The Misanthrope by Moliere

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1200px-Pierre_Mignard_-_Portrait_de_Jean-Baptiste_Poquelin_dit_Molière_(1622-1673)_-_Google_Art_Project_(cropped).jpgIt is one of my favorite plays ever. when you are bored please check it out.

What is most commonly regarded as Moliere’s masterpiece, the Misanthrope is a complicated comedy of ideas. Because, in this play Moliere satirizes everything concerning the contemporary life in his time and it is a universal attack on courts and fundamentally corrupt society. Moliere, a master of expressing his satire in the character of his plays, attacks the intellectual pretension, dishonesty and hypocrisy characters represent. The characters’ really personalities and intentions are hidden behind the catalogue and Moliere’s exposes them gradually throughout the play. The readers are expected to judge them. An important distinction should be made about Moliere’s personal beliefs and his satire in plays. It is believed that Moliere’s did not object the principles and moral set of beliefs of his society, instead he argued that those moral standards must not be imposed upon the people disregarding human freedom. Without love, those standards are oppressive. (Moliere, Penguin Classics)

The play is full of conflicts and mysteries. It tackles the issues ranging from corruption of the court, mannerisms of leading men and women of the time to interpersonal relationships and values people of high society upheld. Unlike many of his previous plays which contained a lot of farcical elements in them, in The Misanthrope Moliere shifted personality of the main character of the play. Alceste, unlike Moliere’s previous protagonists who are usually too extreme and depicted as too unrealistic, is somewhat complimented on because of his honesty and integrity. (Slater) Despite that, it is hard to make out who Alceste really is and what Moliere tried to do with him. Although the readers may appreciate the unbreakable integrity his is depicted to possess, some of his actions throughout the play does go contrary to his main problem and he is too panic-stricken and at time irrational. But one thing certain about Alceste is that his character is unprecedented in literary history and similar to Moliere’s other high comedies- Tartuffe and the Miser- it is highly original.  (Moliere, Penguin Classics)

Moliere is said to have spent five years writing it which in turn explains the complexity of The Misanthrope. Moliere never attacks the source of any phenomena such as religion, courts, and morals but people who use them to dupe others. The real life implications of the themes in the play leave the readers uncomfortable to the point that, in words of Donneau de Vise, ‘we laugh in our souls.’  (Slater)

The support for genre argument is seen in the following scenes: in Act I, Alceste disgusted with the insincere, fake and seemingly virtuous behavior of the people proclaims “Hypocrisy is everywhere, and flattery, and crude self-interest, and even treachery. I’ve had enough. Mankind is absolute disgrace. I will make a stand, alone against the human race.” In the same act, his friend Philinte who is the voice of reason, a personality in most of Moliere’s plays, outraged at his friend’s aggressive attacks yet understanding of his anger, explains that hypocritical behavior of other is nothing new about humans.  His response is in following lines: “Look, I agree, our fellow men have their defects, But I see them as natural, normal effects. It doesn’t seem the thing to do to take offence at people’s dirty tricks, just as it makes no sense to criticize a flock of vultures, beaks agape, a pack of angry wolves, or an aggressive ape.” (Slater)

Unlike the typical happy ending of comedies, at the end of this play the resolution is not what one would expect. Alceste having given up all of for humanity and vowing to go on a self –imposed exile.  Whereas Philinte is engaged, which give a glimpse of hope.

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