Summary and Analysis
Arsinoé immediately begins to flatter Alceste by telling him that his merits are not justly appreciated and that he should be more in favor with the court. Alceste, however, points out that he has done absolutely nothing to warrant the attention of the court, and, furthermore, the court should be involved in more important matters than trying "to bring to light the worth of everybody." Arsinoé maintains that Alceste's virtues are praised in certain houses, but Alceste is not interested because the "present age has no distinction left" and everyone is praised with equal fervor. He will not allow Arsinoé to "set intrigues at work" to get him into the court; quite the contrary, he points out that he has no qualities that would make him congenial enough for life at the court.
Arsinoé drops the subject of the court and turns her attentions to Alceste's relationship with Célimène. She tells him that his beloved is unworthy of him. Alceste tries to remind Arsinoé that she is maligning her friend, but she continues to insist that Célimène has betrayed Alceste. She offers to prove the accusation if Alceste will accompany her to her own house, where she will show him "faithful proof of Célimène's unfaithfulness."
As her character is built up to this point, it would seem that Célimène would take delight in leaving Arsinoé and Alceste together because she knows that the older woman has a crush on Alceste and she also knows that Alceste is interested only in Célimène. The impending confrontation would surely amuse her. On the basic plot level, she goes off to write letters (perhaps the ones that trap her later in the play).
Arsinoé commits the obvious error of trying to sidle up to Alceste and to offer him the most blatant and false compliments. At first she tries the most obvious method of winning his favor — speaking of the need of the court to recognize Alceste. To any other person, this connection with the royal court would make a great impression, but to Alceste, any honors from the court would be superficial, and as he honestly evaluates himself, he tells Arsinoé that he has done nothing to warrant the esteem of the court. He has performed no brilliant deeds and therefore has no right to distinction in anyone's eyes.
When Arsinoé tries to say how she has heard men at court praise Alceste, he is once again true to his principles by saying that it is the custom today to praise a man whether he deserves it or not, and he himself is, therefore, not impressed by the praise.
He puts an end to this hypocrisy by telling her that his nature is not the type which could even endure a life at the court. Thus, throughout the conversation, we must admire Alceste to a limited degree for being honest in evaluating himself and his merits as far as his association with the court is concerned.
Again in this scene, when Alceste's frankness and sincerity are put to a test as far as Célimène is concerned, he falters. Although he claims that he is sincere and although Arsinoé is essentially telling him the truth, Alceste is annoyed that he is being told the truth. He would have preferred to be deceived and remain in the dark concerning Célimène's activities. Consequently, even though Alceste maintains that one must always be honest, and even though he is honest as far as his own merits are concerned, he is not consistent as far as Célimène is concerned. Throughout the play, his nature is contradictory when it comes to his love for Célimène.
In general, by the end of the first three acts we have had presented to us numerous pictures of fops, of flirts, of hypocrites, etc. Each has been exposed to show exactly what his nature is. Even Alceste cannot remain consistent to his philosophy when Célimène is concerned.