The Misanthrope, by Molière

Act I

Scene I. — Philinte, Alceste.

Philinte. What is the matter? What ails you?

Alceste (seated). Leave me, I pray.

Philinte. But, once more, tell me what strange whim . . .

Alceste. Leave me, I tell you, and get out of my sight.

Philinte. But you might at least listen to people, without getting angry.

Alceste. I choose to get angry, and I do not choose to listen.

Philinte. I do not understand you in these abrupt moods, and although we are friends, I am the first . . .

Alceste (rising quickly). I, your friend? Lay not that flattering unction to your soul. I have until now professed to be so; but after what I have just seen of you, I tell you candidly that I am such no longer; I have no wish to occupy a place in a corrupt heart.

Philinte. I am then very much to be blamed from your point of view, Alceste?

Alceste. To be blamed? You ought to die from very shame; there is no excuse for such behaviour, and every man of honour must be disgusted at it. I see you almost stifle a man with caresses, show him the most ardent affection, and overwhelm him with protestations, offers, and vows of friendship. Your ebullitions of tenderness know no bounds; and when I ask you who that man is, you can scarcely tell me his name; your feelings for him, the moment you have turned your back, suddenly cool; you speak of him most indifferently to me. Zounds! I call it unworthy, base, and infamous, so far to lower one’s self as to act contrary to one’s own feelings, and if, by some mischance, I had done such a thing, I should hang myself at once out of sheer vexation.

Philinte. I do not see that it is a hanging matter at all; and I beg of you not to think it amiss if I ask you to show me some mercy, for I shall not hung myself, if it be all the same to you.

Alceste. That is a sorry joke.

Philinte. But, seriously, what would you have people do?

Alceste. I would have people be sincere, and that, like men of honour, no word be spoken that comes not from the heart.

Philinte. When a man comes and embraces you warmly, you must pay him back in his own coin, respond as best you can to his show of feeling, and return offer for offer, and vow for vow.

Alceste. Not so. I cannot bear so base a method which your fashionable people generally affect; there is nothing I detest so much as the contortions of these great time-and-lip servers, these affable dispensers of meaningless embraces, these obliging utterers of empty words, who view every one in civilities, and treat the man of worth and the fop alike. What good does it do if a man heaps endearments on you, vows that he is your friend, that he believes in you, is full of zeal for you, esteems and loves you, and lauds you to the skies, when he rushes to do the same to the first rapscallion he meets? No, no, no heart with the least self-respect cares for esteem so prostituted; he will hardly relish it, even when openly expressed, when he finds that he shares it with the whole universe. Preference must be based on esteem, and to esteem every one is to esteem no one. Since you abandon yourself to the vices of the times, zounds! you are not the man for me. I decline this over-complaisant kindness, which uses no discrimination. I like to be distinguished; and, to cut the matter short, the friend of all mankind is no friend of mine.

Philinte. But when we are of the world, we must confirm to the outward civilities which custom demands.

Alceste. I deny it. We ought to punish pitilessly that shameful pretence of friendly intercourse. I like a man to be a man, and to show on all occasions the bottom of his heart in his discourse. Let that be the thing to speak, and never let our feelings be hidden beneath vain compliments.

Philinte. There are many cases in which plain speaking would become ridiculous, and could hardly be tolerated. And, with all due allowance for your unbending honesty, it is as well to conceal your feelings sometimes. Would it be right or decent to tell thousands of people what we think of them? And when we meet with some one whom we hate or who displeases us, must we tell him so openly?

Alceste. Yes.

Philinte. What! Would you tell old Emilia, that it ill becomes her to set up for a beauty at her age, and that the paint she uses disgusts everyone?

Alceste. Undoubtedly.

Philinte. Or Dorilas, that he is a bore, and that there is no one at court who is not sick of hearing him boast of his courage, and the lustre of his house?

Alceste. Decidedly so.

Philinte. You are jesting.

