The Misanthrope | Study Guide


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The Misanthrope | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Act 1

Alceste argues with his friend Philinte about the necessity to be candid and sincere in all human relations. Alceste inflexibly upholds the need to be authentic and speak one's mind, while Philinte advocates for a more flexible, accepting stance. The courtier Oronte enters, professing friendship, and is eager for Alceste's admiration and approval for a sonnet he has just composed. Alceste tells Oronte that frankly, the sonnet is inferior, and the two men quarrel.

Act 2

Alceste reproaches Célimène (a young woman he loves) for her coquettish ways. The noble courtiers Acaste and Clitandre arrive, and Célimène delivers satirical oral sketches of various court fools. The characters argue about Alceste's candor. Word arrives of Oronte's official complaint against Alceste's insults with the Court Marshals.

Act 3

Acaste smugly boasts to Clitandre about his personal assets and station in life. Arsinoé, an older woman, visits Célimène to warn her about the status of her reputation, whereupon Célimène archly retaliates. Alceste firmly rejects the exaggerated compliments of Arsinoé, telling her he has no patience with court intrigues. Arsinoé claims to have actual evidence of Célimène's disloyalty to Alceste.

Act 4

Philinte reports to Éliante (Célimène's young cousin who also likes Alceste) the encounter of Alceste with the Court Marshals about the charges against him. Alceste confronts Célimène with letters that seem to prove her disloyalty to him, but Célimène ingeniously avoids his accusations.

Act 5

Alceste furiously tells Philinte that he has lost his lawsuit. He is now prepared to undergo self-exile, supposedly divorcing himself from the human race. Oronte, Alceste, Acaste, and Clitandre all converge on Célimène. The young marquesses produce letters proving her insincerity and coquetry beyond doubt toward them. Oronte, Acaste, and Clitandre abandon their courtship of Célimène. When Alceste demands her total loyalty, she declines to accompany him into exile in some deserted place. Philinte and Éliante, who agree to be wed instead, hope to change Alceste's mind as he prepares to withdraw from the world.

The Misanthrope Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 Alceste argues with Philinte about the nature of sincerity.

Rising Action

2 Oronte and Alceste quarrel over Oronte's sonnet.

3 Alceste reproaches Célimène for her coquetry.

4 Célimène satirizes the courtiers.


5 Arsinoé attempts to undermine Alceste's love for Célimène.

Falling Action

6 Célimène's letters reveal her feelings about her suitors.


7 Alceste exiles himself from humankind.

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