The Misanthrope | Study Guide

Molière

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The Misanthrope | Act 5, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

Acaste, Clitandre, and Arsinoé now join the characters from the previous scene (Célimène, Alceste, Oronte, Philinte, and Éliante). Scene 3 hinted that Célimène is now on the defensive, and Scene 4 emphatically fulfills this foreshadowing.

Acaste and Clitandre begin the scene by telling Célimène they have a complaint. Arsinoé amplifies the two noblemen's indignation—all in the name of "friendship," of course. Acaste and Clitandre then produce letters written by Célimène that contain sarcastic and satirical remarks about a number of her admirers, including Acaste, Clitandre, Alceste, and Oronte. The two marquesses read these missives aloud. The young noblemen threaten to "make the world acquainted / With this sublime portrait that you've painted."

Analysis

In its length, structure, stylistic versatility, conflicting characters, and diversity of comical devices, Scene 4 is the heart of Act 5 and one of the richest scenes in the play. It marks the low point of Célimène's fortunes.

Details in the scene allow us to link the action to several earlier scenes in the play. In Act 3, Scene 1, for example, the two noble courtiers, Acaste and Clitandre, had forged a pact according to which they would end their rivalry for the affections of Célimène if she inclined toward either one of them. The present scene shows them acting in concert, but in a rather unexpected fashion. In addition, the satirical vignettes sketched in writing by Célimène of each of her suitors are more than a bit reminiscent of the caustic portraits she sketched orally in Act 2, Scene 5. Finally, the audience may recall that in Act 3, Scene 6, Célimène excused herself to write a "little note." (One wonders if this "urgent" correspondence was part of the letters read aloud by Acaste and Clitandre.)

Célimène's letters are in prose, a stylistic feature which lends the scene both variety and additional realism. Both Acaste and Clitandre punctuate the text of the letters with tart comments in verse. Of the six other characters on stage, Arsinoé is the only one who is assigned any dialogue—thus challenging the actors and the director with creating suitable gestures, facial expressions, body postures, or other movements we are not told about to convey reactions to the text.

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