Alceste. I am not jesting at all; and I would not spare any one in that respect. It offends my eyes too much; and whether at Court or in town, I behold nothing but what provokes my spleen. I become quite melancholy and deeply grieved to see men behave to each other as they do. Everywhere I find nothing but base flattery, injustice, self-interest, deceit, roguery. I cannot bear it any longer; I am furious; and my intention is to break with all mankind.

Philinte. This philosophical spleen is somewhat too savage. I cannot but laugh to see you in these gloomy fits, and fancy that I perceive in us two, brought up together, the two brothers described in The School for Husbands, who . . .

Alceste. Good Heavens! drop your insipid comparisons.

Philinte. Nay, seriously, leave off these vagaries. The world will not alter for all your meddling. And as plain speaking has such charms for you, I shall tell you frankly that this complaint of yours is as good as a play, wherever you go, and that all those invectives against the manners of the age, make you a laughing stock to many people.

Alceste. So much the better Zounds! so much the better. That is just what I want. It is a very good sign, and I rejoice at it. All men are so odious to me, that I should be sorry to appear rational in their eyes.

Philinte. But do you wish harm to all mankind?

Alceste. Yes I have conceived a terrible hatred for them.

Philinte. Shall all poor mortals, without exception, be included in this aversion? There are some, even in the age in which we live . . .

Alceste. No, they are all alike; and I hate all men: some, because they are wicked and mischievous; others because they lend themselves to the wicked, and have not that healthy contempt with which vice ought to inspire all virtuous minds. You can see how unjustly and excessively complacent people are to that bare-faced scoundrel with whom I am at law. You may plainly perceive the traitor through his mask; he is well known every-where in his true colors; his rolling eyes and his honeyed tones impose only on those who do not know him. People are aware that this low-bred fellow, who deserves to be pilloried, has, by the dirtiest jobs, made his way in the world; and that the splendid position he has acquired makes merit repine and virtue blush. Yet whatever dishonourable epithets may be launched against him everywhere, nobody defends his wretched honour. Call him a rogue, an infamous wretch, a confounded scoundrel if you like, all the world will say “yea, ” and no one contradicts you. But for all that, his bowing and scraping are welcome everywhere; he is received, smiled upon, and wriggles himself into all kinds of society; and, if any appointment is to be secured by intriguing, he will carry the day over a man of the greatest worth. Zounds! these are mortal stabs to me, to see vice parleyed with; and sometimes times I feel suddenly inclined to fly into a wilderness far from the approach of men.

Philinte. Great Heaven? let us torment ourselves a little less about the vices of our age, and be a little more lenient to human nature. Let us not scrutinize it with the utmost severity, but look with some indulgence at its failings. In society, we need virtue to be more pliable. If we are too wise, we may be equally to blame. Good sense avoids all extremes, and requires us to be soberly rational. This unbending and virtuous stiffness of ancient times shocks too much the ordinary customs of our own; it requires too great perfection from us mortals; we must yield to the times without being too stubborn; it is the height of folly to busy ourselves in correcting the world. I, as well as yourself, notice a hundred things every day which might be better managed, differently enacted; but whatever I may discover at any moment, people do not see me in a rage like you. I take men quietly just as they are; I accustom my mind to bear with what they do; and I believe that at Court, as well as in the city, my phlegm is as philosophical as your bile.

Alceste. But this phlegm, good sir, you who reason so well, could it not be disturbed by anything? And if perchance a friend should betray you; if he forms a subtle plot to get hold of what is yours; if people should try to spread evil reports about you, would you tamely submit to all this without flying into a rage?

Philinte. Ay, I look upon all these faults of which you complain as vices inseparably connected with human nature; in short, my mind is no more shocked at seeing a man a rogue, unjust, or selfish, than at seeing vultures, eager for prey, mischievous apes, or fury-lashed wolves.

Alceste. What! I should see myself deceived, torn to pieces, robbed, without being . . . Zounds! I shall say no more about it; all this reasoning is beside the point!

Philinte. Upon my word, you would do well to keep silence. Rail a little less at your opponent, and attend a little more to your suit.

Alceste. That I shall not do; that is settled long ago.

Philinte. But whom then do you expect to solicit for you?

Alceste. Whom? Reason, my just right, equity.

