Le Misanthrope

The main issue in Le Misanthrope is hypocrisy and flattery versus blunt frankness.  This play falls under the category of a “comedie de mœurs” which is basically a type of comedy that mocks the practices of a specific social class in the society in which it is set. It also mocks the obsessions of the period; sadly these obsessions are not always positive. The 17th century French society witnessed a popularity of the”vie de salon” where well schooled people of influence and wealth met in “salons” to get acquainted with each other, converse and mainly enjoy the joys of the literary world. These meetings were hosted by people and in this particular play, the hostess is a lady named Celimène.  Like any other human gathering, these meetings had a lot of gossip and criticism of others. The host herself was being pursued by two men among the crowd that frequented her “salon” and Celimène gossiped about them pointing out their flaws and generally mocking them behind their backs. The two men eventually find out about her secret mockery of them and In this play the upper class in society is placed in the limelight. The element of satire is the hypocrisy that existed in French society at the time. The willingness to stroke people’s egos versus telling them exactly what you thought of them in a fearless way.
The Misanthrope, the protagonist of the play (an antisocial person) is totally against flattering people and opts to remain  blunt and upfront with his feelings and opinions about others much to the displeasure of many around him. This attribute drives him to leave his immediate abode, friends and country because he gets into trouble for speaking his mind. He is sued by an influential person whose poem he is painfully candid about. The misanthrope’s friend on the other hand, Philinte does not get into trouble because he duly flatters the poet, even lying about the verses’ quality. Brutal honesty  is the message of the play. What price are we willing to pay for honesty? Are we going to be honest to the very end or lie to protect ourselves and deceive others? In the opening part of the play, the protagonist Alceste  (the misanthrope) argues with his friend Philinte  about being honest and calls flattery or the eagerness to please a cowardly act, “une lache methode” (Philinte’s name has etymological references to gentility, kindness and friendliness hence a person who finds it hard to offend).

The other plot in the play revolves around the love that triangle (if we can call it that) that exists between Alceste, Celimene and her suitors. While Alceste remains grounded in the decision not to  be a hypocrite while deciding to be upfront with people, Celimene’s hypocrisy lands her into trouble as her suitors discover through letters that she has written to each of them with insulting remarks about the other suitor. Of one suitor she says “il me divertit quelquefois aver ses brusqueries et son chagrin bourru; mais il est cent moments où je le trouve le plus fâcheux du monde”  of another he says “pour l’homme à la veste, qui s’est jeté dans le bel esprit, et veut être auteur malgré tout le monde, je ne puis me donner la peine d’scouter ce qu’il dit, et sa prose me fatigue autant que see vers”. Of yet another she says “il n’y a rien de si mince que toute sa personne”. Following these events, all the suitors decide they are no longer interested in Celimene. This leaves Alceste to pursue her alone with no competition. Events preceding these and other sub plots in the play also have the same remote cause or subject matter which is hypocrisy.

Moliéres heros or protagonists are normally ones who are obsessed almost to the point of insanity with ideals they deem meaningful. Elects holds onto this act of being frank until the very end and similar structures or happenings are seen in other molière plays.

Author: efuarmstrong

While sitting through a speech by a professor in Kenyon College, they mentioned that the limitations of the human mind aren't necessarily burdens but gifts! I couldn't agree more! I love to process, reexamine information and I also find absolutely no restraints in admitting that I don't have the answers or that I am still thinking about something. That is the beauty of life, inquiry and a wandering mind.

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