Study Guide

The Misanthrope Love

By Molière

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How is it that the traits you most abhor
Are bearable in this lady you adore?
Are you so blind with love that you can't find them?
Or do you contrive, in her case, not to mind them? (1.1.233)

They say love is blind, but Alceste must be deaf, dumb, and not even really paying attention, because he doesn't see that Célimène is basically the opposite of everything he claims to admire. Luckily, BFF Philinte is looking out for him.

True, true: each day my reason tells me so;
But reason doesn't rule in love, you know. (1.1.259)

Molière seems to really want to drive it home that love and reason are not connected, and that Alceste is not a reasonable person. Here's the question, then: if reasonable people can't be in love, then can Philinte really love Éliante?

Yes, it's a brand-new fashion, I agree:
You show your love by castigating me,
And all your speeches are enraged and rude.
I've never been so furiously wooed. (2.1.81)

Célimène points out to Alceste (and to us) that he is the worst boyfriend ever. Something is really off about Alceste and his way of "loving" Célimène. Like, he's the kind of guy who would get you a Weight Watchers membership for your birthday. Even though you never said anything about going on a diet.

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. (2.5.164)

Translation: men get so moony over their girlfriends that they turn all their faults into positive characteristics. You know, an annoying laugh is "cute"; clumsiness is "endearing." But, you know, we think this is kind of sweet. What does Molière want—everyone to hate each other?

For men like me, however, it makes no sense
To love on trust, and foot the whole expense. (3.1.39)

Translation: Acaste expects to get what he pays for, and if he pays for dinner, he expects something in return. If you know what we mean. Yay, entitled aristocrats!

If ever one of us can plainly prove
That Célimène encourages his love,
The other must abandon hope, and yield,
And leave him in possession of the field. (3.1.70)

So, we're ROFLing here, because Clitandre and Acaste actually seem to think that they have any say in who Célimène chooses. Like, have these guys actually read the play? The joke here is that, although they're treating her like exchangeable property, Célimène is totally in control of the situation. (Well, until the very end. But that's her own stupid fault.)

It does, indeed, belie the theory
That love is born of gentle sympathy,
And that the tender passion must be based
On sweet accords of temper and of taste. (4.1.43)

Éliante uses the example of Célimène and Alceste to prove that opposites attract … but, of course, they don't end up getting together. Like-minded Éliante and Philinte do. So, which is it? Birds of a feather, or opposites attract?

Her heart's a stranger to its own emotion.
Sometimes it thinks it loves, when no love's there;
At other times it loves quite unaware. (4.1.50)

It's interesting that with all this philosophizing about love going on, Célimène doesn't even know anything about her own heart. We guess if you lie enough, you start to believe it and forget the truth.

But if those two should marry, and so remove
All chance that he will offer you his love,
Then I'll declare my own, and hope to see
Your gracious favor pass from him to me.
In short, should you be cheated of Alceste,
I'd be most happy to be second best. (4.1.75)

Here's an example of how reasonable Philinte is: he's totally willing to be Éliante's rebound, once she realizes that it'd be a lot more reasonable to choose him. Huh. That doesn't sound very romantic, although we have to say that it does sound pretty sensible.

Yes, I could wish that you were wretchedly poor,
Unloved, uncherished, utterly obscure;
That fate had set you down upon the earth
Without possessions, rank, or gentle birth;
Then, by the offer of my heart, I might
Repair the great injustice of your plight;
I'd raise you from the dust, and proudly prove
The purity and vastness of my love. (4.3.151)

Alceste is telling Célimène that he loves her so much that he wishes she were poor and common, just so he could love her all over again and prove how noble and pure his love is. Sure. We just have to say that we doubt Célimène feels the same way, since she seems to enjoy being rich and fancy.

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