Philinte. Shall you not pay a visit to any of the judges?

Alceste. No. Is my cause unjust or dubious?

Philinte. I am agreed on that; but you know what harm intrigues do, and . . .

Alceste. No. I am resolved not to stir a step. I am either right or wrong.

Philinte. Do not trust to that.

Alceste. I shall not budge an inch.

Philinte. Your opponent is powerful, and by his underhand work, may induce . . .

Alceste. It does not matter.

Philinte. You will make a mistake.

Alceste. Be it so. I wish to see the end of it.

Philinte. But . . .

Alceste. I shall have the satisfaction of losing my suit.

Philinte. But after all . . .

Alceste. I shall see by this trial whether men have sufficient impudence, are wicked, villainous, and perverse enough to do me this injustice in the face of the whole world.

Philinte. What a strange fellow!

Alceste. I could wish, were it to cost me ever so much, that, for the fun of the thing, I lost my case.

Philinte. But people will really laugh at you, Alceste, if they hear you go on in this fashion.

Alceste. So much the worse for those who will.

Philinte. But this rectitude, which you exact so carefully in every case, this absolute integrity in which you intrench yourself, do you perceive it in the lady you love? As for me, I am astonished that, appearing to be at war with the whole human race, you yet, notwithstanding everything that can render it odious to you, have found aught to charm your eyes. And what surprises me still more, is the strange choice your heart has made. The sincere Eliante has a liking for you, the prude Arsinoé looks with favour upon you, yet your heart does not respond to their passion; whilst you wear the chains of Célimène, who sports with you, and whose coquettish humour and malicious wit seems to accord so well with the manner of the times. How comes it that, hating these things as mortally as you do, you endure so much of them in that lady? Are they no longer faults in so sweet a charmer? Do not you perceive them, or if you do, do you excuse them?

Alceste. Not so. The love I feel for this young window does not make me blind to her faults, and, notwithstanding the great passion with which she has inspired me, I am the first to see, as well as to condemn, them. But for all this, do what I will, I confess my weakness, she has the art of pleasing me. In vain I see her faults; I may even blame them; in spite of all, she makes me love her. Her charms conquer everything, and, no doubt, my sincere love will purify her heart from the vices of our times.

Philinte. If you accomplish this,it will be no small task, Do you believe yourself beloved by her?

Alceste. Yes, certainly! I should not love her at all, did I not think so.

Philinte. But if her love for you is so apparent, how comes it that your rivals cause you so much uneasiness?

Alceste. It is because a heart, deeply smitten, claims all to itself; I come here only with the intention of telling her what, on this subject, my feelings dictate.

Philinte. Had I but to choose, her cousin Eliante would have all my love. Her heart, which values yours, is stable and sincere; and this more compatible choice would have suited you better.

Alceste. It is true; my good sense tells me so every day; but good sense does not always rule love.

Philinte. Well, I fear much for your affections; and the hope which you cherish may perhaps . . .

Scene ii. — Oronte, Alceste, Philinte.

Oronte (to Alceste). I have been informed yonder, that Eliante and Célimène have gone out to make some purchases. But as I heard that you were here, I came to tell you, most sincerely, that I have conceived the greatest regard for you, and that, for a long time, this regard has inspired me with the most ardent wish to be reckoned among your friends. Yes; I like to do homage to merit; and I am most anxious that a bond of friendship should unite us. I suppose that a zealous friend, and of my standing, is not altogether to be rejected. (All this time Alceste has been musing, and seems not to be aware that Oronte is addressing him. He looks up only when Oronte says to him) — It is to you, if you please, that this speech is addressed.

Alceste. To me, sir?

Oronte. To you. Is it in any way offensive to you?

Alceste. Not in the least. But my surprise is very great; and I did not expect that honour.

Oronte. The regard in which I hold you ought not to astonish you, and you can claim it from the whole world.

Alceste. Sir . . .

Oronte. Our whole kingdom contains nothing above the dazzling merit which people discover in you.

Alceste. Sir . . .

Oronte. Yes; for my part, I prefer you to the most important in it.

Alceste. Sir . . .

