The Misanthrope, by Molière

Act ii

Scene I. — Alceste, Célimène.

Alceste. Will you have me speak candidly to you, madam? Well, then, I am very much dissatisfied with your behaviour. I am very angry when I think of it; and I perceive that we shall have to break with each other. Yes; I should only deceive you were I to speak otherwise. Sooner or later a rupture is unavoidable; and if I were to promise the contrary a thousand times, I should not be able to bear this any longer.

Célimène. Oh, I see! it is to quarrel with me, that you wished to conduct me home?

Alceste. I do not quarrel. But your disposition, madam, is too ready to give any first comer an entrance into your heart. Too many admirers beset you; and my temper cannot put up with that.

Célimène. Am I to blame for having too many admirers? Can I prevent people from thinking me amiable? and am I to take a stick to drive them away, when they endeavour by tender means to visit me?

Alceste. No, madam, there is no need for a stick, but only a heart less yielding and less melting at their love-tales. I am aware that your good looks accompany you, go where you will; but your reception retains those whom your eyes attract; and that gentleness, accorded to those who surrender their arms, finishes on their hearts the sway which your charms began. The too agreeable expectation which you offer them increases their assiduities towards you; and your complacency, a little less extended, would drive away the great crowd of so many admirers. But, tell me, at least, madam, by what good fortune Clitandre has the happiness of pleasing you so mightily? Upon what basis of merit and sublime virtue do you ground the honour of your regard for him? Is it by the long nail on his little finger that he has acquired the esteem which you display for him? Are you, like all the rest of the fashionable world, fascinated by the dazzling merit of his fair wig? Do his great rolls make you love him? Do his many ribbons charm you? Is it by the attraction of his great German breeches that he has conquered your heart, whilst at the same time he pretended to be your slave? Or have his manner of smiling, and his falsetto voice, found out the secret of moving your feelings?

Célimène. How unjustly you take umbrage at him! Do not you know why I countenance him; and that he has promised to interest all his friends in my lawsuit?

Alceste. Lose your lawsuit, madam, with patience, and do not countenance a rival whom I detest.

Célimène. But you are getting jealous of the whole world.

Alceste. It is because the whole world is so kindly received by you.

Célimène. That is the very thing to calm your frightened mind, because my goodwill is diffused over all: you would have more reason to be offended if you saw me entirely occupied with one.

Alceste. But as for me, whom you accuse of too much jealousy, what have I more than any of them, madam, pray?

Célimène. The happiness of knowing that you are beloved.

Alceste. And what grounds has my love-sick heart for believing it?

Célimène. I think that, as I have taken the trouble to tell you so, such an avowal ought to satisfy you.

Alceste. But who will assure me that you may not, at the same time, say as much to everybody else perhaps?

Célimène. Certainly, for a lover, this is a pretty amorous speech, and you make me out a very nice lady. Well! to remove such a suspicion, I retract this moment everything I have said; and no one but yourself shall for the future impose upon you. Will that satisfy you?

Alceste. Zounds! why do I love you so! Ah! if ever I get heart-whole out of your hands, I shall bless Heaven for this rare good fortune. I make no secret of it; I do all that is possible to tear this unfortunate attachment from my heart; but hitherto my greatest efforts have been of no avail; and it is for my sins that I love you thus.

Célimène. It is very true that your affection for me is unequalled.

Alceste. As for that, I can challenge the whole world. My love for you cannot be conceived; and never, madam, has any man loved as I do.

Célimène. Your method, however, is entirely new, for you love people only to quarrel with them; it is in peevish expression alone that your feelings vent themselves; no one ever saw such a grumbling swain.

Alceste. But it lies with you alone to dissipate this ill-humour. For mercy’s sake let us make an end of all these bickerings; deal openly with each other, and try to put a stop . . .

Scene ii. — Célimène, Alceste, Basque.

Célimène. What is the matter?

Basque. Acaste is below.

Célimène. Very well! bid him come up.

