Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Alceste (ahl-SEHST), an outspoken, rigidly honest young man disgusted with society. Protesting against injustice, self-interest, deceit, and roguery, he wants honesty, truthfulness, and sincerity. He hates all men because they are wicked, mischievous, hypocritical, and generally so odious to him that he has no desire to appear rational in their eyes. He would cheerfully lose a law case for the fun of seeing what people are and to have the right to rail against the iniquity of human nature. In love with a young widow, Célimène, he is not blind to her faults, but he feels that his sincere love will purify her heart. He controls his temper with her, for he deems her beneath his anger. Despite her coquetry, he will excuse her if she joins him in renouncing society and retiring into solitude. Seeing himself deceived on all sides and overwhelmed by injustice, he plans to flee from vice and seek a nook—with or without Célimène—where he may enjoy the freedom of being an honest man.
Célimène (say-lee-MEHN), a young widow loved by Alceste, though she embodies all qualities he detests. She is a flirt, a gossip with a satirical wit demonstrated in caustic sketches of her friends, and a woman eager for flattery. Not certain that she truly loves Alceste, she feels that he may be too jealous to deserve her love. In the end, she scornfully...
(The entire section is 529 words.)
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Celimene is a very attractive and very flirtatious young widow, who is pursued simultaneously by at least four different men. Of all the characters, she is the most thoroughly insincere and represents social hypocrisy at its worst. She tells each of her suitors that he is the one she truly loves and proceeds to criticize all of her other suitors. Alceste is in love with her but continually criticizes her for her dishonesty, claiming that it is because he truly loves her that he is brutally honest, rather than insincerely flattering her like the other men. Alceste also complains of Celimene's flirtations with other men, but she defends herself on the grounds that they are all influential at court and that she must be polite to them or they may negatively influence the lawsuit she is engaged in.
When Alceste confronts her with a love letter she has written to another man, she at first claims it was written to a woman, then admits that it was in fact written to Oronte, Alceste's archrival. At the end of the play, several of her suitors confront her with letters she has written to each of them in which she professes her love for the man she is writing to and ridicules each of the other men. These suitors then leave, vowing to malign her reputation among others. Alceste, however, claims that he will always love her, in spite of this revelation of her true insincerity. He asks her to flee to the wilderness with him, but she responds that, although she would...
(The entire section is 295 words.)
Philinte is a true friend of Alceste. As the play opens, Alceste is chastising Philinte for his insincerity in treating a distant acquaintance as if he were a dear friend. Philinte defends his behavior by pointing out that the man is very influential at court, and so it is in his best interest to treat him as a friend. Throughout the play, Philinte debates with Alceste the issue of sincerity and insincerity in social interaction. While Alceste is insistent upon the virtue of complete honesty at all times, Philinte argues for the importance of common civility in social interactions. When Alceste announces that he is fed up with the hypocrisy and corruption of society and is fleeing to the wilderness, Philinte argues that, yes, all people are flawed, but that it is "part of Heaven's plan," and the lack of honesty and justice in the world are what make virtue so valuable. Philinte is in love with Eliante, who, for the first half of the play, is in love with Alceste. Nevertheless, he confesses his love for her and asks that, should she be rejected by Alceste, she consider him instead. In the final moments of the play, Eliante declares her love for Philinte over Alceste—at which point Philinte jumps at the chance to be her "slave." As soon as Alceste leaves to go off to the wilderness, Philinte insists they follow after him and try to convince him not to leave society. Philinte and Eliante are the only truly compassionate characters in the play and are able to balance...
(The entire section is 264 words.)
Acaste is one of the two marquis who pursue Celimene. In Act V, Acaste, along with Clitandre, confronts Celimene with love letters she has written to each of them. Acaste reads aloud from a letter which she wrote to Clitandre, in which she refers to him (Acaste) as "the little marquis" and assures Clitandre that, although she let Acaste hold her hand, he is "of no consequence." Acaste leaves with Clitandre, assuring Celimene that he has "better women standing by" who are interested in him.
Alceste is the misanthrope referred to in the title. Throughout the play, he expresses his disgust with the dishonesty, hypocrisy, corruption, and lack of justice in society, claiming that he himself at least is completely frank and honest in all of his social interactions. Philinte, his friend, presents a variety of counterpoints to Alceste's arguments. When Oronte asks his opinion of a love poem he has just written, Alceste tells him that it is "trash," that it should be burned, and that Oronte should never write another poem. Oronte, who is highly influential at court, retaliates for the insult by filing a lawsuit against Alceste. Before a tribunal of marshals, however, Alceste refuses to take back his criticism of Oronte's poem, and the matter is only settled when he agrees to apologize to Oronte for not liking it. Alceste, meanwhile, is also engaged in a lawsuit concerned with a man who has circulated a scandalous book and...
(The entire section is 1003 words.)