Misanthrope by Moliere

Topic: Discuss the themes, motifs and symbols in Misanthrope by Moliere


As the curtains are raised, the play gives way to two of the major characters in the play. The characters are seen to be in a heated conversation. One of the characters is Alceste and the other one is Phillinte. From their arguments it downs in ones mind that the two characters are have different ideas. For example in Act 1, Alcester is depicted as someone who is damn contemptuous of human nature of the people. On the hand, Phillinte is seen as somebody who holds the thinking that people should be polite and at the same time wore innocent faces to assure others that everything is well. This can be seen when the above mentioned characters react on Orontes’ poem. It clear from the first instance that Oronte was their friend. In the play the writer manages to draw the audience towards several themes and motifs through the actions of his characters (SparkNotes Editors).


Imperfection of the human nature

In the play the theme of human faults comes out clearly through Alseste. The society is disagreeing with him not that he is wicked or a social misfit of some kind but because of his firm stand on human limitations. The universe could be a better place to enjoy oneself if at all every body would embrace the idea of Alceste. He is one of those a few people who believed in nothing short of true honesty. Ironically the French society is against this truth. Alceste is also in a position of not only realizing but also accepting his own mistake. On the other hand Alceste could not accept the mistakes and the errors of other people. The writer is for the facts that for one to survive in such a society he or she needs to have both integrity and tactics of survival. Moliere, the writer uses phillinte to bring the idea of a properly functional society. Phillinte knows very well the predicaments of Alceste but he fears to publicly denounce this because by him doing so is nothing but to welcome trouble.

Also in this play the characters that writer uses shows the propensity to denounce their own errors. By putting on the pretense of “excessive piety,” Arsinoe decides to do away with her own clumsiness in the society. Since she is not in position to draw the attention of men she decides to act as if she is of good morals.

The absurdity of love

Throughout the play the anxiety of Alceste comes from him not being able to tap and control his love for Celimene. He is aware of her mistakes and this seen by the way he keeps on reminding her every now and then. Alceste is also aware that the virtues of celimene do not correspond to his. However, he goes on to adore her. But later he realizes that love does not understand contrary to believe that he had of strict and streamlined virtues. On the hand Alceste is not able to withdraw himself from the humankind and this is portrayed when he frequently curses celimene because of the way she clings to him. As result of this the play tries to strike a balance of love and good reasoning. The writer also spins around the issue with a lot of care for the fear of submitting fully to irrational love. In the play it comes out precisely that one is supposed to be careful when trying to satisfy his or her emotions.

One side of the comedy is seen through the persistence of the suitors. They take control of the scene and these remains in the mind of the audience long after that section is over. Later the same is witnessed in the celimene house the suitors enters and sits down waiting celimene to accept their proposal. Alceste is already convinced and shares his affection to celimene. On the other hand when the play closes, Phillinte is seen as the sole character who admits the absurd love. Both Phillinte and Elliante are seen in a happy mood at the end of the play.

The shrewdness of compromise

According to the writer of the comedy, Phillinte is the only character who portrays wisdom. Phillinte recognizes that for one to exist among other people they is need of tactics and prudence. He is seen to be having good ideas but he withholds them so as not to tamper with the interests of other people which is contrary to the character of Alceste. The writer manages to bring the difference of morality versus rationality. One can say that Alceste compared to Phillinte is moral. This implies that he is sincere to oneself as opposed to Phillinte who on the other hand is not irrational. He accepts to compromise and not just compromising but literally bending his virtues so as to give other people satisfaction. The audience to this play can be tempted and get convinced that Alceste has acquired something concerning compromise but contrary to that he is seen exhibiting resistance when he strikes a deal with celimene in a comic manner. At the end of the play he is giving a weird proposal of leaving the society. However since Celimene did not want to leave as an isolated person she agrees to marry on condition that, they shall live in Paris. At this point we see Alceste disagreeing with an option that he could have embraced with open hands at the early stages of the play. One may be forced to argue that Alceste disagreed with what Celimene is ready to offer because of avoiding compromise but it is because he is not ready to accept what is contrary to his opinion.

