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The protagonist and title character. Alceste is not a happy man. He is unforgiving, incapable of coming to terms with the flaws of human nature, and quick to point out faults in others. He is not an evil man, however, and we may be sympathetic to him given the even manner in which he dispenses criticism—to everyone, including himself. The highly principled Alceste is brutally honest, which often offends others. He cannot bear flattery or insincere compliment. Célimène is Alceste's greatest source of agony: Alceste recognizes that love is his weakness and that he cannot reject Célimène, even though he abhors her behavior. His love for Célimène is the only force capable of subverting his firm values. Alceste's age—he is probably the oldest of the characters—and disposition set him apart from the rest of the company at Célimène's home.
Read an in-depth analysis of Alceste.
A young woman who is the object of desire of several men in The Misanthrope. Célimène is the center of attention for much of the play. Her suitors—Alceste, Oronte, Acaste, and Clitandre—all seek her affection, yet she makes no firm commitment to any of them. Molière implies that Célimène might somehow belong to Alceste, possibly through an arranged marriage, but this does not keep her from flirting. Célimène is happy and confident, but not without fault; she loves to gossip, and she is critical of nearly everyone she meets. She is careless in her insults, and she ultimately stirs the ire of those who once loved her. Célimène seems to enjoy life for the most part, but she is unwilling to give herself over to the conventions and decorum of her society.
Read an in-depth analysis of Célimène.
A polite and tactful man who is well adapted to the society of the play. Philinte, who avoids the type of offensive straightforwardness that characterizes Alceste, is almost so well adjusted as to come across as boring. Philinte lacks the sharp wit and cleverness of many of the other characters, but is appealing in his selflessness. Philinte bears a genuine concern for Alceste as he seeks to keep Alceste from destroying all of his relationships. Philinte is also admirable for his self-control and patience in dealing with the object of his affection, Éliante. In many ways, Philinte is the straight man to the absurd and often comically disgruntled Alceste.
Read an in-depth analysis of Philinte.
The object of Philinte's romantic attentions. Éliante possesses a deep understanding of the French society in which she lives. She also demonstrates a keen insight into the relationship between the sexes and occasionally offers a witty critique of how men in love behave. Éliante is loving and compassionate, if a bit confused about where her own desires lie. She shifts her affections from Alceste to Philinte over the course of the play. Éliante is not shy, as she expresses her opinions of others when the situation demands it. However, Éliante never reaches the extremes of her cousin Célimène in gossiping and making fun of the people of the court. Éliante has found a point of balance between propriety and conformity.
Read an in-depth analysis of Éliante.
An outspoken man who seeks to be an integral part of his society. Experimenting with poetry, Oronte fashions himself a multi-talented man, though the mediocrity of his poem calls this particular talent into question. Though he appears confident, he reveals his insecurities when criticized. He cares very much about what people think of him, and he even challenges Alceste in court for criticizing his poem. Like most of the others, Oronte is in love with Célimène. His love is not, however, stronger than his pride, and he abandons Célimène after she insults him. Oronte demands the honesty of those with whom he associates. Whether or not he can handle this honesty depends upon the situation.
A bitter woman who is older, unattractive, unpleasant, and thus unable to attract men. Arsinoé masks her frustration with extreme manners and piety. She is openly critical of Célimène out of jealousy, as she herself seeks the love of Alceste. Arsinoé is also willing to betray the confidence of supposed friends, as we see when she tells Alceste of Célimène's deception. Though Arsinoé does participate in the gossip and rumor-mongering about the Court, it does not make her happy. Perhaps the only thing that could make her happy—Alceste's love—is beyond her reach.
A young and egotistical marquis. Acaste considers himself a prime candidate for the role of Célimène's lover. He is unabashed in singing his own praises, which may explain his confusion and frustration over Célimène's rejection. Acaste demonstrates true anguish in speaking of his unrequited love for Célimène; he desires the love of Célimène to such an extent that he strikes a deal with Clitandre to bolster his chances of wooing her.
Another marquis chasing Célimène's love. Clitandre seems less desperate than the other suitors for her affection. His greatest joy comes from his participation in a gossip session with Célimène. Ultimately, Clitandre has enough pride and confidence to give up on Célimène when she insults him.
Alceste's jittery, bumbling manservant. Du Bois's comic subservience to Alceste is a major element of the farcical nature of The Misanthrope. Out of nervousness in trying to tell Alceste everything, Du Bois actually says virtually nothing. Du Bois is of little help to his master, regardless of his good intentions. His ineptitude attracts the sympathy of his theater audience.
Célimène's manservant. Basque, a minor character, is loyal to his mistress, promptly announcing the arrival of her visitors.
A messenger of the Marshals of France. The Officer requests that Alceste present himself before the Marshals to justify his insult to Oronte's poem.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Misanthrope!