Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Moliere)
In terms of its subject and theme, The Misanthrope is a play that deals with the social issues of vanity, hypocrisy and the falsities of social manners in the upper class people of France in the seventeenth century. But the drama is not only critical of the contemporary society's social evils: it is also critical of the universal stupidity of high-sounding ideals that cannot be put into practice. The drama explores the paradox of human culture and nature. The paradox is that we may oppose a society and its culture and customs for being disagreeable, unreasonable, insincere or meaningless; but still we can neither fully solve such problems at large, nor can we simply accept them as they are. If we decide to reject the society's ills and live away from it, we ourselves will become anti-social and ridiculous.
But, though a comedy of manner like The Misanthrope can be understood as a satire of the universal weakness of human societies and manners, this drama is mainly related to a particular society. It is a realistic drama that portrays the picture of a society of a certain time-the seventeenth century France, especially its upper class society. It is concerned with the artificial manners and conventions of the elites who had so much time and resources that they had developed a 'culture' of wasting them and corrupting themselves.
In its form and style, The Misanthrope is characterized by several comic elements. One of the features is that its characters are of the typical kind, which means that they all belong to some category of human beings, like proud, hypocritical, foolish, impractical, and coquettish and so on. Alceste the main character is a typical impractical idealist who keeps shouting at the world, but he cannot correct his own mistakes. Celimene is the typical coquette who will never stop having as many lovers as she can attract. Oronte is the 'type' of poet who writes only to satisfy his hunger of being appreciated. None of these characters are serious or complex. They are supposed to represent or stand for one or the other type of weakness in the culture and manners of the time.
The dialogue also characterizes The Misanthrope as a comedy of manners. The dialogue is the most artistically dominating and perhaps the most interesting aspect of this drama as a comedy of manners. It is full of clever exchanges and witty replies, which we understand as 'repartee'. The charm of the lively repartees in the play is mainly due to the poetic and aphoristic (short but effective) quality in the language and the intelligence (wit) in the use of it in the contexts. The language of this play is also characterized by the extensive use of wit, or clever sayings.
One more important element of comedy of manner found in this drama is that of exposing the faults of potentially positive things of life: this includes the misuse of philosophical ideas, the manipulation of logic for justifying weaknesses, eccentric behavior in the name of high culture, and the use of affected language as 'standard'. Alceste misuses philosophical ideas and ideals, and he manipulates logic for justifying his blind love for a false woman. Characters like Arsinoe use affected language and lies to tempt and lure people; she tries to tempt Alceste with boasting and affected language. Characters like Oronte, Alceste and Celimene go beyond the limit of what we might call 'sanity' in their passions; they are all eccentric in their thought and habits.