Honestly, Alceste does not deserve a friend like Philinte. We aren't even sure how he got a friend, since he hates people and everything. Philinte is the Wilson to his House, the Watson to his Holmes, the Oscar to his Felix … well you get the picture. Philinte puts up with a lot of stuff just for Alceste's sake.
To be honest, Philinte seems a little dim-witted. When Alceste is verbally abusive, Philinte just says, "Ah, you're just joking. I'll keep you company" (1.3.17). He even lets Alceste have first dibs on the only sane lady in the play, who, by the way, Philinte has a major crush on! He tells her, "But if those two should marry, and so remove/ All chance that he will offer you his love,/ Then I'll declare my own, and hope to see/ Your gracious favor pass from him to me./ In short, should you be cheated of Alceste,/ I'd be most happy to be second best" (4.1.75).
Translation: He loves Éliante, but he loves Alceste more.
A Phlegm-y Voice of Reason
While Alceste is the play's voice of crazy, Philinte is the voice of reason. He's basically just there to balance Alceste out and give him a lot of advice on how not to get in so much trouble, just like Jiminy Cricket. And, just like Pinocchio, Alceste ignores him. (Luckily, his nose doesn't get longer every time he does something stupid.)
Mainly, Philinte wants Alceste to stop being so extreme about everything. We can practically hear him saying, "Can't we all just get along?" He's the only non-servant guy in the play who isn't obsessed with Célimène, and he doesn't cause any trouble. But the thing is, this actually turns him into a boring, goody-two-shoes of a character.
Ok, so why did we say that Philinte is the phlegm-y voice of reason? Does he have a cold or something?
Not quite. Whereas Alceste has too much bile, or anger, Philinte has a phlegmy personality. He says this, "And whether in court or town, whatever the scene,/ My phlegm's as philosophic as your spleen" (1.1.174).
We won't go too much into detail about these wacky theories here (check out "What's Up With the Title?" for more), but phlegmatic personalities are calm, consistent, and relaxed. In fact, some people accused phlegmatic personalities as basically having no feelings. So, maybe Philinte is less a super nice guy than an extra-terrestrial Vulcan.
Here's Philinte's view of humanity: Yes, people are dummies who do dumb things. But you know what? No biggie. Just forgive them, because they can't help it.
And maybe this is even worse than Alceste. After all, Alceste gets mad because, deep down, he truly believes people can be better than they are. But Philinte? He's just written humanity off as not even worth hating. You could even say that Alceste is the optimist and Philinte is the pessimist.
But, hey, maybe Philinte is actually all compassionate and empathetic. He does say, "I take men as they are, or let them be,/ And teach my soul to bear their frailty […]"(1.1.171). That sounds pretty zen master-y to us. Isn't compassion and forgiveness what virtue is all about?
So who is the good guy here, Alceste or Philinte? That's up to you to decide, but we're pretty sure there is no right or wrong answer.Timeline