Scene iii. — Célimène, Aleceste.

Alceste. What! can one never have a little private conversation with you? You are always ready to receive company; and you cannot, for a single instant, make up your mind to be “not at home.’’

Célimène. Do you wish me to quarrel with Acaste?

Alceste. You have such regard for people, which I by no means like.

Célimène. He is a man never to forgive me, if he knew that his presence could annoy me.

Alceste. And what is that to you, to inconvenience yourself so . . .

Célimène. But, good Heaven! the amity of such as he is of importance; they are a kind of people who, I do not know how, have acquired the right to be heard at Court. They take their part in every conversation; they can do you no good, but they may do you harm; and, whatever support one may find elsewhere, it will never do to be on bad terms with these very noisy gentry.

Alceste. In short, whatever people may say or do, you always find reasons to bear with every one; and your very careful judgment . . .

Scene iv. — Alceste, Célimène, Basque.

Basque. Clitandre is here too, madam.

Alceste. Exactly so. (Wishes to go.)

Célimène. Where are you running to?

Alceste. I am going.

Célimène. Stay.

Alceste. For what?

Célimène. Stay.

Alceste. I cannot.

Célimène. I wish it.

Alceste. I will not. These conversations only weary me; and it is too bad of you to wish me to endure them.

Célimène. I wish it, I wish it.

Alceste. No, it is impossible.

Célimène. Very well, then; go, begone; you can do as you like.

Scene V. — Eliante, Philinte, Acaste, Clitandre, Alceste, Célimène, Basque.

Eliante (to Célimène). Here are the two marquises coming up with us. Has anyone told you?

Célimène. Yes. (to Basque). Place chairs for everyone. Basque places chairs, and goes out) (To Alceste). You are not gone?

Alceste. No; but I am determined, madam, to have you make up your mind either for them or for me.

Célimène. Hold your tongue.

Alceste. This very day you shall explain yourself.

Célimène. You are losing your senses.

Alceste. Not at all. You shall declare yourself.

Célimène. Indeed!

Alceste. You must take your stand.

Célimène. You are jesting, I believe.

Alceste. Not so. But you must choose. I have been too patient.

Clitandre. Egad! I have just come from the Louvre, where Cléonte, at the levee, made himself very ridiculous. Has he not some friend who could charitably enlighten him upon his manners?

Célimène. Truth to say, he compromises himself very much in society; everywhere he carries himself with an air that is noticed at first sight, and when after a short absence you meet him again, he is still more absurd than ever.

Acaste. Egad! Talk of absurd people, just now, one of the most tedious ones was annoying me. That reasoner, Damon, kept me, if you please, for a full hour in the broiling sun, away from my Sedan chair.

Célimène. He is a strange talker, and one who always finds the means of telling you nothing with a great flow of words. There is no sense at all in his tittle-tattle, and all that we hear is but noise.

Eliante (to Philinte). This beginning is not bad; and the conversation takes a sufficiently agreeable turn against our neighbours.

Clitandre. Timante, too, Madam, is another original.

Célimène. He is a complete mystery from top to toe, who throws upon you, in passing, a bewildered glance, and who, without having anything to do, is always busy. Whatever he utters is accompanied with grimaces; he quite oppresses people by his ceremonies. To interrupt a conversation, he has always a secret to whisper to you, and that secret turns out to be nothing. Of the merest molehill he makes a mountain, and whispers everything in your ear, even to a “good-day.’’

Acaste. And Geralde, Madam?

Célimène. That tiresome story-teller! He never comes down from his nobleman’s pedestal; he continually mixes with the best society, and never quotes any one of minor rank than a Duke, Prince, or Princess. Rank is his hobby, and his conversation is of nothing but horses, carriages, and dogs. He thee’s and thou’s persons of the highest standing, and the word Sir is quite obsolete with him.

Clitandre. It is said that he is on the best of terms with Bélise.

