . She is careless in her insults. though the mediocrity of his poem calls this particular talent into question. Philinte lacks the sharp wit and cleverness of many of the other characters. Éliante. Éliante is not shy. . Philinte bears a genuine concern for Alceste as he seeks to keep Alceste from destroying all of his relationships. and Clitandre—all seek her affection.5 even though he abhors her behavior. Molière implies that Célimène might somehow belong to Alceste. she loves to gossip. Experimenting with poetry. Oronte fashions himself a multi-talented man. In many ways. and he even challenges Alceste in court for criticizing his poem. Philinte. Her suitors— Alceste. but this does not keep her from flirting. Though he appears confident. Éliante never reaches the extremes of her cousin Célimène in gossiping and making fun of the people of the court. Célimène is the center of attention for much of the play. yet she makes no firm commitment to any of them. He cares very much about what people think of him. he reveals his insecurities when criticized.A young woman who is the object of desire of several men in The Misanthrope. She also demonstrates a keen insight into the relationship between the sexes and occasionally offers a witty critique of how men in love behave. as she expresses her opinions of others when the situation demands it. and she is critical of nearly everyone she meets. Philinte is the straight man to the absurd and often comically disgruntled Alceste. and she ultimately stirs the ire of those who once loved her. Oronte. His love for Célimène is the only force capable of subverting his firm values. Célimène seems to enjoy life for the most part. However. Alceste's age—he is probably the oldest of the characters— and disposition set him apart from the rest of the company at Célimène's home. is almost so well adjusted as to come across as boring.An outspoken man who seeks to be an integral part of his society. She shifts her affections from Alceste to Philinte over the course of the play. who avoids the type of offensive straightforwardness that characterizes Alceste. Célimène is happy and confident. Éliante is loving and compassionate.

Du Bois . unpleasant.6 Like most of the others. Out of nervousness in trying to tell Alceste everything. Ultimately. he desires the love of Célimène to such an extent that he strikes a deal with Clitandre to bolster his chances of wooing her. Acaste demonstrates true anguish in speaking of his unrequited love for Célimène. however. regardless of his good intentions. Basque. as we see when she tells Alceste of Célimène's deception. which may explain his confusion and frustration over Célimène's rejection. He is unabashed in singing his own praises. Arsinoé masks her frustration with extreme manners and piety. Basque . and thus unable to attract men. promptly announcing the arrival of her visitors.Célimène's manservant.A bitter woman who is older. Oronte demands the honesty of those with whom he associates. Perhaps the only thing that could make her happy—Alceste's love—is beyond her reach. unattractive. and he abandons Célimène after she insults him. Arsinoé . is loyal to his mistress.Alceste's jittery. as she herself seeks the love of Alceste. Analysis of Major Characters Alceste Alceste is the protagonist and title character of The Misanthrope. Du Bois is of little help to his master. His ineptitude attracts the sympathy of his theater audience. a minor character. Oronte is in love with Célimène. Officer . stronger than his pride. bumbling manservant. His greatest joy comes from his participation in a gossip session with Célimène. Though Arsinoé does participate in the gossip and rumor-mongering about the Court. Clitandre . . as well as the genesis of the play's central conflict—the clashing of Alceste's value system with the status quo. Whether or not he can handle this honesty depends upon the situation.Another marquis chasing Célimène's love. Arsinoé is also willing to betray the confidence of supposed friends. Acaste considers himself a prime candidate for the role of Célimène's lover. She is openly critical of Célimène out of jealousy.A young and egotistical marquis. Clitandre seems less desperate than the other suitors for her affection. The Officer requests that Alceste present himself before the Marshals to justify his insult to Oronte's poem. Clitandre has enough pride and confidence to give up on Célimène when she insults him. Du Bois's comic subservience to Alceste is a major element of the farcical nature of The Misanthrope. it does not make her happy.A messenger of the Marshals of France. Acaste . His love is not. Du Bois actually says virtually nothing.

indeed. Just as Alceste is set apart by his sour attitude. Célimène journeys too far in the direction of carelessness. The playwright shows that a strict code of ethics cannot survive the society he satirizes. Alceste frequently lectures others about the value of honesty and the ills of hypocrisy. She shows a proclivity to want others to make decisions for her: after Oronte and Alceste ask her to choose between them. the world of the play revolves around Célimène. Célimène and Alceste are complete opposites. Unfortunately for him. but her ability to apply a keen eye to her own feelings and intentions is dubious. all the suitors. is prone to fall victim to love. Additionally.dimensional. Célimène is sharp-witted in attacking others. she . The fact that she cares for him indicates her susceptibility to emotion. However. energetic. Eventually. and both Arsinoé and Célimène demonstrate attraction to him. Molière uses Alceste in part as a satirical device. Philinte seems to respect Alceste's integrity. he shows a willingness to forgive. She has learned to operate within her society almost perfectly: she flirts and gossips enough to remain the center of attention. and their relationship—especially his attraction to her— is one of the play's great ironies. except for Alceste. Célimène is unsure of what she wants. She is young. which may explain her lack of a strong value system. Though confident. Alceste's journey through the play does change him in some ways. as comic extremism and common human emotion are juxtaposed within him. recognizing that he. does not. Célimène stands out by her charm and wit. however. he does garner the affections of both men and women. Alceste is more of a character study than he is a symbol. like everyone else. in spite of his isolation. By the end. with a knack for saying the right things to the right people.7 Frustrated by the lack of sincerity and the prevalence of corruption in the society around him. As one man among many who do not share his views. Célimène Although Alceste drives the action of The Misanthrope. However. no one really listens. She never demonstrates any intense desires or frustrations. change completely. offering his hand in marriage to Célimène even though she has offended him. enraged at Célimène's behavior. desert her. Alceste is isolated. Nearly every man of the court has his eye on her. Her gossip comes back to haunt her when several of her suitors discover a letter she has written that pokes fun at all of their faults. Alceste. he ends up quite close to where he began. In the play's final scenes. He is multi. Alceste admits his own weaknesses. and naughty enough to pique everyone's interest.

