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The Misanthrope
by Moliere, 1622

Main characters

Alceste - He is in love with Celimene and very cynical about people and the way they act.

Celimene - She is conceited and shallow being everything that Alceste dislikes in a person.

Philinte - He is a good friend of Alceste but just the opposite in character since he is less frank and more sincere towards others.

Arsinoe - She serves as a foil to Celimene being just as clever but less shallow.

Minor Characters

Eliante - She is Celimene’s good and reasonable cousin.

Oronte - He is in love with Celimene and a writer of poetry.

Clitandre - He is another suitor trying to gain the hand of Celimene.

Setting

Celimene’s apartment - There is very little action and very much dialogue in this play which takes place in this apartment.

Plot

The play opens with a conversation between Alceste and Philinte.  Alceste shows himself to be very cynical about the motives of people and Philinte shows himself to be very sincere believing that people should be kind to each other even if it meant putting on a false face.  We learn this through Alceste’s and Philinte’s comments on a poem written by their friend Oronte.  Alceste thinks it is horrible while Philinte thinks it is wonderful.  Philinte also says that Alceste was too blunt and could have softened his criticism.  Later, Alceste decides to go see Celimene and talk about their relationship.  He tells her that she should get rid of the rest of her suitors and she insists that he is her only true lover.  The rest of the suitors at Celimene’s apartment believe the same as Alceste.  As they are talking, Oronte enters with the marshal who tells Alceste to apologize to Oronte about the comments he made on his poem.  Then Acaste and Clitandre argue over who is the better lover for Celimene.  After that situation, Arsinoe comes in to confront Celimene about her personality.  They discuss the matter very heatedly and Arsinoe does not succeed in putting down Celimene.  Finally after these conversations, Alceste brings a letter to the attention of everyone.  It is a letter from Celimene to Oronte.  He tries to confront Celimene about it, but she denies any such letter.  Alceste wants to leave all these problems he is having, but Philinte convinces him to stay and think everything through.  Then Oronte goes to Celimene to find out whom she truly loves and then all of the others come in shortly after.  While all of the characters are together Acaste reads his letter from Celimene that discloses her feeling about everyone.  Once this was revealed, Clitandre and Acaste decide that she is not worth their time so they leave.  Oronte leaves her with a few words and then Arsinoe tells her a thing or two.  Alceste forgives her and still wants to be with her.  She really does not want to be with him and then Alceste decides that she is really not worth his time and he really does not like her.  Philinte and Eliante decide to get married and make it their duty to make Alceste happy.

Symbols

Alceste - He symbolizes the cynicism and hypocrisy of the manners of the time.

Philinte - He symbolizes the sometimes false goodness and friendship of people.

lawsuits - This represents irony and the effects of telling the truth since Alceste is punished by Oronte with a lawsuit for telling the truth.

Style

This is a French tragic comedy written in Alexandrines which are couplets of 6 beats.  It was translated into English iambic pentameter with rhymed couplets.  The strong beat and rhyming of the dialogue flow well and enhance the supposed wit of the characters.

Philosophy

This is a comedy of manners showing the hypocrisy that the author saw in the court during his time.  He shows through the play that one should not be painfully frank all the time and not always be insincere, either.  One must find a balance between the two where the truth can be conveyed with tact.

Quotes

Alceste, “Friends?  Friends, you say?  Well, cross me off your list
I’ve been your friend till now as you well know;
But after what I saw a moment ago
I tell you flatly that our ways must part.
I wish no place in a dishonest heart.”
Alceste expresses his disapproval of the way Philinte hugs everyone.  Act 1, sc 1, ln 9-13.

Celimene, “She shows her zeal in every holy place,
But still she’s vain enough to paint her face.”
Celimene talks about how Arsinoe fakes religious piety while still being very vain.

Arsinoe, “I’ve ocular evidence which will persuade you
Beyond a doubt; that Celimene’s betrayed you.”
Arsinoe tells Alceste that Celimene in fact does not love him.  Act III, sc vii, ln 354-355.

Alceste, “Meanwhile; betrayed and wronged in everything,
I’ll flee this bitter world where vice is king,
And seek some spot unpeopled and apart
Where I’ll be free to have an honest heart.”
Alceste tells the audience that he will not compromise his honesty for anything.  Act V, sc viii, ln 335 - 339.