Morality in The Misanthrope

The Misanthrope is a drama whose basic concern is the problem of moral behavior in the so-called upper class society. In that society, relationships are false and their greetings and courtesies are empty, their love is corrupted, the intellectuals make a profession of seeking flattery, ladies are prudes and coquettes, most people gossip and kill others' characters for nothing, and they are people who have eaten up the resources of the nation without mentionable contribution to fellow human beings.

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Moliere)

The lack of truly moral behavior in the so-called aristocrats of that society is seen in the way they show false courtesies, they have false relationship, and they make false greetings and offers for help and support. Their courtesies are not only false and dishonest, they are also shamefully bombastic. Despite their outward courtesies and etiquette, the kind of aristocrats we see in this play are morally corrupted. At the very opening of the play, Alceste says, "I see you almost hug a man to death, / exclaim for joy until you're out of breath, / ... then when I ask you "Who was that?" I find/ that you can hardly bring his name to mind!" Even the most sincere of the lot, Philinte, is like this. We can imagine the rest. Arsinoe in the third act once tries to corrupt Alceste by telling him that she can use her influence for getting him a good job in the king's court. It is immoral for any civilized society to give important and responsible posts to people who have influence and not talent.

If morality is a matter of 'right or wrong' behavior, false love in this play is also another serious moral problem. There are swarms of gentlemen running after a widow named Celimene, who regards herself too young to fall in love with just one man! We never see her serious like a widow, and we never see her or anyone mention her dead husband's name. Celimene tries to trap as many men as she can, with disgusting lies and false courtesies in nameless love letters. She is like a carcass around which vultures fight. Arsinoe's love is even worse; she is on the lookout for a man who might be frustrated with Celimene, but she finds none. Even the more civilized gentlemen, Acaste and Clitandre, run after a widow, though they keep talking about how beautiful a waist and teeth they have. Saddest is the point that even our idealist Alceste is in love with a widow who is the opposite of all his ideals!

The poets and intellectuals of this society seem to be vain and shallow, and the behavior represented by Oronte, the poet, is corrupted. Oronte haunts people, including strangers for demanding flattery, and he is so corrupted that if someone doesn't praise his poem, he will go to court and file a case on a false charge! That litigation is as immoral as Oronte's kind of profession of seeking and demanding flattery for nonsense poems he writes. We see that all the likes of him in this society are good for nothing.

Yet, more serious moral problem lies in the way all the people spend their time by gossiping and killing the character of the "absent fools". They talk in very petty ways about the makeup of old ladies, talkative nature of old men, love affairs of ladies and gentlemen, and what not. They seem to have no meaningful and useful thing to do in their lives. We can guess that these people are like worms which into the sterns of beautiful flowers, fat worms that eat and eat and die.

Among the many other many problems of this society the prudishness of Arsinoe is another feather in that society's cap of immorality. Thus, looked at from the viewpoint of morality, and considered in the broader sense of the term, the drama is about the lack of moral behavior in people who take that very thing for granted.

The Misanthrope Study Center

The Issue of Incompatibility in The Misanthrope

Portrayal of Virtues and Vices in The Misanthrope

Individual versus Society in The Misanthrope

Alceste as a Social Misfit in The Misanthrope

Dramatic Technique in The Misanthrope

The Misanthrope as a Comedy of Manners

Contrasts of Human Relationship in The Misanthrope

The Misanthrope Study Center

Introduction of The Misanthrope

Summary of The Misanthrope

The Misanthrope as a Social Satire

Biography of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin Moliere