this makes Philinte a bit boring. Philinte is a narrator. and he continues to damage his social standings. In some ways. and she offers a balanced analysis of Alceste's behavior. In the final scene. Éliante distinguishes herself from Philinte with her wit and her shrewd observance of human behavior. Where Philinte might abstain from comment. Célimène may play society well. Of course. Ultimately. for all of her charm. Éliante Like Philinte. Molière rewards Philinte with the only successful relationship in the play. Philinte Molière blesses Philinte with a sharp sense of balance. Célimène lacks maturity. Éliante refuses. In short. The playwright implies that modesty and restraint are the proper code of behavior. suggesting that Alceste consider moderation in his dealings with others. both of whom are left unhappy and alone at the end of the play. Philinte's temperament never really changes and his actions are never impulsive. Célimène—and she seems content not to be the center of attention. offering himself to Éliante conditionally. even agreeing to become his lover so that he might avenge Célimène's deception. aside from his romance with Éliante. Unfortunately. Éliante's only noticeable weakness lies her ambivalence towards Alceste. does not involve Philinte. allowing Alceste first rights to her. Philinte is a selfless friend. but also makes him a nice contrast to Alceste. Éliante is well adjusted. Ultimately. Philinte serves as an informal advisor to Alceste. Philinte and Éliante share their feelings for one another and exit together. forcing Célimène to get herself out of her own mess. Such a code is foreign to Alceste and Célimène. She generally avoids gossip—in contrast to her cousin. Alceste does not heed his friend's advice.8 turns to Éliante to decide on her behalf. She delivers an intelligent critique of the way men behave when in love. Éliante decides that her heart lies . He is forgiving and he accepts that people are flawed. Much of the action of the The Misanthrope. Éliante also stands up to her cousin when Célimène requests that Éliante choose a lover for her. Philinte is also the only male figure in the play who does not compete for Célimène's adoration. She appears to feel some sort of obligation to Alceste. Éliante jumps in with a well thought out opinion. but Philinte respects this society. He comments to Alceste and Éliante on the more volatile characters as they carry the story along. though. Molière suggests that this maturity will be difficult to develop if Célimène does not start taking more responsibility for her words and deeds.

Motifs. He is unafraid to admit his true feelings for Éliante. Although the ostensible "hero"— Alceste—cannot find happiness. Indeed. as long as no one gets hurt. Philinte is truthful. Ironically. the world might be better place if everyone could accept Alceste's doctrine of brutal honesty. but tactfully refrains from insulting Oronte. Éliante and Philinte are the perfect match in many ways. and Symbols Themes The Hypocrisies of Social Behavior Though disagreeable. when honesty is called for. He suggests that a little duplicity may be allowable. Alceste seems able to recognize his own flaws. However. Themes. The Acceptance of Human Flaw French society rejects Alceste. Molière does not seem to be totally opposed to hypocrisy. Philinte embodies the closest-to-perfect balance of truth and deception. suggests otherwise. The people of the Court are too insecure to accept the kind of brutal honesty that Alceste endorses. Indeed. Molière suggests that the only way to survive the society he depicts is to mix . For all of the characters but Alceste. following Alceste off to keep him from leaving. Éliante and Philinte represent a moral and social stability lost to the rest of the Court. Alceste is often right. but a letter from her. Without some flattery and the occasional white lie. However. made public in the final act. not because he is wrong or immoral. They remain selfless to the end. With their moderate behavior and true—or so we are led to believe—devotion to one another. when Alceste's ranting gets out of hand. especially when it comes to discerning hypocrisy. the real heroes do. but such is not the case. Éliante is the only woman not guilty of obvious hypocrisy and deceit. but he remains unable to accept the faults of others. Philinte disciplines him with an honest critique of Alceste's behavior. In the pairing of Éliante and Philinte. Molière offers a new spin on the traditional happy ending. but because he is intolerant of human shortcomings. any amicability among the characters would disappear.9 with Philinte. Just as Philinte is the only completely respectable man in the play. but the old woman attempts to undermine Célimène's relationship with Alceste by telling Alceste of a love letter written by Célimène to Oronte. life is a balancing of flattery and gossip. Arsinoé claims to take Célimène's side when her name falls under criticism. He dislikes Oronte's poem. and. Célimène behaves as if she enjoys the company of her suitors.

Philinte is the portrait of rationality. Philinte understands Alceste's frustrations. The suitors. one must be assertive in satisfying one's emotions. Molière's characters also demonstrate a tendency to deny their own flaws. At least Alceste actively discusses his attraction to Célimène. They show up at Célimène's house and essentially sit around and wait on her to bestow her affections upon them. but he reserves expressing them for occasions in which he will not offend others—quite the opposite of Alceste's behavior. Alceste denies his love for Célimène (though not always) by carrying on about her deplorable traits. however angst-ridden that attraction may be. He understands that living among others requires tact and discretion. The Irrationality of Love A large part of Alceste's angst derives from his inability to harness his love for Célimène. She is not pious for the sake of piousness. but because she cannot accept her inability to attract men. Ironically. the characters often use their criticism of each other to help them deny their own faults. whose life proceeds according to a strict. By wearing the mask of "excessive piety." Arsinoé buries her own social ineptitude. rational code of ethics (rational in his mind). he is still victim to human emotion." Some tact and observance of decorum is certainly necessary. Yet he loves her still. In this way. We might . But. especially. Philinte may be the only character who gladly accepts love's irrationality. although he is strong-willed in maintaining his version of integrity. Philinte serves as exemplar of Molière's prototype for proper social function. Alceste often curses the hold that Célimène has upon him. he cannot separate himself from the mankind that he abhors. He knows of her faults (and reminds her of them frequently) and he knows that her values and manners do not mimic his. learns that love is not reasonable or rational. Molière would not likely advocate giving oneself completely over to "the irrationality of love. Philinte has opinions. The Misanthrope searches for the proper balance between reason and love. recognizing that. Part of the comedy of the play derives from the romantic dormancy of the suitors. Molière does make a distinction between morality and rationality. but realizes that venting those frustrations publicly will only bring trouble.10 integrity with tact. are often so caught up in gossip that they have no time for self-reflection. He and Éliante appear truly happy at play's end. Likewise. The Rationality of Compromise For Molière. Alceste.

