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The Misanthrope

Act IV

Summary Act IV

Act IV welcomes the one true, pleasantly surprising love affair in the play, that between Philinte and Éliante. Although the depth of their mutual attraction is not fully realized in Act IV, a sweet and sincere romance begins. In uncovering this relationship, Molière hints that our—and his own—attention has been misplaced. The real heroes of the story have been hiding up until this point. The Philinte-Éliante love affair is made all the more touching by the simplicity of these characters. Neither has any outstanding or particularly unique characteristic, unlike the dramatically unique Alceste and Célimène, whose relationship is the focal point of the story. Molière implies that individuality, in its extreme form, deters love. Apparently, something other than a defining trait draws Philinte to Éliante. By avoiding the drama of Court society, Philinte and Éliante are able to establish a deeper connection, one not based upon superficialities. We might even argue the rest of the play is a red herring to this romance. In spite of all of the efforts to woo Célimène, nothing ever really happens in that arena. The one solid accomplishment of the play is the eventual union of Philinte and Éliante, which is finalized in Act V.

As the love affair between Philinte and Éliante begins to blossom, the relationship between Alceste and Célimène continues to fall apart. When Alceste discovers a letter he believes to demonstrate Célimène's deception of him, he attempts to apply the same type of justice to her as has been used against him. He says the letter "convicts" her, and he marvels that she can "still persist in the face of this overwhelming evidence" (IV.iii), seeking to try her for her "crimes" against him. Alceste appears to think that if he can be tried for hurting Oronte's feelings, so can Célimène be brought to justice for shaming him. Thus, although Alceste finds his lawsuit ridiculous, he tries to apply the same tenets of law to his relationship with Célimène. However, Alceste lacks the strength to carry out his verdict. He admits to being hopelessly drawn to Célimène. Again, Molière juxtaposes formality with emotion. In this case, Alceste attempt at legal rationality loses out to his own visceral impulses. Ultimately, he asks Célimène to lie about intended recipient of the letter to make him feel better.

As the act draws to a close, Alceste receives news that he must leave or be subject to arrest. This moment, in Act IV, scene iv, marks the final crisis of the plot. If Alceste decides to leave, he must also decide if his troubles with Célimène are worth resolving. In vowing to return to finish his conversation with Célimène, Alceste shows a willingness to compromise not present in earlier acts. His misanthropy appears to weaken as his situation becomes more desperate.