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The Misanthrope | Study Guide


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The Misanthrope | Act 3, Scene 3 | Summary



Basque plays his familiar role of announcing a new visitor. Arsinoé has arrived to see Célimène. Even before Acaste can react to the news, Célimène unleashes a lengthy, damning portrait of the new arrival in a speech fully twice as long as any of the satirical sketches she delivered in Act 2, Scene 5. Arsinoé, she declares, is a fraud. Her ostensible piety and virtue are merely masks for romantic failures and jealousy. Arsinoé is particularly hostile toward Célimène, whom she regards as a rival for the affections of Alceste. She, the older woman whose day has likely passed, is spiteful and envious, vicious and arrogant.


Because Arsinoé is the leading character in Act 3 of the play, Célimène's scathing portrayal of her in this scene is especially noteworthy. Célimène's description implies that Arsinoé is, at least in part, a curious mirror image of Alceste—with the crucial difference that Arsinoé's pretense to virtue is hypocritical. For example, Célimène emphasizes that Arsinoé is "always in a jealous rage / Against the faulty standards of the age." The truth, according to Célimène, is that Arsinoé fumes simply because she cannot attract and retain a lover. Ironically, the lover she would most prefer is none other than Alceste—a preference which, of course, puts Arsinoé in direct conflict with Célimène!

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