Alceste asks Célimène to abandon society with him—a ridiculous proposal. Her letters are a symbol of the distance between the social Célimène and the private. proposes that they marry but remain in Paris. just as his standing before the law is threatened. In the company of her suitors. Alceste is involved with two lawsuits. More literally. Additionally. Célimène. Alceste cannot stand not to have it his way completely. resulting in their abandoning her. Alceste's personal relationships are strained. Alceste's discovery of a letter to Oronte supposedly drives him to confront Célimène about her infidelity. even compromises one's own set of values in order to satisfy others. one with Oronte before the Marshals of France and another about which the audience knows little detail. Alceste's misanthropy separates him from the other characters. the court demands Alceste's physical separation from society. Later. critical Célimène. Célimène is flirtatious and friendly. Motifs The Legal System The Misanthrope is strewn with mention of court cases and legal battles. With the writing and distribution of letters. not wanting to resign to isolation. Letters Célimène's letters provide impetus for much of the dramatic action of the play. a cover perhaps for her true opinions of them. On a figurative level. In the final scene of the play. Célimène briefly mentions her involvement in a lawsuit. Alceste's personal offenses translate into legal offenses. Just when one might think that Alceste has learned something about the art of compromise. Alceste refuses what is probably the best outcome that he could have imagined at the beginning of the play. understanding that one must compromise. he exhibits a comic resistance to striking a deal with Célimène. the suitors discover a letter from Célimène that insults of them. Célimène is able to distance herself from her more offensive thoughts. One could argue that Alceste refuses Célimène's offer only because it represents a compromise. these letters represent another level of superficiality. Molière uses the French legal system as a metaphor for societal constraint. or at least more true to himself than Philinte.11 argue that Alceste is more moral. Philinte is clearly more rational. Deal-Making . For the character of Célimène.

This solitude might also represent Alceste's delusion. the house serves as a conduit for the action of the play. an alternative he creates because he cannot bear the reality of having to find a way to exist with others. Philinte understands this. Symbols Célimène's House The openness of Célimène's house parallels her own personal openness to the advances of her suitors. Alceste deceives himself in thinking that such a retirement is a feasible alternative. an act that appears ridiculous given the differences between Oronte and Alceste. he will step aside to better the chances of the other. Similarly. Perhaps Molière is demonstrating the existence of the upper class by inheritance alone and not by merit. The poem acts as a testament to the pretentiousness of French aristocracy. Molière exposes the disconnect between formality and emotion. Beyond its role as a symbol of Célimène's flirtatiousness. and Célimène does not show any discretion as to who comes and who goes.12 The men of The Misanthrope attempt to impose some kind of rigidity to human relationships and emotion by seeking commitments with one another. Clitandre and Acaste attempt to strike a deal over their attractions for Célimène: if one of the men falls out of favor with her. The fluidity of entrances and exits moves the play along and provides the opportunity for interruptions and discoveries. Oronte hopes to secure Alceste's friendship with a handshake. While Alceste insists on the honesty of others. With the motif of deal-making. as the play draws to a close. implying the false confidence of aristocrats like Oronte. Oronte's Poem Oronte's poem is one of the more satirical elements of the play. it would be difficult for him to totally retire from others' company. Men are allowed to come and go freely. Act I Summary . he follows Alceste in an attempt to convince him not to leave. Indeed. he deceives himself. Oronte's poem is comically bad. Alceste's "Rustic Solitude" The "solitude" that Alceste seeks—a physical separation from society—represents his attitudinal and moral separation from the other characters. calling into question the intelligence and ability of the upper class.

Molière's protagonist. Alceste turns down the challenge. Alceste reveals that he is presently embroiled in some sort of lawsuit. Act I. allowing no exceptions. praises the sonnet. scene iii Philinte criticizes Alceste for the way he has treated Oronte. scene i Alceste. telling Alceste not to "be absurd. Alceste berates Philinte for flattering the poor writing. points out that Alceste seems to turn a blind eye to the faults of Célimène. He rants about the flaws and failures of humankind. Alceste counters. When Oronte finishes his recitation. praising Alceste's honorable qualities and suggesting that the two men become friends. Alceste suggests that he give up writing and stick to what he does best. appeals to Alceste.13 Act I. Alceste presents an example of what he considers good poetry. Oronte challenges Alceste to write something better that what Oronte has presented. another of Célimène's courtiers. Philinte suggests that Alceste be more accepting of human flaw and not so critical of the behavior of others." Analysis At the opening of The Misanthrope. is comically extreme. Alceste reacts with disgust as Oronte begins his recitation. Alceste is the caricature of the . the woman whom he is presently courting. Alceste. Out of earshot of Oronte. Oronte then proposes that Alceste offer his critique of a poem Oronte has written. Alceste insists on brutal—total honesty—criticizing Philinte's notion that such honesty might be rude or inappropriate. will not fit well in the world of the play. Insulted. Alceste cuts Philinte off. however right or noble it might be. stating that he does recognize Célimène's faults and points them out upon noticing them. on the other hand. attempting to find fault in Alceste's theories of human relationships. Act I. demanding that he leave. Though reluctant at first. scene ii Oronte. stating that they should not make any sort of friendship agreement until they come to know each other better. Alceste is hesitant. Philinte refuses to leave. suggesting that he even reaches the extreme of breaking the law. argues with his friend Philinte about the proper way to treat those for whom one has little respect. a French aristocrat. Philinte. At first. We learn that Alceste is embroiled in a lawsuit. The playwright suggests that such behavior. Philinte. Alceste ultimately agrees to hear the poem. In his talk of honesty. we immediately learn that the play will have at least some elements of farce.

