The Misanthrope as a Social Satire

The Misanthrope is a comedy of manners in its form or genre, it is basically a social satire in its theme. Moliere made the upper class French people, their manners and their so-called high culture the target of his satire. The drama explores and exposes the weaknesses and corruptions, degradations and paradoxes inherent in the manner and culture of those people.

Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Moliere)

If Moliere's first aim is to expose the falsities and hypocrisies in their relationships and behavior, the second one is to expose the foolishness of their high-sounding but impractical ideas and ideas.

The play satirizes false relationships and mannerisms of the upper class society in the examples of false relationship and friendship like the relationship between Celimene and Arsinoe. These two women appear like friends before other people, but they are hostile enemies. Arsinoe unsuccessfully tries to attract the lovers of Celimene, so she tries to spread bad rumors about her. Celimene also tries to destroy the image and prestige of Arsinoe. But, it is ridiculous that these two rivals speak in very polite language and call each other 'friends'.

The drama also ridicules the stupid behavior of people like Oronte. Oronte is supposed to be the poet and intellectual of the time. But he is a ridiculous fool who writes poems only to be appreciated. What is even more ridiculous is that he goes to the extent of filing a lawsuit in the king's court when Alceste criticizes one of his silly poems. Moliere has intended to expose the shallowness of the intellectuals of the time.

Another issue of social satire in the play is the immorality of people like Celimene. Celimene is a widow, who should have been serious and moral. But she collects as many gentlemen as possible as her lovers. It is so ridiculous that she even says that it is the religion of women not to say whom they actually love, so that all the men who seek them should remain hoping for them. Celimene refuses the love of Alceste at the end of the play because she thinks that she should have a several lovers till she is old enough. She is a hateful flirt.

The dramatist also means to satirize the stupidity of worthless criticism and misanthropy of idealists like Alceste. At first we feel that Alceste is an ideal man because his support for honesty and sincerity and his violent criticism of the false manners of his society sound appealing to us. In fact, we would have appreciated him if he was not ridiculously impractical. He hates the whole of humanity for their weaknesses, including the unavoidable one; but he is passionately and helplessly in love with the most corrupted women of his society. His ideals are only bombastic words and they are only meant to express his ego.

Like in the typical satiric mode of dramatic representation, this drama represents many social evils in the 'type' characters who represent some definite type of social evil. Celimene is a malicious gossip and an incurable coquette. Oronte represents the type of vain poets who just need to write poems, however meaningless they may be, and need people to listen and appreciate them, however bad they are. Even the two gentlemen Acaste and Clitandre are a pair of pretentious fussy celibates (old, but unmarried men) who run after widows and spinsters. Alceste, the misanthrope, is a self-proclaimed enemy of all social evils, but he is also badly flawed by his extraordinary egotism. The world of all such typical representatives of the social evils give us the impression of a false and shallow society which is full of absurd behaviors wrongly called culture. The people in it are not capable of genuine, love or sincere relationship of any kind.

The plot of the play also dramatizes the consequences of the evil habits of the corrupted or foolish characters. In other words, the drama explores the social and moral implications of the vices the characters represent. But, in spite of the so many bad characters, the play doesn't mean to show us the picture of a totally and incurably degraded humanity. In fact, there are a few positive characters who strongly suggest that humanity is not and need not after all be entirely debased. In contrast to the ugliness and evils around them, characters like Philinte and Eliante shine in their virtues of moderateness and honesty. Philinte represents the practical type of man who will not sell all his values for social conformity, but will also behave in a social manner, unlike Alceste. Eliante is also another ideal type of character who is not attracted by the evil manner of the prudes and coquettes.

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

Morality in The Misanthrope

Biography of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin Moliere