Summary and Analysis
Philinte recounts to Eliante the settlement of the quarrel between Oronte and Alceste and the latter's unbending obstinacy. Alceste would not change his opinion about Oronte's verses. The best he would do was to wish "that I could have thought better of your sonnet." On this note, Alceste and Oronte were directed to embrace, and the proceedings were concluded.
Philinte and Eliante next discuss Alceste's relationship with Célimène. Eliante admires Alceste for his honesty, and though it seems strange to her that Alceste should fancy such a coquette as Célimène, she reverts to something she said at the end of Act II: "love is blind and is not always a matter of temperamental affinities." Philinte craftily expresses the wish that Eliante's affection for Alceste be requited, but, then he goes on to show his true intentions by saying that if Alceste refuses her, he would be glad to accept her hand for himself.
After the favorable picture of a sincerely principled man is drawn of Alceste in the court, Eliante speaks up and expresses a certain admiration for Alceste: "There's something in its way noble and heroic in this sincerity he so prides himself on. It's a rare virtue in these days. I only wish there were more people like him." This comment functions as a type of sounding board for the audience. We have to join with Eliante in applauding Alceste's honesty and sincerity after having been exposed to so much hypocrisy in the other characters.
In this opening scene, we are given to understand for the first time that Philinte is also in love with Eliante. In contrast to Alceste, who speaks directly and frankly, Philinte uses much more tact and consideration — one is tempted to say dissimulation — in declaring his love for Eliante. Such tactics do, however, succeed in winning his loved one; Alceste, for failure to act similarly, loses his woman. Together, Philinte and Eliante will come to represent the closest there is to a norm in the play.