French aristocrats need not work. specifically targeting Oronte. For Molière. Alceste assaults himself as well. Philinte exemplifies the proper way to navigate French society. Alceste is haughty in his own way. . Given their immense wealth. but because they are inevitable. he too does little in the way of work. but as a part of society his lack of social tact dooms him to misanthropy. Philinte is a voice of reason. Perhaps. so they instead turn their attentions to hobbies of intellect. in his assault on others. When Alceste advises Oronte to give up poetry. Ironically. attempting to formalize even what most would consider emotional interactions outside the realm of formality.14 disgruntled old man. considering himself superior because of his strict code of ethics. "I find mankind so odious that I should hate to have it approve of me" (I. he tells Alceste. Molière also pokes fun at French aristocracy. of which he is also part. Molière also points to the idleness of the aristocracy. he might be satisfied. implying an aristocratic notion that pacts and rules supercede feelings and emotion. the incensed Oronte challenges Alceste to do better. "The world won't change its ways on account of anything you may do. telling Philinte. Indeed. Oronte is pompous and outspoken. Oronte suggests that he and Alceste shake hands to confirm their affection for one another. Were he alone. suggesting an aristocratic inability to take criticism. Far from original. Alceste is also a member of the aristocracy. Additionally. Alceste shuns all of mankind. Molière later clouds this initial characterization as the play evolves. From the outset. but later acts reveal an experiment with form and style. he understands that politeness and forgiveness are just as important as honesty. Philinte also pushes a message of greater society's indifference to an individual's gripes.i). Oronte's poem appears to achieve only a basic pattern of rhyming. he criticizes the class of which he is a member. Though Philinte agrees with some of what Alceste has to say. Molière establishes Philinte as the straight man to the misanthropic Alceste. to behave within society limits—not because such limits are just. We might believe that Alceste—if Philinte has befriended him—must not be all that bad. his unhappiness stems from his relationship to others. as far as we can tell at this point." He implores Alceste to be practical. As he parodies Alceste's disposition. spending most of his time in court or pestering Célimène. In the first scene. The playwright also uses Philinte to buffer our harsh opinion of Alceste. Molière suggests that such hobbies might not be the best fit for the aristocracy. This may mean that he despises himself. More broadly. He begins The Misanthrope in much the same way he begins his other comedies. Although he rejects the vices of hypocrisy and false intellect.

but he stubbornly refuses. Act II. He criticizes her for entertaining the advances of multiple suitors and insists that she demonstrate more discretion. advancing their opinions regarding the proper way to carry oneself. In turn.15 Dramaturgically speaking. Alceste largely rejects Célimène's arguments. we learn a great deal about each of the characters in the first act. Clitandre. he provides little in the way of real action. announces the arrival of Clitandre. Alceste censures himself for being so jealous and hopelessly in love. scene iii Célimène's servant. stating that she has true affection for him. Célimène vows to "unsay all that I have said in the past. the characters philosophize about the nature of mankind. Indeed. For much of the first act. The disgruntled Alceste insists that he is leaving." Act II. . but little about where the play is headed. Alceste's bitterness may foreshadow his eventual fate. however. scene ii Alceste reacts angrily when Célimène agrees to accept a visit from Acaste." Subsequently. Basque. Molière does not keep many secrets from us. character is Molière's primary focus. that Clitandre might be able to help her with a lawsuit in which she is involved. Célimène contends that she must stay in good favor with Acaste because he carries considerable clout in "Court circles. and he suggests that she might be expressing her love to other suitors as well. Though he sets up Alceste's conflict almost immediately. Célimène asks him to stay. Célimène does mention. Act I immediately establishes the central conflict of the play: Alceste's struggle to relate to others—and to himself. scene i Alceste confronts Célimène about what he believes to be her poor behavior. Offended. specifically questioning her affection for one specific suitor. however. Nonetheless. showing his characters as they truly are from the very beginning. Act II Summary Act II. Célimène assures Alceste that he need not worry.

Act II. Rather. than Célimène. they will likely be just as quick to ingratiate themselves with those same people they criticize. calling her "perfect. Acaste. quite negatively. the other suitors praise Célimène. Act II. is unhappy. he is demonstrating a true. honest love for her. and refuses to withdraw his criticism of Oronte's poem. describing man's typical inclination to find merit in the faults of a lover. while they are quick to point out the faults of others. who is probably more moral. Alceste asks the Officer to enter. setting up the central irony of the play: Alceste falls hopelessly in love with a representative of the society he abhors. scene v Basque announces the arrival of a man to see Alceste. Alceste. Molière does not imply that Célimène's behavior is appropriate or moral. scene iv Célimène's cousin Éliante arrives with Philinte. Alceste demands that Célimène "explain" herself to all present.16 Act II. Still present. With her gossiping and flirtatiousness. Philinte pleads for Alceste to be reasonable. Opposing Alceste." "charming and gracious. Éliante mentions that love does not usually take this form. he uses her to comment of the lifestyle of one who has completely given herself over to the values of society. Célimène first appears as a sketch of a character type." Alceste argues that. She ignores him. scene vi The Officer announces that the Marshals of France (a judicial body created to settle matters of honor) would like to see Alceste about his "squabble with Oronte. Célimène seems to represent the stereotypical spoiled daughter. Célimène maintains that Alceste is arguing for argument's sake and dismisses his negativity as unfounded. Alceste agrees to go see the Marshals. Eventually. The suitors listen intently as Célimène gossips. . Analysis Like Alceste. Alceste argues to Célimène and the others that. in being critical of Célimène." Alceste finds the request ridiculous. and Clitandre. The second act begs the question of whether morality or happiness is more important. She enjoys her society as much as Alceste despises it. about several people of the Court. at least more honest.