Célimène. Poor silly woman, and the dreariest company! When she comes to visit me, I suffer from martyrdom; one has to rack one’s brain perpetually to find out what to say to her; and the impossibility of her expressing her thoughts allows the conversation to drop every minute. In vain you try to overcome her stupid silence by the assistance of the most commonplace topics; even the fine weather, the rain, the heat and the cold are subjects, which, with her, are soon exhausted. Yet for all that, her calls, unbearable enough, are prolonged to an insufferable length; and you may consult the clock, or yawn twenty times, but she stirs no more than a log of wood.

Acaste. What think you of Adraste?

Célimène. Oh! What excessive pride! He is a man positively puffed out with conceit. His self-importance is never satisfied with the Court, against which he inveighs daily; and whenever an office, a place, or a living is bestowed on another, he is sure to think himself unjustly treated.

Clitandre. But young Cléon, whom the most respectable people go to see, what say you of him?

Célimène. That it is to his cook he owes his distinction, and to his table that people pay visits.

Eliante. He takes pains to provide the most dainty dishes.

Célimène. True; but I should be very glad if he would not dish up himself. His foolish person is a very bad dish, which, to my thinking, spoils every entertainment which he gives.

Philinte. His uncle Damis is very much esteemed; what say you to him, Madam?

Célimène. He is one of my friends.

Philinte. I think him a perfect gentleman, and sensible enough.

Célimène. True; but he pretends to too much wit, which annoys me. he is always upon stilts, and, in all his conversations, one sees him labouring to say smart things. Since he took it into his head to be clever, he is so difficult to please that nothing suits his taste. he must needs find mistakes in everything that one writes, and thinks that to bestow praise does not become a wit, that to find fault shows learning, that only fools admire and laugh, and that, by not approving of anything in the works of our time, he is superior to all other people. Even in conversations he finds something to cavil at, the subjects are too trivial for his condescension; and, with arms crossed on his breast, he looks down from the height of his intellect with pity on what everyone says.

Acaste. Drat it! his very picture.

Clitandre (to Célimène). You have an admirable knack of portraying people to the life.

Alceste. Capital, go on, my fine courtly friends. You spare no one, and everyone will have his turn. Nevertheless, let but any one of those persons appear, and we shall see you rush to meet him, offer him your hand, and, with a flattering kiss, give weight to your protestations of being his servant.

Clitandre. Why this to us? If what is said offends you, the reproach must be addressed to this lady.

Alceste. No, gadzooks! it concerns you; for your assenting smiles draw from her wit all these slanderous remarks. Her satiracal vein is incessantly recruited by the culpable incense of your flattery; and her mind would find fewer charms in raillery, if she discovered that no one applauded her. Thus it is that to flatterers we ought everywhere to impute the vices which are sown among mankind.

Philinte. But why do you take so great an interest in those people, for you would condemn the very things that are blamed in them?

Célimène. And is not this gentleman bound to contradict? Would you have him subscribe to the general opinion; and must he not everywhere display the spirit of contradiction with which Heaven has endowed him? Other people’s sentiments can never please him. He always supports a contrary idea, and he would think himself too much of the common herd, were he observed to be of any one’s opinion but his own. The honour of gainsaying has so many charms for him, that he very often takes up the cudgels against himself; he combats his own sentiments as soon as he hears them from other folks’ lips.

Alceste. In short, madam, the laughters are on your side; and you may launch your satire against me.

Philinte. But it is very true, too, that you always take up arms against everything that is said; and, that your avowed spleen cannot bear people to be praised or blamed.

Alceste. ’Sdeath! spleen against mankind is always seasonable, because they are never in the right, and I see that, in all their dealings, they either praise impertinently, or censure rashly.

Célimène. But . . .

Alceste. No, Madam, no, though I were to die for it, you have pastimes which I cannot tolerate; and people are very wrong to nourish in your heart this great attachment to the very faults which they blame in you.

Clitandre. As for myself, I do not know; but I openly acknowledge that hitherto I have thought this lady faultless.

