Places: The Misanthrope

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1667 as Le Misanthrope (English translation, 1709)

First produced: 1666

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Comedy of manners

Time of work: Seventeenth century

Places DiscussedCélimène’s salon

Célimène’s Misanthrope, Thesalon. Parisian apartment in which the wealthy widow Célimène holds receptions to which she invites distinguished guests, in the custom of wealthy Parisian women of the seventeenth century. At first, audiences assume that Célimène is merely another frivolous rich woman who passes her time hosting fancy parties and engaging in vapid conversations. However, she invites not merely superficial people, such as Philinte and Oronte, but also the rigidly outspoken young Alceste (the “misanthrope” of the play’s title), who is in love with her.

In the formal setting of the salon, Alceste discusses serious moral questions, such as honesty and ethics, while at the same time courting Célimène in a manner surprising for such a rich suitor. Instead of paying her traditional compliments, Alceste criticizes her for the types of guests whom she invites to her home and suggests that she should banish from her apartment men whose behavior is not becoming a woman as serious as herself. Célimène appreciates his unexpected frankness but is surprised when he insists that she leave her Paris to follow him to his country estate. She is unwilling to make such a sudden decision to leave her Parisian apartment. Alceste’s inflexibility causes this comedy to end in an unhappy ending for both characters. Alceste does not understand that he should be more sensitive to Célimène’s emotional needs and not simply expect her to abandon everything for him. The salon in which this comedy takes place creates specific expectations that create numerous surprises in the minds of Molière’s audiences.

BibliographyGossman, Lionel. Men and Masks: A Study of Molière. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1963. Divides Molière’s plays into two groups: those, like The Misanthrope, that reach a social stalemate and those, like Les Fourberies de Scapin (1671), that transcend that apparent dead end. Includes an entire chapter on The Misanthrope.Guicharnaud, Jacques. Molière: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964. Very useful collection that treats The Misanthrope in the context of Molière’s other plays, of other theatrical and comedic traditions (including Charlie Chaplin), and as a supremely experimental work.Knutson, Harold C. The Triumph of Wit: Molière and Restoration Comedy. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1988. Considers Molière’s influence on Restoration comedy in England and concludes that, rather than excessive English borrowing from Molière, both sorts of comedy sprang from similar social circumstances.Lewis, D. B. Wyndham. Molière: The Comic Mask. New York: Coward-McCann, 1959. A rich description of Molière’s life and works that immerses readers in the world of seventeenth century France. Sees The Misanthrope as the greatest of his works and the one closest to his heart.Mander, Gertrud. Molière. Translated by Diana Stone Peters. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1973. Includes descriptions and analyses of fourteen plays and a usefully detailed chronology of Molière’s life.
Categories: Places