The Misanthrope | Study Guide

Molière

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The Misanthrope | Act 3, Scene 7 | Summary

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Summary

Arsinoé is evidently delighted by the turn that events have taken. She loses no time in pouring out her admiration for Alceste, emphasizing his "special merits." He is greatly wronged at court, she says, because his virtue goes unrecognized. Puzzled, Alceste maintains that he has no special talents or achievements that would merit recognition by the King or the court. As for the courtiers, he says, "this fawning age has praise for everyone," so any tributes to him would doubtless be insincere.

Arsinoé presses on, urging Alceste to seek promotion and status at court so that she can use her powerful connections in his favor. Just as emphatically, Alceste rejects this proposal, declaring that he is temperamentally unsuited to the hypocritical style of the court and is relieved of the necessity to flatter or humor silly courtiers.

Arsinoé now shifts the focus from the court to Alceste's courtship of Célimène. Slandering her "friend," Arsinoé declares that Célimène is entirely unworthy of Alceste's affections and that she can provide real "ocular evidence" that Célimène has betrayed him.

Analysis

In a pleasing symmetry between Scene 5 and Scene 7, Arsinoé at first attempts to undermine her rival, Célimène, and then tries to secure Alceste's affections. She scores only modest successes on both fronts. Célimène's retorts cause Arsinoé to retreat, while the effort to bribe Alceste through influence at court fails dismally. The only card in Arsinoé's hand now, it would seem, is the "ocular evidence" she claims to possess that will prove Célimène's betrayal. Perhaps Célimène's reference to "a little note" (un mot de lettre) in Scene 6 hints that this evidence will be in the form of notes or letters.

The two prongs of Arsinoé's appeal to Alceste in Scene 7 are strikingly different. In the first, which Arsinoé should have known would be ineffective, the incentive is social recognition and advancement. Alceste flatly rejects Arsinoé's invitation to maneuver for status; it is contrary to his most deeply held principles. Arsinoé's second appeal, however, targets Alceste's pride, and she succeeds in planting doubts in his mind about Célimène's loyalty. Thus, the closing scene of Act 3 does create a certain amount of suspense about the main love plot in the play.

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