Study Guide

The Misanthrope Power

By Molière

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The low-brow's grown so powerful and rich,
And risen to a rank so bright and high
That virtue can but blush, and merit sigh. (1.1.135)

In this society, power and money excuses everything, including crime. Sure, Alceste's supposed to be a dupe, but we get the feeling that Molière didn't disagree with him entirely.

Your enemy's influence
Is great, you know...
That makes no difference.
It will; you'll see. (1.1.200)

Alceste doesn't really get the whole power thing. If virtue won over power, the Dalai Lama would be the most powerful man in the world. Oh, and Alceste would still lose, because he's a hypocrite.

I'm sure you won't refuse—if I may be frank—
A friend of my devotedness—and rank. (1.2.10)

Anyone who has suddenly become rich or famous could tell you that power usually comes along with a lot of friends. Excuse us. "Friends." And anyone who's ever needed to get out of a parking ticket can tell that it's good to have friends in high places. And—anyone who knows Alceste should know that Oronte's tactic is guaranteed to fail.

If, for example, there should be anything
You wish at court, I'll mention it to the King.
I have his ear, of course; it's quite well known
That I am much in favor with the throne.
In short, I am your servant. (1.2.47)

Oronte is dropping names because he knows how to use power, unlike Alceste. And, you know what? Oronte may be sleazy, but he's not the one being followed out of Paris by a lawsuit at the end of the play. Even though he was pretty buddy-buddy with the king himself, we get the idea that Molière hated name-droppers.

Heavens! One can't antagonize such men;
Why, they're the chartered gossips of the court,
And have a say in things of every sort.
One must receive them, and be full of charm;
They're no great help, but they can do you harm,
And though your influence be ever so great,
They're hardly the best people to alienate. (2.3.10)

Célimène knows what power is about. It can help you, but it can hurt you twice as easily—which is why it's really in your best interest to buddy up with the court (or school, or neighborhood) gossips.

Tell us about Géralde.
That tiresome ass.
He mixes only with the titled class,
And fawns on dukes and princes, and is bored
With anyone who's not at least a lord.
The man's obsessed with rank, and his discourses
Are all of hounds and carriages and horses;
He uses Christian names with all the great,
And the word Milord, with him, is out of date. (2.5.45)

Ok, more Frenchy-French stuff. Célimène is saying that Géralde tutoyers everyone, including nobility. You see, in France there are two words for "you," "tu" and "vous." "Vous" is the fancy respectable one, while "tu" is what you say to family, friends, and social inferiors. So the way Géralde talks and acts would have been a big deal, like going up to the president and being like "Wazzup, Prez!"

Oh, how I wish they had sufficient sense
At court, to recognize your excellence!
They wrong you greatly, Sir. How it must hurt you
Never to be rewarded for your virtue! (3.7.9)

Alceste has no power because he refuses to exchange his morals for clout. In other words, he doesn't realize that, sometimes, things are more powerful if you give them away.

I only wish, Sir, that you had your eye
On some position at court, however high;
You'd only have to hint at such a notion
For me to set the proper wheels in motion;
I've certain friendships I'd be glad to use
To get you any office you might choose. (3.7.137)

Poor Arsinoé. She'd love to sell her power for Alceste's love, but she doesn't know that he's not for sale. Maybe she should try buying used.

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