The Misanthrope is a pint-sized play, so we're going to make this a nano-sized summary. There's this guy named Alceste, and he hates people because he thinks they're too insincere. His BFF Philinte tries to keep him out of trouble, but Alceste is a wily fella.
By the way, Alceste likes this lady called Célimène, who is his polar opposite, and Philinte likes a lady named Éliante who likes Alceste and is what he would be like if he were a lady and not crazy. Oh, and Alceste has some kind of lawsuit against him. Got it all? Good.
Alceste meets Oronte, who wants to be his friend. Instead, Alceste insults his poetry. (Way to make nice, Alceste.) After Oronte storms away, Alceste tries (unsuccessfully) to get Célimène to prove her fidelity to him.
This tender moment is interrupted when people keep showing up at her house. Célimène and her friends sit around and gossip about people while Alceste complains about how superficial they are. They just laugh and tell him that he's a total dork.
Oh, remember Oronte? The cops come to drag Alceste away, because evidently insulting someone's poetry is a criminal offense in seventeenth-century France. Also, we learn that Alceste isn't the only guy who thinks that Célimène loves him—not by a long shot. Actually, she's a total sleaze and everyone knows it. Except Alceste, of course.
The cops let Alceste go, and Philinte confesses his love for Éliante. At the same time, Alceste finds a love letter from Célimène. Only, it's not to him. Célimène admits writing it, but Alceste is too love-struck to leave her.
Remember that lawsuit against Alceste from the beginning? The cops show up again to drag him away, and this time it doesn't work out so well. He loses and has to pay a hefty fee.
Meanwhile, where's Célimène? Being publicly exposed and humiliated. Her boyfriends have realized that she's been playing them, and they all leave her—but not before telling her how much of a hussy she is.
For some reason, Alceste is still into her. He asks her to run away with him, but she refuses. Totally bummed, he decides to run away all alone. Éliante and Philinte get together and try to stop Alceste from becoming a hermit. Ooh, a cliffhanger.