The Misanthrope

by: Molière


Alceste is the protagonist and title character of The Misanthrope, as well as the genesis of the play's central conflict—the clashing of Alceste's value system with the status quo. Frustrated by the lack of sincerity and the prevalence of corruption in the society around him, Alceste frequently lectures others about the value of honesty and the ills of hypocrisy. Unfortunately for him, no one really listens. As one man among many who do not share his views, Alceste is isolated. However, in spite of his isolation, he does garner the affections of both men and women. Philinte seems to respect Alceste's integrity, and both Arsinoé and Célimène demonstrate attraction to him.

Alceste's journey through the play does change him in some ways. By the end, he shows a willingness to forgive, offering his hand in marriage to Célimène even though she has offended him. Additionally, Alceste admits his own weaknesses, recognizing that he, like everyone else, is prone to fall victim to love. Alceste, does not, however, change completely; indeed, he ends up quite close to where he began, enraged at Célimène's behavior.

Molière uses Alceste in part as a satirical device. The playwright shows that a strict code of ethics cannot survive the society he satirizes. However, Alceste is more of a character study than he is a symbol. He is multi- dimensional, as comic extremism and common human emotion are juxtaposed within him.