You've read the book, or at least you've looked at the cover, so you know the title. It's The Misanthrope. In French, it is Le Misanthrope ou l'Atrabilaire amoureux. Some people translate the second part of that title as The Misanthrope, or the Irritable Lover.
We're not going to go over the misanthrope part, because we did that already in Alceste's "Character Analysis," and you guys read that already, right? Great. So let's move on to the next part.
Sure, Alceste is irritable, but that translation doesn't really get at that whole meaning of the word atrabilaire. We over here at Shmoop University have spent years eating baguettes and chomping on delicious, stinky cheese in order to bring you the latest in seventeenth-century French psychology, and here's the thing: atrabilaire comes from two Latin words: "atra," or "dark, black, and brooding;" and "bilis," or "bile."
What is bile? It's stuff that your liver makes to digest fat. So when you are chowing on that Big Mac, you're probably going to have a lot of bile. OK, so that's bile. What's black bile? Now we are going to get into some old timey, pseudo-sciencey stuff, so hold on.
Back in the day before we had CT scans, X-Rays, or Dr. Oz, there was this idea that our bodies worked by balancing four humors. They were Yellow Bile, Blood, Phlegm, and Black Bile. You weren't supposed to have too much or too little of any of them, because if you did it would cause all kinds of problems.
The closet English word for atrabilaire, is probably "melancholy." It only sounds different because it comes from Greek instead of Latin. The meaning of melancholy has softened a little over the years, but it used to mean gloomy and annoyed and a little angry. (But not as angry as someone who's choleric.) These people hate everyone and everything. They are extreme about everything they do, and don't get the meaning of the phrase "chill out." These people are the tyrants of the world.
Sound like anyone we know? Yep, it's our main man, Alceste. He's the lover that is just full to the brim with black bile. Man, that sounds gross.
OK, this isn't in the title, but it's implied and we felt like giving you a two for one deal. So we have one dude full of bile, and he's got a best friend who is the opposite of him in almost every way. What's he filled with? Phlegm. Yep, some more gross stuff.
He is full of that stuff that you cough up when you have a bad cold. We know. It's weird. Blame the Greeks, not us.
Being phlegmatic means that Philinte should be calm, unemotional, and rational. Guess what? He is. He never rants or rages, and he is always giving some kind of reasonable speech. That's the good part of being phlegmatic.
The bad stuff? These people are thought to be alcoholics or "unmanly." Some people might say that Philinte is a wuss since he just bows to what everyone else wants instead of standing up for himself. Others say he is awesome and empathetic. And Molière—he seems to want us to make up our own minds.