Study Guide

Éliante in The Misanthrope

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If this were a teen movie, Éliante would be the brunette with the glasses and the deeper voice, while Célimène would be all blond, blue eyed, and high-pitched.

Anyway, you could say Éliante is the female Alceste, if Alceste would just chill out and listen to reason. She has high morals, believes in honesty and sincerity, and hates the latest fad for hypocrisy. To prove that she's the opposite of that hussy Célimène, she has only one guy chasing after her. Basically, she proves that you can have high morals and not go to extremes. She's the satiric norm: the gold standard of behavior.

(Quick brain snack: the satiric object is the thing being criticized—that'd be Célimène; the satiric norm is the thing that the satiric object is supposed to be like. I.e., Éliante.)

But Seriously, Why Alceste?

We have no idea why she likes this guy. Sure, he may seem all moral and stuff just like her, but he's kind of crazy. And a mess. And pathetic. That's just not hottt. Or even plain old hot.

But somehow, she sees his good side. She explains her love by saying, "The honesty in which he takes such pride/ Has—to my mind—its noble, heroic side" (4.1.33). So, she basically sees him as some speaking-truth-to-power folk hero, telling it like it is to the corrupt society of his day. We get that.

The thing is, where Alceste turns into a babbling idiot when it comes to love, Éliante is a strong-willed woman. She knows her worth, and even though she doesn't mind being Alceste's second choice, she doesn't want to be a rebound.

When Alceste wants to use her to get revenge on Célimène she tells him, "You have my sympathy, Sir, in all you suffer;/ Nor do I scorn the noble heart you offer;/ But I suspect you'll soon be mollified,/ And this desire for vengeance will subside" (4.2.44). Translate? She feels sorry for him; she still likes him; but she knows that he's going to go crawling back to Célimène sooner or later, and she doesn't want to be his temporary fling.

Her Speech On Love

Éliante's pretty quiet, but she does have one important speech on love. In Act 2, Scene 5, Éliante talks about all the ways that lovers excuse the faults in their beloved. Sure, it fits in with all the romantic talk that has been going on, but it's also a little special for two reasons.

The first is that the language that Éliante uses in the speech establishes her as one of the précieuses, just like Célimène. She is obviously educated, or she wouldn't be able to pull out all those SAT words.

Also, Éliante's speech is similar to the writing style of Madeleine de Scudéry, one of the authors who helped make the précieuses all the rage. Sure, Molière makes fun of her in his play Précieuses ridicules, but some people also think that he actually admired her and was influenced by her. He just disliked the ladies who took her ideas to the extreme.

Now why would Molière make Éliante one of the précieuses? Maybe he wanted to show that all educated women are not as silly and mean as Célimène. Or maybe he wanted to show those ladies themselves that they didn't need to be silly and mean to be smart.

The second thing about this speech is that it is a blatant (at least to those of use who live in the Shmoopatorium) rip off of Lucretius' On The Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura). Check it out. Here is Éliante's speech about the lies guys tell themselves about their girlfriends:

Love, as a rule, affects men otherwise,
And lovers rarely love to criticize.
They see their lady as a charming blur,
And find all things commendable in her.
If she has any blemish, fault, or shame,
They will redeem it by a pleasing name.
The pale-faced lady's lily-white, perforce;
The swarthy one's a sweet brunette, of course;
The spindly lady has a slender grace;
The fat one has a most majestic pace;
The plain one, with her dress in disarray,
They classify as
beauté négligée;
The hulking one's a goddess in their eyes,
The dwarf, a concentrate of Paradise;
The haughty lady has a noble mind;
The mean one's witty, and the dull one's kind;
The chatterbox has liveliness and verve,
The mute one has a virtuous reserve.
So lovers manage, in their passion's cause,
To love their ladies even for their flaws
. (2.5.164)

And here's Lucretius:

The black girl is brown sugar. A slob that doesn't bathe or clean
Is a Natural Beauty; Athena if her eyes are grayish-green.
A stringy beanpole's a gazelle. A midget is a sprite,
Cute as a button. She's a knockout if she's giant's height.
The speech-impaired has a charming lithp; if she can't talk at all
She's shy. The sharp-tongued shrew is spunky, a little fireball.
If she's too skin-and-bones to live, she's a slip of a girl, if she
Is sickly, she's just delicate, though half dead from TB.
Obese, with massive breasts?—a goddess of fertility.

Sure, Lucretius is a bit meaner than Éliante, but they're basically saying the same thing. What's the point of making this reference? Well, maybe Molière just really wanted to show off how smart Éliante is in comparison to Célimène. Or maybe he's just showing off how smart he is. Maybe he wanted to play a naughty joke on those in the know (hey, that's you now!) because, in Lucretius, the lines right after this section talk about sex acts we would rather not type here. (Ask your parents about it, kids. But don't tell them we told you to.)

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