Hypocrisy in the social behavior

In this play the theme of hypocrisy is rampant in the French society. Alceste is right most of the time and more so when it comes to predicting instances of hypocrisy. Life is a matter of striking a balance to most of the characters except Alceste between a mere flatter and actual gossiping. When first Celimene comes to scene she seems to be enjoying the presence of the suitors. But as the curtain falls the audience through her letter understands that she is not for the company of the suitors. We see Arsinoe siding with celimene when she realizes that she is under criticism. Here the old woman tries to underscore the relationship of Celimene with Alceste when she stands out to tell the truth about a love letter that Celimene wrote to Oronte. The writer says that so long as there is no one who is offended a small duplication may be accepted. This indicates that the writer is not completely opposing hypocrisy. Also there is some kind of insecurity in the court since they are seen to be not willing to embrace the kind of honest proposed by Alceste. It is clearly seen in play that the friendship among the characters remains because of the art of flattering and telling of lies. Phillinte is seen to strike a balance between the truth and a lie. This is depicted when he uses his wit to avoid hurting Oronte though he did not accept his poem. Contrary to this when it comes to justice, Phillinte stands for the truth. Phillinte also freely expresses his feelings towards Eliante. Also Phillinte is seen to discipline Alceste with a true behavior of Alceste when his ranting goes out of control (cited from http://www.themisanthropelondon.com).

The motifs in this comedy play include; the legal system, letters and deal making

Legal system

Mentioning of court cases and the struggle or battle in the legal system dominates a large part of the play. First Alceste is caught up with two cases. Alceste versus Oronte and the other one of which the people do not have clear details concerning it. The first case is before the France Marshals (cited on www.mahalo.com/the-misanthrope). Also Celimene is seen to mention that one time she was involved in case. In this case Moliere the writer employs the legal system of French and utilizes it to show the many constraints in the society. For instance the Alceste relationship with Celimene has a lot of constraints. Consequently, his stand in the eyes of the law is faced with so many threats. We can say though figuratively that his misanthropy makes him stand out from others. Also the legal offenses turn out to be offences of Alceste when the law requires Alceste to be physically isolated.


The momentum of this comedy is set from the word go by the letters of Celimene. The unfaithfulness of Celimene is seen when Alceste meet head-on with her after discovering that there was a letter that Celimene had written to Oronte. Later the suitors decided to leave her after knowing there was a letter that aired insults to them and which was written by Celimene. The letters from Celimene presents another superficial level of her character. Also in presence of the suitors Celimene tries to hide her real character and feel towards them by flirting and playing the tactics of a good friend. The letters act like a symbol of public Celimene who is actually social and the inner Celimene who is a critique of some kind. The act of writing and also that of distributing them drives or isolates her from the tormenting thoughts.

Making of deals

Human relations and emotions have been slaughtered in the misanthrope. This is due to the fact that almost all the men prove to be adamant concerning such relationships by having commitments among themselves. By just through a mere handshake Oronte is hoping to win Alceste. Such a happening seems to be ludicrous given cold war which was among them. At the same time we see Clitandre and Acaste trying to agree concerning their love to Celimene. They agree that incase one of them is picked by Celimene the other will not have a choice but to quit so as to increase the probability of the other person. The writer uses the motif of making deals to reveal the difference between formal and emotional relationships (cited on www.theatrehistory.com/french/misanthrope001.html)


There are several symbols used in this play as illustrated below;

House of Celimene

The way the house of Celimene remains open is a symbolic meaning her character of being prone to the sweet talking of the suitors (cited from www.paperbackswap.com). In this house the men are welcomed in and out of the house without restrictions. Also the house acts as a symbolic meaning in that it depicts flirting nature of Celimene. The house also is symbolically used as a medium \for the actions in the play. The freedom of getting in and out drives the comedy. At the same time it provides avenues to discovery and interruption.

Poem from Oronte

The presence of this poem in this play makes it more enjoyable. It serves as one of the many satirical parts in this comedy. The aristocracy of French is portrayed through this poem. The comic poem is truly bad because it puts the people in the upper class to task concerning their intelligent and their ability. May be in this case the writer is trying to show the public that the status of the upper class is not that they deserve it but it is because they have inherited it.

“Rustic Solitude” of Alceste

In the play Alceste is seen trying to seek some kind of solitude. In this case his physical isolation from the social set up symbolically indicates the isolation that we see throughout the play in terms of his attitude and behavior away from the rest of the characters in the play (www.curtainup.com/misanthr.html).

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