Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Moliere)
Here, the central character Alceste is a misanthrope. He detests human civilization and its values and ideals. He is too frank to criticize the others' ways, but he himself cannot stick to his own principle of behavior and becomes the crank in the society.
The play is set in the scenario of seventeenth century France, where hypocrisy, snobbery, injustice, coquette and corruption prevail. The Misanthrope is universal in theme on the one hand, and it is a topical comedy of manner that satirizes upper class French society of the 17 century. The drama is considered universally appealing and “philosophical” in the way it explores some of the paradoxes of the human nature and human society.
The Misanthrope is a comedy of manners where the manners of the people are ridiculed and mocked at. The language of the play is full of wit, satire upon the vain society and its inhabitant. It not only exposes the pettiness and the irrationality of the so-called high-class culture that is almost universally criticized in the literatures of the world, it also exposes the frailty of the idealist who shouts at the world for its shortcomings and cannot change himself.
The main paradox of the idealist is dramatized in the behavior of the central character Alceste. Disgusted by fashionable society's excessive displays of politeness and false affection, Alceste is used to championing honesty and plain speaking. But, his virtues are immediately tested: the fop Oronte seeks Alceste's judgment of a sonnet which he says he has written in fifteen minutes. Alceste at first tries to avoid, but then he is disgusted, so he criticizes the sonnet openly. This false poet is so offended that he takes Alceste to court.
A more serious test of Alceste's principles is his love, for the coquette Celimene, the most coquettish woman of fashionable society. Caught between his principles and his love, Alceste pursues a strange manner of courtship, he complains with Celimene to change her ways. Celimene, however, is not about to change; she too much enjoys being the center of attention and excelling at society's two-faced games; such as backbiting and coquetry. Even after her betrayal is opened up, and when her other suitors expose her coquetry and walk out, she cannot go to some lonely place with Alceste and abandon society. So Alceste angrily heads for the desert by himself (though his friends hope to stop him).
No character represents a reasonable norm in The Misanthrope, not even Alceste's friends who compromise so easily and certainly, not the fops or the jealous prude Arsinoe. The unhappy ending paints up the ridiculous nature of Alceste's excessive reactions while Celimene's unmasking underlines her folly. But Moliere was daring to show how even the best people of his society were not reasonable in their behavior and belief.
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
The Misanthrope as a Social Satire
Biography of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin Moliere