The Misanthrope | Study Guide

Molière

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The Misanthrope | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Frank and blunt as ever, Alceste reproaches Célimène for her fickle behavior, predicting that their relationship will end because of her flightiness and his resentment. She coolly asks if he has seen her home in order to pour insults into her ear. Alceste protests he has no desire to quarrel, but for her part she should not encourage the numerous suitors who court her. Sarcastically, he profiles a foppish courtier named Clitandre, a gentleman notable for a lengthy fingernail, a blond wig, embroidered hose, and a falsetto voice.

Célimène replies, however, that she needs Clitandre's influence because she also has a lawsuit in progress. During the remainder of the scene, Alceste and Célimène trade protestations of love for each other, but underlying the avowals of love by each character is a hint of frustration or of sarcasm.

Analysis

The most notable aspect of this scene is the initial presentation of Célimène, one of the play's most important characters. She is young, vivacious, and sharp-tongued—every bit a worthy antagonist for Alceste. During this comparatively brief scene, she avails herself of a wide range of rhetorical techniques, including verbal irony, rhetorical question, generalization, non sequitur, hyperbole, and understatement. In fact, one of the surprising and delightful features of the scene is how swiftly she is able to put the aggressive, overbearing Alceste on the defensive. The dramatic conflict is thus greatly heightened.

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