Study Guide

The Misanthrope Hypocrisy

By Molière

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I call your conduct inexcusable, Sir,
And every man of honor will concur.
I see you almost hug a man to death,
Exclaim for joy until you're out of breath,
And supplement these loving demonstrations
With endless offers, vows, and protestations;
Then when I ask you "Who was that?", I find
That you can barely bring his name to mind!
Once the man's back is turned, you cease to love him,
And speak with absolute indifference of him! (1.1.16)

So, you're walking down the street and you see some girl you, like, vaguely recognize. Both of you freak out about how totally excited you are to see each other and swear that you're totally going to get coffee or do lunch or whatevs, and then you walk away and can't even remember her name. Yet. We are so totally guilty of this. But is it really so bad? The social niceties are observed, everyone's happy, and life goes on.

The honest Éliante is fond of you,
Arsinoé, the prude, admires you too;
And yet your spirit's been perversely led
To choose the flighty Célimène instead,
Whose brittle malice and coquettish ways
So typify the manners of our days. (1.1.227)

Anyone ever notice that the more a person rails against something to the extreme, the more they are guilty of it themselves? (You know, like the way we hate when people don't return phone calls, but we leave voicemails unchecked for days on end.) Anyway, Philinte catches Alceste red-handed: he's the biggest hypocrite of them all.

No, no, by God, the fault is yours, because
You lead her on with laughter and applause,
And make her think that she's the more delightful
The more her talk is scandalous and spiteful. (2.5.111)

Alceste avoids being called a hypocrite by believing that everyone except for the lady he loves (Célimène) is responsible for the trash talking. Uh-huh. Sorry, dude; we're not buying it.

But why protest when someone ridicules
Those you'd condemn, yourself, as knaves or fools? (2.5.119)

This is a good question. If Alceste is so moral and wants everyone else to feel the same way as he does, why does he get upset when they do? We smell a rat.

It's all an act.
At heart she's worldly, and her poor success
In snaring men explains her prudishness.
It breaks her heart to see the beaux and gallants
Engrossed by other women's charms and talents,
And so she's always in a jealous rage
Against the faulty standards of the age.
She lets the world believe that she's a prude
To justify her loveless solitude.

Arsinoé is a textbook definition of a hypocrite. She pretends to have morals that she really doesn't, just because she can't get a date. Really, we kind of feel sorry for her.

Discussing piety, both false and true.
The conversation soon came round to you.
"What good," they said, "are all these outward shows,
When everything belies her pious pose?
She prays incessantly; but then, they say,
She beats her maids and cheats them of their pay;
She shows her zeal in every holy place,
But still she's vain enough to paint her face;
She holds that naked statues are immoral,
But with a naked man she'd have no quarrel." (3.5.46)

Shnap! If anyone defines hypocrisy in the play, it's Arsinoé. She's so moral that she can't even stand to look at naked statues, but everyone knows that she would totally jump at a naked Alceste.

I've ocular evidence which will persuade you
Beyond a doubt, that Célimène's betrayed you.
Then, if you're saddened by that revelation,
Perhaps I can provide some consolation. (3.7.90)

Arsinoé is all set to prove that Célimène has a cheating heart—but we don't think that the consolation she wants to offer Alceste is exactly a pat on the back, if you know what we mean.

Pretend, pretend, that you are just and true,
And I shall make myself believe in you. (4.3.115)

This is maybe the worst example of hypocrisy in the whole play. Mr. High and Mighty Alceste is begging Célimène to lie to him. How the mighty have fallen.

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