iv). the playwright employs suspense as a dramatic device. The only obvious faults appear to be those connected to extreme values. In Alceste's ideal world. Here. Alceste might be incapable of love because he cannot accept dishonesty in any form. Célimène differs from Alceste in that her misanthropy is tactful. The first major turning point comes at the end of Act II. scene iv. . Without the encouragement of the suitors. Additionally.iv). Such a world being implausible. however. Célimène projects her own style of misanthropy. She speaks behind the backs of those whom she criticizes. Few would argue that love is wrong or wicked. but this reasoning seems to define some kind of distant. Like all humans. but what if it blinds those in love from the truth? By Éliante's argument. uncontrollable frustration with Célimène by applying the rationality of his system of beliefs. Alceste falls victim to the whims of the heart. neither mockery nor flatter would exist. and perhaps flattery alone is not all bad. Alceste points out to the suitors. when Alceste is summoned to appear before the Marshals of France. whereas Alceste entertains no one with his. Molière indicates that mockery is a social construct. All at once. society must find some medium. Act II. and as such. Molière suggests that Alceste is at war with himself over the nature of his love for Célimène. While Alceste's ill will extends to the whole of society. Alceste's complete refusal to acquiesce marks his rejection of societal values. He argues that "the proof of true love is to be unsparing in fault. he tries to fight his deep. Molière maintains the ambivalence of ethics. scene iv. Conversely. In what is probably Éliante's most important speech (at the end of II. Célimène demonstrates her capacity to bear malice when she mediates a gossip session among her suitors. she introduces the concept of justification. "Her satirical humour is fed and watered by your wicked flattery" (II. She defines a "man in love" as one who recognizes his lover's faults as virtues.finding" (II. depicts a world of floating values in which there is no concrete standard. Often. She entertains her suitors with her mockeries. love could be blamed for contributing to falsehood.iv). With the gossip session. For the first time.17 In a sense. Alceste's standing with Célimène and his standing before the law are threatened. In Act II. however ambiguous those might be. Célimène's honed sense of humor obscures the severity of her insults. Célimène's is targeted. not the visceral love that Éliante describes. Célimène would have less reason to degrade others. Molière uses Alceste's court case to move the play to a point of greater crisis. more biting. not to their faces as Alceste does. theoretical love. We can certainly imagine a type of flattery that does not encourage the recipient to mock.

a woman whose company neither Célimène nor Acaste can bear. and Alceste and Arsinoé are left alone together.18 Act III Summary Act III. scene iv Arsinoé informs Célimène that people have been speaking critically of her "flirtatiousness. he will stop courting her. Acaste's disposition changes when he admits that his love for Célimène goes unrequited. thus making Arsinoé jealous of Célimène. Célimène mentions that Arsinoé has feelings for Alceste. Célimène adds that people have been discussing Arsinoé's faults as well. scene ii Célimène discovers that Clitandre and Acaste are still in the house. Arsinoé claims that Célimène's courtiers are attracted to her lack of restraint. When Clitandre asks why Acaste is always so cheerful. scene i Clitandre and Acaste discuss their affections for Célimène. Act III. should one of them fall out of favor with Célimène. Act III. "It's love that detains us. and her jealousy of Célimène is apparent. yielding to the other. arguing that Célimène should be careful not to place too much value on her youth. Arsinoé comes across as insincere. Arsinoé rebuffs. rich." Act III. Célimène allows that it may just be Arsinoé's age that causes her to behave as she does." Act III. expressing her disapproval of the way the Court has ." While Arsinoé claims to have spoken in defense of Célimène. Acaste arrogantly notes that he is young. and therefore has no reason not to be cheerful. Arsinoé recommends that Célimène change her ways. Clitandre claims. suggesting that Arsinoé is a hypocrite. Célimène responds to the attack on her character by criticizing Arsinoé's "excessive piety" and pretentiousness. and attractive. He and Clitandre agree that. Arsinoé praises Alceste's integrity. not her "good qualities. scene v Alceste enters as Célimène leaves. scene iii Basque announces the arrival of Arsinoé.

but the others save their social integrity by taking the circuitous route to criticism. on the other hand. the scene provides a "behind the scenes" look at the motivations of Clitandre and Acaste. In a last-ditch attempt to gain Alceste's affection. but she then claims to have taken Célimène's side. contending that she should be more discriminating in her flattery. The scene begins with Acaste's speech about his own virtues and abilities. scene i is our first and only chance to see two suitors (other than Alceste) alone. but that they do so indirectly. Alceste may save time by forfeiting decorum with his frankness. In a sense. Arsinoé continues. by the end of the scene. prefers straightforwardness to game.playing. Arsinoé claims that she has proof of Célimène's deception at her house.iv). the passive-aggressive approach endorsed by Arsinoé and Célimène is doomed to failure of another sort. indeed. The two women cannot help but become enraged at one another. mentioning that she could "pull a few strings" to get Alceste a "post at Court. This scene contrasts the typical approach to romance with Alceste's unorthodox method. candidly discussing their attraction to Célimène. Arsinoé provides a long list of society's grievances against Célimène. is private. For once. they have commenced verbal warfare. someone other than Alceste demonstrates anguish. Alceste. Molière satirizes both. . then. Analysis Act III. Molière explores the idea that people—his characters. With the scene between Célimène and Arsinoé (III.19 handled Alceste's legal matters. In III. get to say what they really think of one another without having to take credit o responsibility for their own words. at least—find a way of saying what they really mean. though his confidence soon gives way to his despair over Célimène's rejection. for example). Both women. whereas Alceste's sense of honesty requires that he admit his shame to Célimène.iv. however. Molière depicts a society in which one is punished only by taking responsibility for his or her potentially offensive thoughts (Alceste. however. Alceste rejects Arsinoé's compliments. Acaste's anguish. Of course. Arsinoé tells him that Célimène has been deceiving him." Alceste rejects her offer. Célimène then mimics Arsinoé's passive-aggressive style by listing Arsinoé's faults while claiming to have defended Arsinoé in public. Acaste possesses the will to play the game of courtship without exposing his true self. The pact that Clitandre and Acaste make to better their chances of winning over Célimène furthers this notion of game-playing.

