Critical Essays A General View of the Play


In the closing scenes of the drama, Alceste makes an offer to Célimène which involves her retiring from society and joining him in a life of solitude. To become a hermit as he suggests to Célimène is, however, a negation of society. This is a flat denial by Alceste, then, that man is essentially a social animal. His request also presents an alternative that is the reverse of the traditional end of comedy: Comedy usually celebrates man in society.

Célimène will not go with Alceste to live as a recluse because she is too much of a vibrant member of a living society, and her spirit in the play, though several times condemned for its apparent facade, has to be celebrated by the audience. She is left to be exposed by the fops because she must suffer for her falseness.

Society is affirmed at the end of the play in the persons of Philinte and Eliante, two of the more reasonable characters in the play. By their marriage, society is carried on after the turmoil of the exposures and expulsions in the last act.

Molière seems to be judging human behavior, which word implies Man in Society, as if it were on a linear scale. The extremes of behavior — too scrupulous and too unscrupulous — are equally execrable. Alceste cannot exist in society because he does not allow for man's being a fallen creature, weak in many ways. Céimène and her ilk cannot, or rather should not, survive because they are nothing but "fallen" creatures. Each group, of course, has to be judged in terms of the other, and since we know that Célimène (and her group) are the majority in the social system, a great deal of the criticism Molière metes out is directed at the particular society of his day, as somehow violating the principles of the generic thing, Society with a capital "S" which is affirmed in the comedy.

Philinte and Eliante are the closest thing we have to "normal" characters in the play. By their union at the end Society is rejuvenated. But it should be noted that even these two have weaknesses — Philinte is at times too compromising (Act IV, he lets his friend be slandered by Célimène), and Eliante is too weak. Molière, however, seems to recognize that man does have weaknesses — and so must those who carry on Society.