Comment on The Misanthrope as a comedy of manners.

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As a comedy of manners, this play presents the social norms of its day in a way that establishes the hypocrisy of society and the way that a veneer of culture and civilisation actually attempts to conceal a more negative view of society at large. This is particularly true in the way that Alceste reveals hypocrisy. Even though he is a rather unpleasant character, Alceste is different from the other characters in this play because for the other characters, life is all about gossip and blandishments. For example, Celimene apparently acts as if she enjoys the presence of the men who court her, but then writes a letter that clearly shows this is not the case. Note the following remark from Celimene about the benefits of old age:

There's a season for love and another for prudishness, and we may consciously choose the latter when the hey-day of our youth has passed—it may serve to conceal some of life's disappointments.

This remark presents the theme of disguise and introduces the way that age can be adopted as a method of concealment to protect oneself from "life's disappointments." Pretending to be one thing whilst really being something else is at the heart of this comedy.

Moliere takes this exposing of hypocrisy to its extreme through the character of Alceste, who insists on a level of honesty that is so brutal that the other characters are unable to even entertain it. Moliere thus points out the way in which hypocrisy is such a key part of his society, and indeed, in some ways, it is recognised as being an acceptable strategy to coping with the vagaries of human nature. The character of Philinte seems to be a much more balanced presentation of the need for both truth and deception, as his tactful remarks about Oronte's poem suggest.

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