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The Misanthrope

Main Ideas Themes
Main Ideas Themes

The Rationality of Compromise

For Molière, Philinte is the portrait of rationality. He understands that living among others requires tact and discretion. Philinte has opinions, but he reserves expressing them for occasions in which he will not offend others—quite the opposite of Alceste's behavior. Molière does make a distinction between morality and rationality. We might argue that Alceste is more moral, or at least more true to himself than Philinte. Philinte is clearly more rational, understanding that one must compromise, even compromises one's own set of values in order to satisfy others.

Just when one might think that Alceste has learned something about the art of compromise, he exhibits a comic resistance to striking a deal with Célimène. In the final scene of the play, Alceste asks Célimène to abandon society with him—a ridiculous proposal. Célimène, not wanting to resign to isolation, proposes that they marry but remain in Paris. Alceste refuses what is probably the best outcome that he could have imagined at the beginning of the play. One could argue that Alceste refuses Célimène's offer only because it represents a compromise. Alceste cannot stand not to have it his way completely.