The Misanthrope | Study Guide

Molière

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The Misanthrope | Act 4, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

In a dialogue with Célimène's cousin Éliante, Philinte recounts what happened at Alceste's appearance before the marshals. Philinte reports that Alceste behaved like a child. Although he refused at first to retract any of his criticisms of Oronte's sonnet, later on he acted more courteously to his opponent. The two men then embraced, and the hearing was hastily adjourned.

Éliante professes that she admires Alceste's candor, which is such an unusual trait in "this false age." Both she and Philinte agree that the course of Alceste's courtship of Célimène is difficult to predict. Philinte gently remarks he feels Alceste should pay more romantic attention to Éliante. She replies she would never attempt to supplant Célimène—but if the courtship should founder, she would be happy to "play the role of substitute." Philinte remarks that he harbors similar feelings about Éliante—if Alceste does not claim her, "I'd be most happy to be second best."

Analysis

Like several other scenes in The Misanthrope, this encounter has an appealing symmetry. Both Philinte and Éliante epitomize moderation and good sense. The portrayal of both characters strongly implies they would be ideally suited for each other. In this scene, they both declare themselves content to be a "substitute" or "second best" in love—with the wrinkle that Éliante envisions a relationship with Alceste (based on the two's shared candor and sincerity), while Philinte envisions a relationship with Éliante. Philinte's bland acceptance of things as they are contrasts with Alceste's impassioned protests against hypocrisy and insincerity, leading one to wonder if Philinte is capable of anything more than a superficial romantic relationship.

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