The Misanthrope Study Guide
The Misanthrope is a comedy of manners by Moliere that, as do his previous works, mocks the habits of the upper-class French society, so bright and magnificent at the first glance and so shallow inside. Because his previous works were already banned in France, the author had to tone down some accents in the story to the extent that we can’t understand if the main character, Alceste is a hero who decides to stay sincere and faithful to himself until the end or a fool, whose idealistic attitude borders with insanity. Actually, The Misanthrope is The Idiot, put into the form of comedy.
The main problem of Alceste is that he, being a good and noble man of high society, totally refuses to be engaged into the mutual sweet lies all the rest of the people enjoy. He tells the truth, not complimenting the bad poems of the aristocrats of higher ranks, not taking part in social activities he doesn’t like and talking only to the people he really wants to. This behaviour, that seems normal for us, is inacceptable in the society that is completely built around the manners and concealing the truth. Being sincere quickly earns poor Alceste the reputation of a misanthrope.
The things get worse when Alceste falls in love with the embodiment of the manners he despises so much - a magnificent, young and flirtatious beauty named Celimene. He begs her to change, but she laughs him off, mocking his difference from the rest of the society. Still, Celimene doesn’t reject him, holding Alceste around in the eternal friendzone.
Finally his manners - or the lack of it - become a cause to put Alceste to the trial. He has to make a choice whether to yield and to ask pardon for saying the truth, not the sweet lies everyone expected from him or to be condemned or exiled. He realizes that the girl he loves with all his heart was never thinking about marrying him seriously and there is no one like him around. The tragic choice between conformity and loneliness shows Alceste as a tragic hero in the light-hearted and flat comic society.
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