Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 529
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 rejects his invitation to grow old and bury herself in the wilderness with him.
Philinte (fee-LA[N]T), a friend of Alceste. Believing in civilization, tact, and conformity, he is a man of good sense and sober rationality who takes people as they are. Whereas Alceste says that Oronte’s sonnet is very badly written, Philinte flatters him for the sentiment of the poem. Although he admits that trickery usually wins the day, he sees in this no reason to withdraw from society.
Oronte (oh-ROHNT), a young fop who claims that he stands well in the court and with the king and offers to use his influence there for Alceste. When his offer of friendship and influence is rejected and his sonnet ridiculed, he brings charges against Alceste. Although he also is in love with Célimène, he rejects his love when he learns of her ridicule of him and admits he has been duped.
Éliante (ay-YAHNT), Célimène’s cousin, a woman whose ideas are similar to Philinte’s and who marries him at the end. Although she enjoys gossip, she is sincere, as even Alceste admits, and favors people who speak their minds.
Arsinoé (ahr-zee-NWAY), a friend of Célimène, an envious prude who offers advice on honor and wisdom. Although she is a flatterer, she also is outspoken at times.
Acaste (ah-KAHS-teh) and
Clitandre (klee-TAHN-dreh), noblemen and fops. Both desire the love of Célimène, who ridicules them.
Basque (bahsk), a servant to Célimène.
Dubois (dew-BWAH), Alceste’s servant.
An officer of the Maréchaussée
An officer of the Maréchaussée (mah-ray-shoh-SAY), who delivers a summons to Alceste.