The Misanthrope










Moliere, The Internet Public Library

  Moliere biography

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Renaissance Theatre France (Gen intro)

Moliere Index (Moonstruck Bookstore) 

Moliere, French Theatre: Plays and Playwrights


Plays of Moliere: The Misanthrope

Misanthrope--Study Guide (Spark Notes)

Misanthrope, Study Guide (Bookrags)

Misanthrope, adapted by Tim Mooney

Alceste and Philante


Honesty, January 27, 2001  Reviewer: Miguel B. Llora from Bay Point, California

France in politically powerful and economically wealthy. King Louis XIV saw himself as ruling over an enlightened society. He was passionate about the arts and obsessive about theatre. Moliere wrote comedy. He contrasts what people are to what they think of themselves. Moliere's audience was spoiled, well educated, bourgeois, aristocratic and royal. The audience wanted to be entertained, to laugh and to be cheerful. The Misanthrope was controversial but a box office success. The play takes place in Celimene's house where she entertains a variety of visitors. Her visitors are relatives, friends and suitors who spend their time much as the upper society of the day. They dressed, penned and received letters wrote poems and libelous prose. They visited each other, hoped to be noticed by royalty and the litigious pursed lawsuits to uphold their reputations. Several suitors vie for Celimene's favour. Her malicious wit and her reluctance to pick one partner over the others cause her to end up alone. The play begins with Alceste and Philinte arguing about one of the social conventions of the day. Alceste declares that it is morally wrong to falsely flatter and Philinte says we must be tolerant of peoples behaviour. These two alternatives a-re frequently presented to the audience. There are two ways to approach the world and one is as good as the other. Throughout the play the characters axe thrown up against this dilemma with a variety of responses and outcomes. Each player presents as a contradiction with a hidden core. So that, depending on how one chooses to read the play, the characters can be interpreted in a variety of ways. This is were the fun begins, Alceste has been interpreted by many audiences as a noble, heroic idealist, a champion of honesty. He also can be seen as a rigid extremist, an absolutist whose maniacal criticism is quickly tiresome. He criticizes societies corruptions and acts like a conceited prig. Celimen is a chilly shrew or bewitchingly shrewd. She employs the conventions of the times in that she is a gossip, she has a malicious wit etc. but she is an admirable character. Philinte and Eliante are studiously tolerant of everyone and are consummate bores. Alceste's passionate assertion on the ideal of truth and honesty verses falsity comes across as absurdity. His absolutist stance is difficult to examine. He is a rigid extremist obsessed with his vision of right. He is in love with a person who embodies everything he abhors i.e. a coquette who falsely flatters, who is a witty gossip and although he professes to he wants to change her and at the end of the play Celimene is abandoned to society and Alceste leaves her stranded even though he first wished she was helpless so that he could rescue her. His passion is out of proportion to events. i.e. Alceste advises Philante that hanging would be an appropriate response to falsely flattering. He is unable to apply anything he says to himself so that he thinks that he is reasonable and he is mostly unreasonable, bad tempered and brusque i.e. instead of an apology regarding his lawsuit he hopes he is guilty so that he can show the stupidity of society. The play is derisive of bourgeois behaviour but with Alceste as the messenger one wonders if Moliere is serious. Philinte and Eliante who are perhaps the Epicureans in the play stand for reasonable tolerance but they seem iust tedious i.e. Eliante's prescription for how love works. Celimene is the character who generates the most empathy. Even so, she ruthlessly rips everyone apart. She is quick and intelligent with the small talk. She is beautiful, rich, independent and her salon is the gathering place of the moment. She is the one who displays the most false behavior but perhaps she is the most honest. Truth and honesty, usually traits to strive for, in Alceste's character, seem somehow less than desirable. His passion and contradictory behaviour smack of insincerity, the very trait he claims to despise. This culture is obsessed with wealth and power and societal recognition. The currency is wit, youth, beauty. Celimene is aware that she has a very short time to establish herself before she will have the status of Arsinone, an older prude who is relegated to the ranks of visitor rather than someone who people want to visit. Even though Celimene plays by the rules she fails. Alceste and Celimene are totally unsuited to each other but perhaps they share obsession: he to distaste, she to taste. Alceste claims the more one loves the less one should forgive. Alceste courts isolation but at the end of the play Philinte and Eliante stick with him. Such a small book with such a rich context. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


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