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The Misanthrope | Study Guide


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The Misanthrope | Act 4, Scene 2 | Summary



Alceste bursts in on the scene, exploding with rage and thirsting for vengeance. After several appeals from Éliante for an explanation, Alceste reveals that Célimène has been false to him. The proof lies in a letter that she has written to Oronte. When Éliante and Philinte try to calm him down, Alceste rants all the more, even dramatically threatening to kill himself.


This highly melodramatic scene seems to strain comedy to the limit. Hyperbole and situational irony, however, keep the tone comical rather than tragic. Alceste's language reaches new heights of extremity. For example, he enters inveighing against a "great wrong" and a "mortal, mortal blow." He imagines chaos "repossessing the universe." He is "ruined," and his world "has gone to wrack." Toward the end of the scene, in fact, Alceste threatens to kill himself before wasting any more hopes on Célimène.

Aside from these examples of hyperbole, or deliberate exaggeration, situational irony maintains the scene on a comical plane. Situational irony occurs when the exact opposite of what is meant to happen, happens. Alceste's hopes for vengeance converge on Éliante, presumably because she is a blood relative of Célimène (a cousin). The situation is doubly ironic. First, Alceste turns for help to a woman who, unbeknown to him, cherishes hopes for a relationship with him if Célimène should turn elsewhere. And second, although Philinte might seem equally qualified to calm Alceste and restore his perspective, Alceste treats him brusquely whenever he tries to help. "Mind your own business," he tells him abruptly. A few lines later, when Philinte tries to relieve his anxiety, Alceste sharply reproves him: "Once more I beg you, Sir, to let me be; / Tend to your own affairs; leave mine to me."

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