What’s Up With the Ending?
ALCESTE, to Éliante and Philinte
May you be true to all you now profess,
And so deserve unending happiness.
Meanwhile, betrayed and wronged in everything,
I'll flee this bitter world where vice is king,
And seek some spot unpeopled and apart
Where I'll be free to have an honest heart.
Come, Madam, let's do everything we can
To change the mind of this unhappy man. (5.8.18)
The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
It had to end this way. It really did. Since stereotypical characters can't change, there was only one logical answer to how the play would end. And here we have it:
(1) Célimène had to be ruined. Even though society is crazy, everyone still sees her as too crazy, so she couldn't just get away with it all.
(2) Alceste couldn't get with Célimène because, hey, he's a misanthrope and he hates people, remember? How could he live happily ever after with her? That would mean, a) living with other people (who he hates) in a hypocritical society or b) Célimène suddenly changing her character and becoming a hermit. Plus, who has ever heard of married hermits living together?
(3) Philinte and Éliante had to get together because they are the only non-horrible male and female in the cast. But notice that we don't get a big romantic scene with roses, sparkles, a marriage, and a baby carriage. Nope, they just start worrying about Alceste again, like they have throughout the whole play. Same-old, same-old.
So, at the same time that there was always only one way this could end, there's really not much of an ending. Especially not for a comedy. Sure, we're happy that Philinte and Éliante get together, but honestly not that happy. And what about all the other loose ends? What's going on with Alceste's lawsuit? What is Célimène going to do now? What about all those other dudes? Where are Philinte, Éliante, and Alceste running off to in that last line?
We don't get a lot of answers from Molière, which is why the play has a reputation for being ambiguous. The abrupt ending is not normal for Molière or comedies in general. It left us wondering if we missed a couple of pages at the end of our book.
But here's something to think about: The Misanthrope is often considered Molière's masterpiece. And maybe that has something to do with the play's ambiguous ending.
P.S. For a more normal play ending, check out his Tartuffe.