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The Misanthrope | Study Guide


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The Misanthrope | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary



Two noble courtiers, Acaste and Clitandre, discuss their own satisfaction with their lot in life. Acaste pronounces himself young, rich, aristocratic, and influential. He has served courageously in battle; he possesses both wit and good taste. He is especially discerning when it comes to the theater. He is clever, handsome, and well dressed. In short, he says he has every right to feel complacent and content.

Clitandre undercuts his friend by asking why, if he is so popular with the ladies, he pursues "a hopeless courtship" with Célimène. Unfazed, Acaste proclaims his conviction that ladies owe him the favor of attention, because he is every bit as "choice" as they. Acaste has reason to think, he tells Clitandre, that Célimène favors him. Clitandre replies that Acaste must be deluded.

After some lines of ironic banter, Clitandre suggests the two noblemen strike a deal. Whoever can prove that Célimène encourages his love will win the day; the other rival will then withdraw his suit. Acaste agrees to this "treaty."


This scene, barely 70 lines long, offers some delightfully amusing variations on the theme of insincerity and hypocrisy. Acaste's long speech of self-praise reveals him as every bit as obnoxious as the targets whom Célimène satirically portrayed in Act 2, Scene 5.

Acaste dominates the scene, to the obvious chagrin of his rival. When he is offered some ceremonial courtesy by Clitandre in the opening lines, he takes advantage of the opportunity to present a smug self-portrait that, if anything, outdoes Célimène's cutting satire in the preceding act. When Clitandre attempts to gain the upper hand, Acaste rebounds effortlessly, distinguishing between himself and awkward suitors who pine away "with dogged faithfulness." No, Acaste declares—he knows his own value. Using financial imagery, he likens courtship to a prudent investment in which both partners participate on an equal basis.

Clitandre returns the focus to their rivalry for Célimène's affections. But when he calls Acaste both "mad" and "blind," the latter springs a new rhetorical ploy: a barrage of verbal irony and biting sarcasm. No fewer than seven times, Acaste mocks his rival by adopting Clitandre's own language. The gap between surface meaning and real meaning culminates in an extreme statement reminiscent of Alceste (except that Alceste would not have been conscious of any irony): "She hates me thoroughly, and I'm so vexed / I mean to hang myself on Tuesday next."

Thoroughly outmaneuvered, Clitandre finally resorts to proposing an "armistice" or "treaty." Under the circumstances, one wonders why Acaste agrees. Perhaps he is merely maintaining court courtesy, with no real intention of abiding by the treaty's terms.

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