Character Analysis Alceste


Alceste is the main character in the play; he is, in fact, the "misanthrope" from whom the play derives its name. From the beginning to the end of the action, we witness no real change for the better in his character. Rejecting all the usual types of social amenities as well as the uglier forms of social hypocrisy, he repeatedly insists upon the strictest honesty in all situations between people in society. His unbending opinions often evoke laughter in the play as they manage to get him into difficulty after difficulty. He loses a case at court because he won't compromise. He also loses his loved one, Célimène, because of his insistence that society thrives on hypocrisy, and his ultimate desire to withdraw completely from the world of men. The irony implicit in Alceste's affair with Célimène is a further source for ridiculing the misanthrope's position. Throughout the play his own cry, not unlike the cries of other morally "rigid" comic characters, is that the rest of the world is "unreasonable."

While Alceste claims to be the only man governed solely by his rational faculties, he is also the one who has practically become a slave to his passion for Célimène. This contradiction troubles Alceste, and affords the audience a chuckle, for Célimène is the epitome of all the hypocrisy which disguises itself with the name "social etiquette."

But for all of Alceste's eccentricity — and it is the "eccentric" which comedy tries to cure in man — and for all the tomfoolery he engages in as a "matter of principle," we do feel a certain pity for him. Molière's comic technique in ridiculing the young man acts as a two-edged sword. Alceste is absurd in the society simply because he has scruples about such things as hypocrisy, lying, and skirting the law. Alceste is surely not the only one to be criticized; Parisian society, and human nature in general, which in fact does tolerate the existence of the numerous vices Alceste decries, are equally taken to task. Indeed, part of the greatness of Molière's play is its complexity; the author never gives the impression that any one point of view is the unquestionably "correct" one. We must join in with society at the conclusion of the play in rejecting an Alceste who has chosen to separate himself from man's company, but there remains something within us which perceives the scrap of wisdom in Alceste's symbolic action.