The Misanthrope, written by Molière, is a small, abridged play that proceeds to show the society of France and the behavior of people living in it. This is done through the character Alceste, who shows the audience and also the readers how corruption has bled into the veins of the country and made the people of this country so insincere. Alceste also expresses the hatred that he feels because of such corrupted minds in France and believes that man’s biggest flaw lies in hypocrisy. He states that it is hard for people these days to stay honest and truthful when these are the virtues that people should be holding on to. Philinte, his friend, listens to his beliefs and also adds his own opinion to it. On the other hand, he states that honesty must go hand in hand with manners, saying that flattery may sit at the place of offensiveness. He continues on to state that to err is human and that flaws and faults are something that come to human nature by default. This multi-layered conversation opens up the play and leaves the audience in a dire string of questions, mostly about whether humans are flawed or are objects of expected perfection.
In the above opening conversation, one thing is also revealed- Alceste’s involvement with a lawsuit. On their trail of ongoing conversation, the character Oronte, who is a marquis of the Court, enters the setting. He forwards a hand of friendship to Alceste and asks for a loyal commitment in this relationship. However, Alceste turns him down and conveys that he has no intentions of maintaining a loyal friendship with a marquis. Alceste suggests getting to know each other first and then letting their instincts decide whether or not they should be friends or not. Oronte then asks Alceste to give a constructive criticism on his written sonnet to which Alceste agrees with great discomfort. After Alceste reads the poem, he realizes that he hates it; however, Philinte praises the piece to Oronte. This agitates Alceste a lot and he becomes extremely angry with Philinte. When Oronte asks for his opinion, Alceste stays true to his mind and states that he was displeased with reading it. He goes hard on Oronte by saying he should give up on becoming a poet and thus, offends him greatly. Feeling insulted by Alceste’s words, Oronte leaves the setting without a word.
Celimene is Alceste’s love interest in the play. In the next setting, Alceste goes to her house and confesses his love for her. He also does not fail to comment on her recent behavior of entertaining other suitors as well, which he finds disgraceful. He states the she flirts with all the suitors who are madly in love with her when it is only a play of feelings for her. She defends herself by stating that this is harmless flirting that has nothing to do with her real love interest in Alceste. This disgusts Alceste even more as he can sense traits of insincerity in her. Basque, who is Celimene’s manservant, then suddenly announces the presence of her suitors Acaste and Clitandre who are prestigious marquis of courts respectively. This angers Alceste very much as these are the suitors his lover likes to entertain for her own crooked joy. He announces his wish to leave but he finds himself unable to do so. After the suitors arrive, all of them with Celimene’s female cousin Eliante gather round to gossip about the people of their society court. These gossips are done in the absence of Alceste who is kept excluded from the circle. Celimene carries on to passing judgments on and backbiting people which keeps the suitors and her cousin very interested and entertained. Alceste interrupts to state how much of a hypocritical act this is of them to do but nobody gives him any attention and carries on their gossip. Her cousin then proceeds to sharing her thoughts about men in love and states than they would compliment the woman they love, which is very different from how Alceste treated Celimene.
Shortly afterwards, Alceste finds out through the officers of Marshals of France that he has been charged of harsh commentary on a poem by Oronte and a lawsuit was made against him. Alceste, taken aback by the news, immediately takes his leave from the setting to confront the matter. As he leaves the setting, this gives the two suitors their time to openly share their feelings for Celimene to each other. Both of them continues on with their events of youth to bragging about their achievements but eventually they admit that Celimene has no interest in either of them romantically and that they are also very well aware that she loves Alceste. In the end, they both decide to draw a truce, where if one of them fails to have the courtship of Celimene, he will resign and be happy for the other suitor. In the same timeline, Arsinoe, an older aged woman, enters the scene and approaches to talk to Celimene. She informs Celimene that all that gossip she had been doing about the people and all the flirting she had been commencing with her suitors is drawing up a bad image in the society. People of the court are very angry with her for her choice of harsh words in gossips and have a degraded impression on her. Arsinoe claims that she had showed her utmost support towards Celimene in front of these people. However, she also advises her to not continue on with her flirting and gossips. She advises her to tone it down in order to restore her reputation in front of the people. This agitates Celimene a lot and she states that Arsinoe’s pretentious character is also served as a topic of discussion amongst people. Celimene nitpicks her flaws and says that this is a result of her aging. Arsinoe, being extremely offended, fuels the dispute between them that follows.
The dispute finally ends at Alceste’s arrival, which results in Celimene leaving the setting and Arsinoe praising Alceste for his strong standing on integrity and self-consciousness. Arsinoe, being so impressed by Alceste’s headstrong mentality, offers him work at the court. This agitates Alceste a lot that makes him shout at her, rejecting her offer. She continues on to informing how she has evidence that show that Celimene is deceiving him. In order to see the evidence with his own eyes, he decides to leave with Arsinoe. Philinte and Eliante goes on discussing about Alceste’s rude behavior with the Marshall of France and states that it is outrageous how Alceste does not want to compromise for a certain bit. Eliante is very impressed with Alceste’s human values, which are not so common these days, and it was interesting to see someone living by the right path with such determination. They also talk about Celimene’s relationship with Alceste and states how confused and lost she is when it comes to her feelings for him. She says that she would, without question, take Alceste’s hands if he loses interest in Celimene. This makes Philinte admit his affections for her and state his interest in becoming her husband.
At this time, Alceste enters the scene, extremely invigorated by the evidences of Celimene’s treachery with him. She had professed her love for another suitor behind his back and now he was prepared to take revenge on her. It is suggested that Alceste and Eliante should pretend to be in a relationship with one another to make Celimene jealous. This confuses Eliante a lot and she asks Alceste to think calmly before taking any decision. Celimene enters the scene and at the same time, Philinte and Eliante leave. Alceste confronts her with her actions of infidelity to which she calmly agrees and asks him to believe whatever he wanted to from the letter. Alceste’s servant asks him to leave as he had already lost in court. He asks for the verdict where he would stand as an embodiment of human corruption. He, in pain, announces that he would isolate himself from this society as nobody has ever understood him and everyone is selfish nowadays. Before his final goodbye, he wants to see if Celimene really loved him. In this setting, everything slowly starts to uncover for Celimene and her nasty deeds that she had done to people behind her back. She loses two suitors who really loved her because she had used offensive remarks towards them in a letter. This leaves Alceste as the only suitor and he demands to seek her hand in solitude. Celimene disagrees and this makes him cut his ties with her. Alceste turns to Eliante and states that he cannot ask her hand for her loyalty to which she agrees. Philinte and Eliante then get together where she announces her loyalty to Philinte. Both of them together try their best to pursue Alceste into giving up on isolating himself. Whether he heeds to their words or not remains a mystery as the play ends right there.