Oronte. May Heaven strike me dead, if I lie! And, to convince you, on this very spot, of my feelings, allow me, sir, to embrace you with all my heart, and to solicit a place in your friendship. your hand, if you please. Will you promise me your friendship?

Alceste. Sir . . .

Oronte. What! you refuse me?

Alceste. Sir, you do me too much honour; but friendship is a sacred thing, and to lavish it on every occasion is surely to profane it. Judgment and choice should preside at such a compact; we ought to know more of each other before engaging ourselves; and it may happen that our dispositions are such that we may both of us repent of our bargain.

Oronte. Upon my word! that is wisely said; and I esteem you all the more for it. Let us therefore leave it to time to form such a pleasing bond; but, meanwhile I am entirely at your disposal. If you have any business at Court, every one knows how well I stand with the King; I have his private ear; and, upon my word, he treats me in everything with the utmost intimacy. In short, I am yours in every emergency; and, as you are a man of brilliant parts, and to inaugurate our charming amity, I come to read you a sonnet which I made a little while ago, and to find out whether it be good enough for publicity.

Alceste. I am not fit, sir, to decide such a matter. You will therefore excuse me.

Oronte. Why so?

Alceste. I have the failing of being a little more sincere in those things than is necessary.

Oronte. The very thing I ask; and I should have reason to complain, if, in laying myself open to you that you might give me your frank opinion, you should deceive me, and disguise anything from me.

Alceste. If that be the case, sir, I am perfectly willing.

Oronte. Sonnet . . . It is a sonnet . . .Hope . . . It is to a lady who flattered my passion with some hope. Hope . . . They are not long, pompous verses, but mild, tender and melting little lines. (At every one of these interruptions he looks at Alceste).

Alceste. We shall see.

Oronte. Hope . . . I do not know whether the style will strike you as sufficiently clear and easy and whether you will approve of my choice of words.

Alceste. We shall soon see, sir.

Oronte. Besides, you must know that I was only a quarter of an hour in composing it.

Alceste. Let us hear, sir; the time signifies nothing.

Oronte (reads).

Hope, it is true, oft gives relief,

Rocks for a while our tedious pain,

But what a poor advantage, Phillis,

When nought remains, and all is gone!

Philinte. I am already charmed with this little bit.

Alceste (softly to Philinte). What! do you mean to tell me that you like this stuff?

Oronte.

You once showed some complaisance,

But less would have sufficed,

You should not take that trouble

To give me nought but hope.

Philinte. In what pretty terms these thoughts are put!

Alceste. How now! you vile flatterer, you praise this rubbish!

Oronte.

If I must wait eternally,

My passion, driven to extremes,

Will fly to death.

Your tender cares cannot prevent this,

Fair Phillis, aye we’re in despair,

When we must hope for ever.

Philinte. The conclusion is pretty, amorous, admirable.

Alceste (softly, and aside to Philinte). A plague on the conclusion! I wish you had concluded to break your nose, you poisoner to the devil!

Philinte. I never heard verses more skilfully turned.

Alceste (softly, and aside). Zounds! . . .

Oronte (to Philinte). You flatter me; and you are under the impression perhaps . . .

Philinte. No, I am not flattering at all.

Alceste (softly, and aside). What else are you doing, you wretch?

Oronte (to Alceste). But for you, you know our agreement. Speak to me, I pray, in all sincerity.

Alceste. These matters, Sir, are always more or less delicate, and every one is fond of being praised for his wit. But I was saying one day to a certain person, who shall be nameless, when he showed me some of his verses, that a gentleman ought at all times to exercise a great control over that itch for writing which sometimes attacks us, and should keep a tight rein over the strong propensity which one has to display such amusements; and that, in the frequent anxiety to show their productions, people are frequently exposed to act a very foolish part.

Oronte. Do you wish to convey to me by this that I am wrong in desiring . . .

Alceste. I do not say that exactly. But I told him that writing without warmth becomes a bore; that there needs no other weakness to disgrace a man; that, even if people, on the other hand, had a hundred good qualities, we view them from their worst sides.