Philinte says that Alceste would do better to turn his attention to Éliante. would have others believe that she is a proper. The characters are perhaps afraid of exposing themselves to a world that might not welcome them. Éliante states that. Alceste employs the drama of exaggeration to call attention to himself. showing how certain characters wear false identities to cover their true selves.i). not because she is uninterested in such behavior. and Célimène uses comic devices to make her gossip more appealing. Molière develops the notion of masks. although she would be reluctant to be Alceste's second choice. The formality of the theater parallels the formality—and the duplicity—with which the characters relate to one another. with Célimène's house their stage." but also "noble and heroic" because of Alceste's honesty. so do the characters act the parts that they think will better their social or romantic position. questioning his decision to pursue a relationship with someone whose affections seem so fickle. God-fearing woman. scene i Philinte recounts to Éliante the story of Alceste's partial apology to Oronte in Court. Act IV Summary Act IV. Arsinoé refrains from flirtation. Arsinoé wears a mask that provides comfort and keeps her from risking emotional pain in much the same way that Acaste disguises his heartbreak with upbeat confidence (III. Molière begins. The characters slowly reveal additional pieces of their true selves. Indeed. Philinte and Éliante then discuss Alceste's affection for Célimène. in Act III. Molière reminds us that theater and life are similar in their superficiality and conscious deception. Molière makes it clear that Arsinoé does want a relationship.20 In Act III. In this exploration Molière uncovers the theatrical element of French society. . Acaste's breakdown in front of Clitandre is only the first in a series of truthful moments that demonstrate the complexity of the characters. Just as the actors playing Molière's characters "put on" certain dispositions to carry the message of the play. for example. Of course. Philinte tells Éliante that he would like to win her favor if she fails to win Alceste's. However. theater is more than just the art of lying. Éliante calls Alceste's behavior "peculiar. Nevertheless. Arsinoé. but because she knows that her flirtation would not yield the results that Célimène's does. even given the "acting" of the characters. to break down the one-dimensional identities he established in Act I. Molière's characters are often in performance. with Alceste. Tied to the theme of masks is the concept of acting. she would probably allow herself to fall for him. uninterested in the company of men.

assured that she is loyal to him. Alceste asks Éliante to help him avenge himself against Célimène. Distraught. we can no longer accept that Alceste and Célimène—or any of the other characters. Alceste's protestations stir Célimène to anger. Du Bois. scene ii Having found a letter written by Célimène to Oronte. as he seeks a reason to forgive Célimène for her love letter to Oronte. hoping. and she extorts that he does not deserve her love. perhaps against his better judgment. Unable to glean enough information from Du Bois. scene iv Alceste's manservant. but considers Alceste's behavior ridiculous. She does not demonstrate any guilt for what she has done. for that matter—are stereotypes. demanding that Alceste pack to leave at once. Célimène admits to writing a letter to Oronte. Act IV. Alceste proclaims his love for her. scene iii Furious.iii)." In breaking apart the masks of his leading characters. claiming that he cannot take responsibility for what his "wrath" might lead him to do. so that Alceste's heart and mind can rest. but it seeks also to comment on human emotions and relationships. Célimène speaks vaguely of the love she feels for Alceste (IV. that she will remain his. Alceste claims he has proof of her deceit. Alceste confronts Célimène. He tells Célimène that he will be back to speak with her. and Alceste vows to confront Célimène about her infidelity. Subtle human emotions and their accompanying actions are now at play. to be told that Célimène . Analysis In Act IV we learn that even the confident Célimène hides a sensitive interior life. Alceste demands that Célimène tell him that the letter was intended for a woman. Now in anguish. Molière shows that The Misanthrope is not a simple. The play is a comedy. Alceste leaves to find out more about the matter at hand. Even Alceste seems less inclined to criticize. Philinte and Éliante exit. enters in a panic. typical satire. proposing that Éliante become the object of his affections. betraying the image of a carefree girl she puts forth. Du Bois claims that he has spoken with a man who has notified him that Alceste is in danger of arrest—a result of his ongoing lawsuit. Ironically. The attention she pays Alceste indicates a true attraction to him.21 Act IV. Éliante maintains that Alceste's relationship with Célimène is not lost. Act IV. Alceste wants to be lied to. and Éliante tells Philinte of Célimène. By the end of Act IV. "She's not entirely sure of her feelings herself.

The one solid accomplishment of the play is the eventual union of Philinte and Éliante. seeking to try her for her "crimes" against him. However. Alceste shows a willingness to compromise not present in earlier acts. deters love. so can Célimène be brought to justice for shaming him. Again. In this case. In uncovering this relationship. He says the letter "convicts" her. As the act draws to a close. that between Philinte and Éliante. Thus. he tries to apply the same tenets of law to his relationship with Célimène. When Alceste discovers a letter he believes to demonstrate Célimène's deception of him. scene iv. Neither has any outstanding or particularly unique characteristic. nothing ever really happens in that arena. Molière implies that individuality. Molière hints that our—and his own—attention has been misplaced. . Alceste appears to think that if he can be tried for hurting Oronte's feelings. Apparently. although Alceste finds his lawsuit ridiculous. he attempts to apply the same type of justice to her as has been used against him. The Philinte-Éliante love affair is made all the more touching by the simplicity of these characters. he must also decide if his troubles with Célimène are worth resolving. In spite of all of the efforts to woo Célimène. in Act IV. unlike the dramatically unique Alceste and Célimène. If Alceste decides to leave. a sweet and sincere romance begins. Alceste lacks the strength to carry out his verdict. Although the depth of their mutual attraction is not fully realized in Act IV. Molière juxtaposes formality with emotion. Alceste receives news that he must leave or be subject to arrest. something other than a defining trait draws Philinte to Éliante. We might even argue the rest of the play is a red herring to this romance. the relationship between Alceste and Célimène continues to fall apart. Act IV welcomes the one true. pleasantly surprising love affair in the play. marks the final crisis of the plot. The man who adheres to a doctrine of honesty would have that doctrine suspended to put him at peace. His misanthropy appears to weaken as his situation becomes more desperate. he asks Célimène to lie about intended recipient of the letter to make him feel better. The real heroes of the story have been hiding up until this point. Philinte and Éliante are able to establish a deeper connection.iii). Alceste attempt at legal rationality loses out to his own visceral impulses. which is finalized in Act V. in its extreme form. By avoiding the drama of Court society. and he marvels that she can "still persist in the face of this overwhelming evidence" (IV. As the love affair between Philinte and Éliante begins to blossom.22 sent the letter to a woman. one not based upon superficialities. Ultimately. In vowing to return to finish his conversation with Célimène. He admits to being hopelessly drawn to Célimène. This moment. whose relationship is the focal point of the story.

