is a 17th-century comedy of manners
The comedy of manners is a genre of play/television/film which satirizes the manners and affectations of a social class, often represented by stock characters, such as the miles gloriosus in ancient times, the fop and the rake during the Restoration, or an old person pretending to be young...
in verse written by Molière
Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière, was a French playwright and actor who is considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature...
. It was first performed on 4 June 1666 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal
The Théâtre du Palais-Royal is a 750 seat theatre at 38, rue Montpensier in Paris. In 1637 Cardinal Richelieu began work on a theatre on the east wing of the Palais-Royal building, to break the theatre monopoly of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, and it was opened in 1641...
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...
by the King's Players.
The play satirizes the hypocrisies of French aristocratic society, but it also engages a more serious tone when pointing out the flaws which all humans possess. The play differs from other farces at the time by employing dynamic characters like Alceste and Célimène as opposed to the traditionally flat characters used by most satirists to criticize problems in society. It also differs from most of Molière's other works by focusing more on character development and nuances than on plot progression. The play, though not a commercial success in its time, survives as Molière's best known work today.
Because both Tartuffe
Tartuffe is a comedy by Molière. It is one of his most famous plays.-History:Molière wrote Tartuffe in 1664...
and Dom Juan
Dom Juan or The Feast with the Statue is a French play by Molière, based on the legend of Don Juan. Molière's characters Dom Juan and Sganarelle are the French counterparts to the Spanish Don Juan and Catalinón, characters who would later become familiar to opera goers as Don Giovanni and Leporello...
, two of Molière's previous plays, had already been banned by the French government, Molière may have subdued his actual ideas to make his play more socially acceptable. As a result, there is much uncertainty about whether the main character Alceste is supposed to be perceived as a hero for his strong standards of honesty or whether he is supposed to be perceived as a fool for having such idealistic and unrealistic views about society. Molière has received much criticism for The Misanthrope.
The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of 18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.His novel Émile: or, On Education is a treatise...
, claimed (in his Letter to M. D'Alembert on Spectacles
Letter to D’Alembert on the Theatre is an essay written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in opposition to an article published in the Encyclopédie by Jean d’Alembert, that proposed the establishment of a theatre in Geneva...
) that it was Molière's best work but hated the fact that Alceste was depicted as a fool on stage. He believed that the audience should be supporting Alceste and his views about society rather than disregarding his idealistic notions and belittling him as a character.
Alceste : the protagonist and "misanthrope" of the title. He is quick to criticize the flaws of everyone around him, including himself. He cannot help but love Célimène though he loathes her behaviour.
Célimène : A young woman who is courted by Alceste, Oronte, Acaste, and Clitandre. She is playful and flirtatious, and likes to point out the flaws of everyone she meets behind their backs. Célimène pays much attention to social appearances.
Philinte : A polite man who genuinely cares for Alceste, and recognizes the importance of occasionally veiling one's true opinions in a social context. He is mainly thought of as Alceste's foil.
Acaste : A young, pompous marquis who believes he is deserving of Célimène's love.
Oronte : An outgoing, seemingly confident man who also loves Célimène for a time. His insecurity is revealed when he is unable to handle Alceste's criticism of his love sonnet.
Arsinoé : A highly moralistic older woman who is jealous of the attentions which Alceste pours onto Célimène.
Éliante : Love interest to Philinte and cousin to Célimène, who initially pines for Alceste. She possesses a good balance between societal conformity and individual expression.
Clitandre : Another marquis who attempts to woo Célimène and win her love, and enjoys gossiping with her about notable social figures.
Basque : Célimène's loyal manservant.
Du Bois : Alceste's farcically blundering manservant.
Guard : A messenger of the Marshals of France who asks Alceste to answer for his criticism of Oronte's poetry.
Much to the horror of his friends and companions, Alceste rejects the notion la politesse,
or the social conventions of the seventeenth century French salon
A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase their knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to...
. His refusal to "make nice" makes him tremendously unpopular and he laments his isolation in a world he sees as superficial and base, saying early in Act I, "… Mankind has grown so base, / I mean to break with the whole human race.”
Despite his convictions, however, Alceste cannot help but love the flighty and vivacious Célimène, a consummate flirt whose wit and frivolity epitomize the courtly manners that Alceste despises. Though he constantly reprimands her, Célimène refuses change, charging Alceste with being unfit for society.
Despite his sour reputation, "the misanthrope," Alceste, does have women pining for him, in particular the moralistic Arsinoé and the honest Eliante. Though he acknowledges their superior virtues, his heart still lies with Célimène. His deep feelings for her primarily serve to counter his negative expressions about mankind, since the fact that he has such feelings includes him amongst those he so fiercely criticizes.
When Alceste insults a sonnet written by the powerful noble, Oronte, he is called to stand trial. Refusing to dole out false compliments, he is charged and humiliated, and resolves on self-imposed exile.
His friends forsake him and upon meeting them, he discovers that Célimène has been leading him on. She has written identical love letters to numerous suitors, and broken her vow to favor him above all others. He gives her an ultimatum. He will forgive her and marry her if she runs away with him to exile. Célimène refuses, believing herself too young and beautiful to leave society and all her suitors behind. Philinte, for his part, becomes betrothed to Eliante. Alceste then decides to exile himself from society, and the play ends with Philinte and Eliante running off to convince him to return.
Modern adaptations of the play have been written by Tony Harrison
Tony Harrison is an English poet and playwright. He is noted for controversial works such as the poem V and Fram, as well as his versions of ancient Greek tragedies, including the Oresteia and Hecuba...
and Liz Lochhead
Liz Lochhead is a Scottish poet and dramatist, originally from Newarthill in North Lanarkshire.-Background:After attending Glasgow School of Art, Lochhead lectured in fine art for eight years before becoming a professional writer....
. Lochhead's version is set in the early years of the Scottish Parliament and satirises Scottish Labour's relationship with the media. The Grouch
, a more modern verse version of The Misanthrope
by Ranjit Bolt
Ranjit Bolt OBE is a British playwright and translator. He was born in Manchester of Anglo-Indian parents and is the nephew of playwright and screen-writer Robert Bolt. His father is literary critic Sydney Bolt, author of several books including A preface to James Joyce, and his mother has...
was first performed at West Yorkshire Playhouse
The West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, England is a theatre which opened in March 1990 as part of the regeneration of the Quarry Hill area of the city...
in February 2008. It is set in contemporary London, and most of the characters' names are recognisably linked to Molière's: in the sequence of the above cast list they are Alan, Celia, Phil, Eileen, Orville, Fay (Arsinoe), Lord Arne, Chris, and manservant Bates. Martin Crimp
Martin Andrew Crimp is a British playwright.Sometimes described as a practitioner of the "in-yer-face" school of contemporary British drama, Crimp though rejects the label...
's adaptation, starring Damian Lewis
Lewis was born in St John's Wood, London, the son of Charlotte Mary and J. Watcyn Lewis, a City broker. His paternal grandparents were Welsh. His maternal grandfather was Lord Mayor of London Ian Frank Bowater and his maternal grandmother's ancestors include Bertrand Dawson, 1st Viscount Dawson of...
and Keira Knightley
Keira Christina Knightley born 26 March 1985) is an English actress and model. She began acting as a child and came to international notice in 2002 after co-starring in the film Bend It Like Beckham...
, opened at the Comedy Theatre, London in December 2009.