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The Misanthrope

A synopsis of the play by Molière

This article was originally published in Minute History of the Drama. Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. p. 49.

THE MISANTHROPE was originally produced in Paris, June 4, 1666, with Molière in the part of Alceste.

ALCESTE is one of those candid souls who believe that the truth should be spoken in season and out. He will make no concessions to ordinary courtesy and denounces the insincerity of contemporary society upon every possible occasion. His friend, Philinte, tries to make him see that honesty does not require him to go out of his way to offend and hurt people. He even points out that a few well-spoken words in the right place might go far toward bringing a favorable decision in the lawsuit Alceste has pending in the courts. To this Alceste has but one answer. If his suit cannot win through its own merits, he will renounce a society which sanctions such injustice and leave Paris to live the life of a hermit.

When the young courtier, Oronte, begs his opinion on some verses of which Oronte is the author, Alceste's rude and needless criticism adds another to the not inconsiderable list of his enemies and brings upon him the threat of a second lawsuit.

Now Alceste has the misfortune to love Célimène, a comely and popular young woman with little regard for the truth. Her main interest is to surround herself with admirers, each of whom she endeavors to persuade that he is the favored one. While Alceste is attempting to persuade Célimène openly to acknowledge their engagement, a pretended friend of Célimène's, Arsinoé by name, under pretense of the frankness that Alceste admires, exposes Célimène's falseness. Her other admirers drop away like flies. Not so Alceste. His lawsuit has finally been lost, and now he asks Célimène to prove her love by sharing the hermit's existence to which he plans to retire.

Célimène is willing to take Alceste's name in marriage to make up for the injury which she admits she has done the unquestioned sincerity of his regard. She confesses, however, that she is unwilling to leave Paris for she has no mind to forego the pleasures of youth and beauty for anyone's sake. This confession does for Alceste what Arsinoé's exposure fails to accomplish. The scales drop from his eyes and he sees Célimène for the flirt that she is.

Éliante, Célimène's cousin, had herself been in love with Alceste but since he announces a total lack of interest in women thenceforward, she contents herself with the love of his friend, Philinte. The play closes with this couple's stated determination to change Alceste's outlook on life.


Moliere' Plays

Related Sites

Molière Index
Moliere Monologues
Molière: Poems

Related Playwrights

Pierre Corneille
Jean Racine

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