They read the letter. Alceste says that he wants nothing to do with her. Oronte has begun supporting the rumor. scene iii Éliante refuses to decide between Alceste and Oronte for Célimène. He reveals his intention to test Célimène's love by asking her to withdraw from society with him. Philinte encourages Alceste to be reasonable. Alceste tells Arsinoé that she has no chance of gaining his love. deeming himself "unworthy. Alceste makes the same demand. Oronte follows them out. On top of all of this. scene i Outraged that a verdict has been passed against him." not wanting to publicly offend the one she does not choose. scene ii Oronte demands that Célimène decide between him and Alceste. Decidedly tired of Célimène's insults. telling him not to worry. She decides to let Éliante "be the judge" of her affections. . Agreeing with Oronte.23 Act V Summary Act V. Act V. but says that she will agree to marry him. Alceste invites Célimène to retreat into solitude with him. shocked that Célimène would insult him so. He tells Philinte that. away from the society he has come to abhor. to challenge the verdict before committing to a life of solitude. Act V. stating that he wants the verdict to stand has a glaring example of "the wickedness" of the times. for she plans to devote herself to Philinte. She rejects the offer. which insults each of Célimène's suitors and describes what she sees as their flaws. Alceste then tells Éliante that he cannot marry her. Acaste and Clitandre leave. scene iv Acaste and Clitandre enter with a letter written by Célimène. demanding that she take responsibility for it. She leaves. Célimène leaves. stating that Célimène has a responsibility to be open and honest to all present. Célimène calls their requests "inappropriate. Insulted. Alceste vows to live the rest of days in solitude. Both men agree to concede if Célimène chooses the other. angry. in addition to the unfortunate verdict. At this point." She interrupts him. Alceste objects. his adversary has falsely attributed authorship of an obscene book to him. Act V.

Célimène is attached to the society just as much as Alceste is separated from it. as they expose their own hypocrisy in leaving Célimène. Alceste meets the only end that might bring him peace. she ends up not far from where she began. He learns that he has lost his court case. Philinte and Éliante leave the stage talking not of themselves.iv). Molière creates the comic image of Célimène and Alceste alone together forever—a disastrous. The Misanthrope ends with an unlikely happy ending. Célimène is left alone because her letters and gossip have crossed the boundary between innocent fun and real offensiveness. and mankind never gives its acceptance of Alceste's behavior. "Solitude is a frightening prospect when you are twenty. the playwright does demonstrate that this corruption has its limits. The legal system—a symbol and a voice of the standards and values of the society of the play—continues to find fault with Alceste.24 Alceste again states his plan to live somewhere remote from society. Molière suggests that selflessness is a prerequisite for such a relationship. however. consequence. Philinte and Éliante announce their love for one another. At the very end of the play. but hilarious. demonstrating that a true romance can exist in a corrupt world. Although Molière's satire targets the corruption of French society. Philinte remarks that they must encourage Alceste to abandon his plan. The suitors are perfectly willing to join in the fun of criticizing their acquaintances. Alceste literally cannot exist in the world of the world of the play. but of their responsibility to keep Alceste from banishing himself. I don't feel I have the necessary fortitude or strength to bring myself to take such a decision" (V. We can hardly imagine who Célimène might be or what she might do were she in a setting where she had no access to gossip or flirting. He never comes to terms with his distaste for mankind. Philinte and Éliante are the lucky couple—not Alceste and Célimène. Molière parallels Alceste's attitudinal separation from the cast with his physical separation. Indeed. saying. Analysis In this final act. the union of Alceste and Célimène would likely not be a happy ending . At play's end. In reality. perhaps more loving woman over the course of the play. which solidifies his decision to retire to solitude. provided that they are not included as targets themselves. Though Célimène seems to develop into a more mature. As Philinte and Éliante exit. We do not feel much sympathy for her bruised suitors.

