Study Guide

The Misanthrope Act 1

By Molière

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Act 1

Scene 1

  • We meet two guys, Philinte and Alceste, right in the middle of a tiff. It seems like Philinte has done something to make Alceste not want to be BFFs anymore.
  • The problem is that Philinte doesn't tell people that he hates them to their face. Alceste, because apparently he is the first hardcore supporter of keeping it real, doesn't like what Philinte is doing, which is basically backbiting.
  • Philinte doesn't get what Alceste is so upset about. What else is he supposed to do?
  • Alceste is all like, tell them you don't like them, and Philinte is all like, but if someone wants to be nice to me, shouldn't I be nice back?
  • This is when we really get a taste of the curmudgeon that Alceste really is. He lets loose with a tirade about everyone and their momma being liars and hypocrites. Philinte tries to convince him social niceties are, you know, nice, but Alceste isn't having it. He will tell you to your face that you are ugly if you ask him.
  • So don't ask
  • There is not a single person that Alceste doesn't hate. He has the opposite of low self-esteem; he has low esteem for everyone else. Just like Daria.
  • Philinte thinks that this is going a bit far, but Alceste is convinced. Also, In case you couldn't guess by now, Alceste is not a very popular guy.
  • That's just fine by Alceste.
  • Now we're in for another rant about how much everyone sucks and why exactly he hates them. It is a taxonomy of hatred.
  • Man, Alceste is a barrel of fun.
  • Philinte answers Alceste's speech with one of his own, telling Alceste to calm down, since accepting people is way better for your blood pressure than just ranting and raging all day.
  • So we've learned a little something about Philinte: people are dumb, basically, so you might as well get over it.
  • Well, at least he seems nicer than Alceste.
  • And then Philinte brings up that little lawsuit that Alceste is dealing with.
  • Alceste seems to think that these are the old days of jousting where the most righteous person wins.
  • It is not. Everyone knows that the person with the most money gets the best lawyer, and that person is not Alceste. Philinte is worried this will not work out so well, and so are we
  • Then there's the matter of Alceste's love interest, Célimène. He is all I hate falseness and hypocrisy right? Well, turns out he loves the queen of falseness.
  • That's like hating spectacle and loving Lady GaGa. That's like hating bronzer but loving Kim Kardashian. That's like hating exploitation and loving Toddlers and Tiaras.
  • But Alceste just can't help himself, even though there are two other ladies, Éliante and Arsinoé, who would just love for Alceste to notice them. Philinte tells him that if it were up to him, he would choose Éliante because at least she's better than Célimène. (Ooh, rousing endorsement.)
  • So we have a love, what, trapezoid? We're not sure. Philinte loves Éliante, who loves Alceste, who loves Célimène, who loves who knows who.
  • Plus, there's a lawsuit. Sounds like fun.

Scene 2

  • Enter Oronte, who's trying his hardest to flatter Alceste for some crazy reason. Boy, is he barking up the wrong misanthrope.
  • Alceste is surprisingly nice when he lets Oronte down. No BFF for you, Oronte.
  • Oronte can't take the hint that Alceste doesn't kiss on the first date. He tries the time-honored tactic of showing off his connections with the king and then topping it off by asking for Alceste's opinion of his poetry.
  • We imagine it coming out of his vest in slow motion because it is probably the worst idea ever. Alceste even warns Oronte that it's a bad idea. Basically, it would only be a good idea to ask for Alceste's opinion of your poetry if you are William The Man Shakespeare himself.
  • The only thing worse would be asking him if your baby is cute. You don't want to hear that you have an ugly baby.
  • Anyway, Oronte pulls out his poem, and he can barely start reading it, he's so nervous. Philinte is trying to cheer him up by throwing some praise his way, which is good. He's going to need it.
  • Eventually, Oronte chokes out the fourteen lines. (It's a sonnet.) When he's done reading, Oronte asks Alceste what he thinks.
  • Instead of answering directly, Alceste shows more restraint than we thought him capable of and says I'm not pointing any fingers, but some people shouldn't write poetry.
  • Wink wink. Nudge nudge. He means you, Oronte.
  • Oronte is either stupid or a masochist, because he keeps asking for a direct answer, and finally Alceste gives it to him. Oronte's poem stinks. Hard. And Alceste lists all of the ways.
  • Obviously, Oronte is offended, but Alceste stands his ground.
  • The scene ends with a bit of hilarious verbal sparring between Alceste and Oronte. Imagine them saying these lines while about to beat each other up. Modern fight scenes would be way more entertaining with dialogue like this.
  • We're guessing Oronte doesn't want to be friends anymore

Scene 3

  • This is a short little scene that is way more hilarious in the original.
  • Basically, Alceste tells Philinte to shut his mouth and go away, all without letting Philinte get a word in.
  • And that's it for Act I.

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