Although Molière in The Misanthrope humorously depicts a frivolous and hypocritical society, Alceste’s misperceptions about himself provide the play’s most biting humor. Alceste sees himself as the only honest person in his social circle, although he, too, tries to be tactful sometimes, as when he repeatedly tells Oronte that he had not criticized Oronte’s poem when he had so indirectly until disgust and frustration got the better of him. Even more strikingly, Alceste almost begs Célimène to tell him comforting lies rather than unpleasant truths. Arsinoé and Célimène, however, reveal with vicious honesty what they truly think of one another, even though each wraps her nastiness in assurances that she is criticizing only to help the other. By contrast, Alceste’s more moderate friends, Philinte and Éliante, converse frankly, and in the process each finds a loving and trustworthy mate. Molière makes is clear that Alceste cannot recognize honesty when he sees it.
Moreover, for all his much-vaunted independence, Alceste does not take responsibility for his fate or even his day-to-day actions. He has no trouble describing what he dislikes, but he seems hard-pressed to define what would make him happy, much less do it for himself. He says and probably believes that Célimène’s exclusive love, far away from the corrupt court, alone with him in his self-imposed exile, would satisfy him. He thus places responsibility for his happiness in...
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