Oronte. Do you find anything to object to in my sonnet?

Alceste. I do not say that. But, to keep him from writing, I set before his eyes how, in our days, that desire had spoiled a great many very worthy people.

Oronte. Do I write badly? Am I like them in any way?

Alceste. I do not say that. But, in short, I said to him, What pressing need is there for you to rhyme, and what the deuce drives you into print? If we can pardon the sending into the world of a badly-written book, it will only be in those unfortunate men who write for their livelihood. Believe me, resist your temptations, keep these effusions from the public, and do not, how much so-ever you may be asked, forfeit the reputation which you enjoy at Court of being a man of sense and a gentleman, to take, from the hands of a greedy printer, that of a ridiculous and wretched author. That is what I tried to make him understand.

Oronte. This is all well and good, and I seem to understand you. But I should like to know what there is in my sonnet to . . .

Alceste. Candidly, you had better put it in your closet. You have been following bad models, and your expressions are not at all natural. Pray what is it — Rocks for a while our tedious pain? And what, When nought remains, and all is gone? What, You should not take that trouble to give me nought but hope? And what, Phillis, aye we’re in despair when we must hope for ever? This figurative style, that people are so vain of, is beside all good taste and truth; it is only a play upon words, sheet affectation, and it is not thus that nature speaks. The wretched taste of the age is what I dislike in this. Our forefathers, unpolished as they were, had a much better one; and I value all that is admired now-a-days far less than an old song which I am going to repeat to you:

Had our great monarch granted me

His Paris large and fair;

And I straightway must quit for aye

The love of my true dear;

Then would I say, King Hal, I pray,

Take back your Paris fair,

I love much mo my dear, I trow,

I love much mo my dear.”

This versification is not rich, and the style is antiquated; but do you not see that it is far better than all those trumpery trifles against which good sense revolts, and that in this, passion speaks from the heart?

Had our great monarch granted me

His Paris large and fair;

And I straightway must quit for aye

The love of my true dear;

Then would I say, King Hal, I pray,

Take back your Paris fair,

I love much mo my dear, I trow,

I love much mo my dear.”

This is what a really loving heart would say. (To Philinte, who is laughing). Yes, master wag, in spite of all your wit, I care more for this than for all the florid pomp and the tinsel which everybody is admiring now-a-days.

Oronte. And I, I maintain that my verses are very good.

Alceste. Doubtless you have your reasons for thinking them so; but you will allow me to have mine, which, with your permission, will remain independent.

Oronte. It is enough for me that others prize them.

Alceste. That is because they know how to dissemble, which I do not.

Oronte. Do you really believe that you have such a great share of wit?

Alceste. If I praised your verses, I should have more.

Oronte. I shall do very well without your approbation.

Alceste. You will have to do without it, if it be all the same.

Oronte. I should like much to see you compose some on the same subject, just to have a sample of your style.

Alceste. I might, perchance, make some as bad; but I should take good care not to show them to any one.

Oronte. You are mighty positive; and this great sufficiency . . .

Alceste. Pray, seek some one else to flatter you, and not me.

Oronte. But, my little Sir, drop this haughty tone.

Alceste. In truth, my big Sir, I shall do as I like.

Philinte (coming between them). Stop, gentlemen! that is carrying the matter too far. Cease, I pray.

Oronte. Ah! I am wrong, I confess; and I leave the field to you. I am your servant, Sir, most heartily.

Alceste. And I, Sir, am your most humble servant.

Scene iii. — Philinte, Alceste.

Philinte. Well! you see. By being too sincere, you have got a nice affair on your hands; I saw that Oronte, in order to be flattered . . .

Alceste. Do not talk to me.

Philinte. But . . .

Alceste. No more society for me.

Philinte. Is it too much . . .

Alceste. Leave me alone.

Philinte. If I . . .

Alceste. Not another word.

Philinte. But what . . .

Alceste. I will hear no more.

Philinte. But . . .

Alceste. Again?

Philinte. People insult . . .

Alceste. Ah! zounds! this is too much. Do not dog my steps.

Philinte. You are making fun of me; I shall not leave you.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09