She mentions that age might be used to "conceal. 2. I expect you to be sincere and as an honourable man never to utter a single word that you don't really mean. This passage from Act III. Molière also defines Alceste's supposition that he somehow carries higher status than his acquaintances. She shows keen insight in blaming Arsinoé's age. His expectation that Philinte never say a single dishonest word is somewhat of a ridiculous request. so she therefore makes no apology for the freedom from propriety that youth affords her. Alceste expects Philinte to behave a certain way—implying that Philinte has an obligation to do so. Perhaps Molière honors his protagonist and his stern values by giving him exit from the society he despises. this line helps set the comic tone of the play.25 at all. rather than a character flaw. Her words reveal a certain understanding of the cycle of life. Molière focuses his satire on human behavior rather than attacking larger classes and social system. In this sense. Célimène's words also touch upon a deeper theme in the play—that of masking one's true self. and we may consciously choose the latter when the hey-day of our youth has passed—it may serve to conceal some of life's disappointments. Over the course of the play. we immediately recognize that Alceste will be impossible to please. Molière establishes the central conflict of the play—Alceste's unwillingness to forgive the faults of his fellow man. Age is only one of a variety of concealments applied in The Misanthrope. then. as she speaks to Arsinoé. We . With this quotation. Uttered by Alceste in the opening scene of The Misanthrope. Departing from his earlier comedies. Additionally. Alceste is not the typical farcical stereotype. Alceste's comment seems especially extreme juxtaposed with Philinte's rational defense of the practice of occasionally bending the truth." to distance oneself from the pains and prejudices of life. There's a season for love and another for prudishness. Molière dissolves this particular image of Alceste. but it never disappears completely. Célimène realizes that her youth is limited. captures Célimène's carefree—and often careless— spirit. scene iv. he is the caricature of a prudish grump. but he does represent extreme values. this line quickly establishes Alceste's extreme value system. Even Célimène appears to be hiding her true feelings from Alceste. for the older woman's behavior. Important Quotations Explained 1.

which would rob him of a significant part of his personality. I'll confront her in no uncertain terms with her villainy." Alceste suggests his belief that he can reason his way out of love. He holds true to the first part of his claim. Veritably. In this way. Alceste's misanthropy might be directed against the very flaws that make human interaction interesting. which is the best use we can put our virtues to. but it is likely that she cares for him more than her words might suggest. Philinte exposes the basic weakness of Alceste's approach to life. Alceste would have nothing to gripe about. Philinte's comment also suggests that human differences make life worthwhile. and then bring to you a heart entirely freed from her perfidious charms. in part. Alceste is unable to free himself from Célimène after he chides her for her wrongdoing. Of course. In this light. even boring. 3. we might find disturbing his idea that revenge might repair the situation. demonstrating that humankind would likely lose its vitality if Alceste's theories were applied to the whole of society. Despite his efforts. You shall observe me push my weakness to its furthest limit and show how wrong it is to call any of us wise and demonstrate that there's some touch of human frailty in every one of us. Philinte argues that flaw and failure give rise to character and invention. The merit of Alceste's code of honor and ethics derives largely from the foul behavior of those whom he observes. The failings of human nature in this life give us opportunities for exercising our philosophy. a form of denial: Alceste hopes that by making his anger public he might somehow be held to his own moral standard. Alceste's diatribe denouncing Célimène's deception might also represent his method of quieting his own inner voice that tells him the truth of his love for her—that no matter how anguishing his attraction. Were they to share his values.26 cannot discern whether or not she really loves him. 4. what purpose would most of our virtues serve? Here. if Célimène and the other victims of Alceste's scorn did not behave as they do. all hearts true and frank and loyal. Philinte points out this irony to Alceste. . society would be homogeneous. Alceste's words to Élainte are. Célimène's mask is her language." Alceste also seeks revenge. In speaking to Éliante about Célimène's "villainy. that he will—"confront her in no uncertain terms"—but he is unable to adhere to his vow to attain his heart's freedom. He thinks that by voicing his rightness to Célimène he might somehow be "entirely freed. enabling him to escape the consequences of his emotions. he will not be able to extinguish it. 5. confound her utterly. If all men were righteous.

Alceste has not yet learned that one can be both "wise" and at fault. SETTING (TIME) · Late seventeenth century · Célimène's elegant home in Paris SETTING (PLACE) . he immediately regresses. he does not fully come to terms with his weakness. leaving us with the hope that Alceste might one day be both accepted and accepting. He reluctantly confesses his own shortcomings. but undertones of social dysfunction and true personal anguish are present. her suitors. Molière strikes a light. indirectly. by the time this quotation appears (in Act V. he exposes the hypocrisies of Célimène. farce · French · Early 1660s. His earlier pretentiousness appears to have diminished as he admits. Paris · 1666 LANGUAGE TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN DATE OF FIRST PUBLICATION TONE · In satirizing French aristocracy. By his logic. if he is not "wise" then he must be "frail. However. When Célimène rejects Alceste's proposal that she leave society behind and come with him." With the play's ending—which comes shortly after this quotation—Molière demonstrates just how tenuous Alceste's transformation is. to his own "frailty.27 Though Alceste still intends to forswear the company of others. With his deft use of irony. he does not embrace them. scene iv) he begins to show signs of change. He is a man of extremes. Key Facts FULL TITLE AUTHOR · The Misanthrope or Le Misanthrope · Molière · Play TYPE OF WORK GENRE · Satire. but critical tone. Alceste—although Molière's judgment of Alceste is less severe than his critique of others. Nonetheless." At last. The Misanthrope is undoubtedly a comedy. Molière praises reason and compromise while condemning extremism in any form. Alceste caves to his own emotion. the hint of change remains. and the protagonist.

and flirtatious Célimène MAJOR CONFLICT · Alceste learns of Célimène's deception and seeks her out to find out the whole truth. Alceste loses his court case and risks arrest by staying in Paris RISING ACTION · Célimène's suitors learn that she has insulted all of them in a letter. Philinte and Éliante plan to discourage Alceste from leaving society FALLING ACTION · The hypocrisies of social behavior. foreshadowing her later betrayal of the same suitors with her gossip FORESHADOWING . deal-making · Célimène's house. foreshadowing their eventual relationship. Alceste's "rustic solitude" SYMBOLS · Oronte reacts angrily to Alceste's criticism. the acceptance of human flaw. foreshadowing Oronte's legal action against Alceste. the rationality of compromise THEMES MOTIFS · The legal system. letters. the irrationality of love.28 PROTAGONIST · Alceste · Alceste's difficulty in reconciling his set of values with his love for the young. Alceste decides to retire from society for good CLIMAX · Alceste rejects Célimène's offer to marry him when she refuses to seek solitude with him. Éliante appreciates Philinte's expression of attraction to her. carefree. Oronte's poem. Célimène holds a gossip session with her suitors.