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The Misanthrope | Study Guide


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The Misanthrope | Symbols



From the beginning of the play to the end, Alceste stands as an unchanging symbol of candor and sincerity. Alceste believes that any shading or blunting of absolute truth is detestably immoral. Such an extreme position commands respect from a character like Éliante. However, in general, Alceste's unyielding attitude causes a series of conflicts, ranging from his frustration with Célimène to his social and legal problems with Oronte. Ultimately, Alceste's dedication to truth-telling is the source of his total disillusionment, as he decides to withdraw totally from humanity and the "vices" of his age.


In contrast to Alceste, Philinte symbolizes the course of practical reason and moderation. Although he is not oblivious to human folly and hypocrisy, Philinte reasons that people must "go along to get along." His philosophy stands in direct opposition to that of his friend Alceste, but true to his beliefs, Philinte never forsakes his companion. It may be worth noting that Philinte's name is derived from the Greek root phil-, meaning "love" or "friend."


Célimène symbolizes the ingenuity and deft wit that may, if cannily deployed, place their possessor—at least for a while—at the top of the social heap. Time after time in the play, Molière portrays her as more intelligent, witty, and more agile than her suitors and adversaries. Thus, her versatility serves her well. Yet, a bit disturbingly, Célimène is left "isolated from her circle" at the end of the play, as critic Andrew Calder remarks. The audience and the reader are left to wonder if she is "too clever by half."

The scenes between Alceste and Célimène consistently show her getting the upper hand, and his sincerity is ill-matched with her sarcastic wit. Their first scene together, Act Two, Scene 1, offers numerous clear examples, as in the following reproach:

You kindly saw me home, it would appear,
So as to pour invectives in my ear.

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