Study Guide

The Misanthrope Lies and Deceit

By Molière

Lies and Deceit

ORONTE
Others have praised my sonnet to the skies.
ALCESTE
I lack their art of telling pleasant lies. (1.2.186)

We all tell little white lies, but Alceste refuses to tell even the teensy tiniest one, even when the temporary pain of lying would be far, far, less than the giant pain that a lawsuit would be. Seriously, dude, maybe you should take yourself a little less seriously.

ELIANTE, to Philinte
And all our dear friends' ears will shortly burn.
The conversation takes its usual turn
(2.5.33)

Éliante is pointing out to Philinte that Célimène and friends go around telling each other that they're the best thing since sliced bread. Behind their back though, they're brandishing some really really sharp knives. You know, to slice that bread with.

ALCESTE
How bravely, Sirs, you cut and thrust at all
These absent fools, till one by one they fall:
But let one come in sight, and you'll at once
Embrace the man you lately called a dunce,
Telling him in a tone sincere and fervent
How proud you are to be his humble servant. (2.5.103)

It's easy to be a jerk behind someone's back, but it's even easier to lie to his face. If we were Alceste, we'd want to run off to the woods, too.

ALCESTE
Yes, all the shameful evidence one could want
Lies in this letter written to Oronte—
Oronte! whom I felt sure she couldn't love,
And hardly bothered to be jealous of. (4.2.21)

Hm. It's not clear which Alceste is more upset about, that Célimène lied or that she wrote the letter to Oronte of all people. Maybe falling for a self-important prig is an even worse crime than lying.

ALCESTE
Ah, here she is. My wrath intensifies.
I shall confront her with her tricks and lies,
And crush her utterly, and bring you then
A heart no longer slave to Célimène. (4.2.58)

Talk about a liar. Alceste changes his mind just a line or two after this quote. He can't stop lying to himself long enough to even stick to a plan, so what right does he have to be upset at Célimène?

ALCESTE
A scoundrel whose dishonesty is notorious
Emerges from another lie victorious!
Honor and right condone his brazen fraud,
While rectitude and decency applaud! (5.1.13)

The truth is, lying has its advantages. In Molière's version of seventeenth-century France, it might just be the best way to get ahead—provided you can fool everyone into believing you.

ALCESTE
And not this man alone, but all humanity
Do what they do from interest and vanity;
They prate of honor, truth, and righteousness,
But lie, betray, and swindle nonetheless. (5.1.37)

Man, this play has a dim view of humanity. Are we all lawless liars and deceivers? Well, maybe. But it also seems to have a dim view of Alceste, so maybe we should take what he said with a grain (or handful) of salt.

ACASTE
"As for the little Marquess, who sat squeezing my hand for such a long while yesterday, I find him in all respects the most trifling creature alive; and the only things of value about him are his cape and his sword. As for the man with the green ribbons…" (5.4.27)

So, it seems like it's not actually a problem that Célimène lied. The problem is that she got found out—and people's egos got hurt.

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