The Misanthrope | Study Guide

Molière

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The Misanthrope | Act 1, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

Philinte opens this brief scene with a mild reproach to Alceste about the perils of "sincerity in excess." True to type, Alceste dismisses Philinte's criticism. If anything, Alceste is disgusted by Philinte's behavior. Although Alceste is abruptly dismissive, Philinte good-humoredly persists, saying he will "keep him company."

Analysis

The humor of this little scene arises as much from what is not said as from what is. We know, from all that has preceded, the cause of Alceste's annoyance, even though he does not articulate it. He is intensely peeved that Philinte has been courteous, but also shamelessly insincere, to Oronte. The fragmented alexandrine verses here parallel the points in Act 1, Scene 1 at which Alceste is shown to be particularly angry. The scene rounds out the characterization of the misanthrope in Act 1 with almost mathematical precision.

By this point, it is clear that Molière gives an exaggerated portrait of misanthropy in the person of Alceste. He rejects humankind so thoroughly that only a higher sense of idealism as to how people should be may be inspiring him to reject all lower behavior. In this sense, the presumed hatred of people could be seen as misplaced love for what they are not, but might be. And Philinte, who accepts all human frailty out of supposed goodwill, may be a sort of misanthrope in his acceptance of the idea that people will never improve and must be taken as the sorry examples they are.

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