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The Misanthrope | Act 5, Scene 2 | Summary



Oronte demands that Célimène terminate her relationship with Alceste. When Célimène demurs, Alceste emerges from the corner of the room to echo Oronte's demand: Célimène must choose between them. Oronte and Alceste agree to withdraw their courtship of her, depending on which suitor Célimène should favor.

Célimène, however, has no intention of declaring her choice publicly, even though she declares she has, in fact, made up her mind as to whom she favors. She dismisses such a public announcement as "uncharitably plain." Célimène says the men's attitude is foolish, unjust, and overbearing. She adds she will put the case to her cousin Éliante.


Less than 20 lines into this scene, the strategic reason for Alceste's disappearance into a corner of the room in Scene 1 becomes apparent. He suddenly emerges from the corner, having overheard Oronte's demand that Célimène choose between her two principal suitors. The ensuing dialogue is humorous, echoing the "pact" made by Acaste and Clitandre in Act 3, Scene 1, to the effect that the suitors agree to withdraw once Célimène indicates her preference. Also amusing is the congruence between Alceste and Oronte, with both of them demanding frankness and sincerity. In an example of situational irony, Oronte actually thanks Alceste for "this ultimatum": "I thank you for this ultimatum, Sir, / And I may say I heartily concur."

But Célimène, ever coquettish, refuses to be drawn into what she labels an "inquisition." Coyly, she declares that she has no doubt at all about her favorite, but she has no intention of disclosing her preference. Suspense until the final choice is made is thus an additional important literary element in this scene.

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