Acaste. I see that she is endowed with charms and attractions; but the faults which she has have not struck me.

Alceste. So much the more have they struck me; and far from appearing blind, she knows that I take care to reproach her with them. The more we love any one, the less we ought to flatter her. True love shows itself by overlooking nothing; and, were I a lady, I would banish all those mean-spirited lovers who submit to all my sentiments, and whose mild complacencies every moment offer up incense to my vagaries.

Célimène. In short, if hearts were ruled by you we ought, to love well, to relinquish all tenderness, and make it the highest aim of perfect attachment to rail heartily at the persons we love.

Eliante. Love, generally speaking, is little apt to put up with these decrees, and lovers are always observed to extol their choice. Their passion never sees aught to blame in it, and in the beloved all things become loveable. They think their faults perfections, and invent sweet terms to call them by. The pale one vies with the jessamine in fairness; another, dark enough to frighten people, becomes an adorable brunette; the lean one has a good shape and is lithe; the stout one has a portly and majestic bearing; the slattern, who has few charms, passes under the name of a careless beauty; the giantess seems a very goddess in their sight; the dwarf is an epitome of all the wonders of Heaven; the proud one has a soul worthy of diadem; the artful brims with wit; the silly one is very good-natured; the chatterbox is good-tempered; and the silent one modest and reticent. Thus a passionate swain loves even the very faults of those of whom he is enamoured.

Alceste. And I maintain that . . .

Célimène. Let us drop the subject, and take a turn or two in the gallery. What! are you going, gentlemen?

Clitandre and Acaste. No, no, Madam.

Alceste. The fear of their departure troubles you very much. Go when you like, gentlemen; but I tell you beforehand that I shall not leave until you leave.

Acaste. Unless it inconveniences this lady, I have nothing to call me elsewhere the whole day.

Clitandre. I, provided I am present when the King retires, I have no other matter to call me away.

Célimène (to Alceste). You only joke, I fancy.

Alceste. Not at all. We shall soon see whether it is me of whom you wish to get rid.

Scene vi. — Alceste, Célimène, Eliante, Acaste, Philinte, Clitandre, Basque.

Basque (to Alceste). There is a man down stairs, sir, who wishes to speak to you on business which cannot be postponed.

Alceste. Tell him that I have no such urgent business.

Basque. He wears a jacket with large plaited skirts embroidered with gold.

Célimène (to Alceste). Go and see who it is, or else let him come in.

Scene vii. — Alceste, Célimène, Eliante, Acaste, Philinte, Clitandre, A Guard of the Maréchaussée.

Alceste (going to meet the guard). What may be your pleasure? Come in, sir.

Guard. I would have a few words privately with you, sir.

Alceste. You may speak aloud, sir, so as to let me know.

Guard. The Marshals of France, whose commands I bear, hereby summon you to appear before them immediately, sir.

Alceste. Whom? Me, sir?

Guard. Yourself.

Alceste. And for what?

Philinte (to Alceste). It is this ridiculous affair between you and Oronte.

Célimène (to Philinte). What do you mean?

Philinte. Oronte and he have been insulting each other just now about some trifling verses which he did not like; and the Marshals wish to nip the affair in the bud.

Alceste. Well, I shall never basely submit.

Philinte. But you must obey the summons: come, get ready.

Alceste. How will they settle this between us? Will the edict of these gentlemen oblige me to approve of the verses which are the cause of our quarrel? I will not retract what I have said; I think them abominable.

Philinte. But with a little milder tone . . .

Alceste. I will not abate one jot; the verses are execrable.

Philinte. You ought to show a more accommodating spirit. Come along.

Alceste. I shall go, but nothing shall induce me to retract.

Philinte. Go and show yourself.

Alceste. Unless an express order from the King himself commands me to approve of the verses which cause all this trouble, I shall ever maintain, egad, that they are bad, and that a fellow deserves hanging for making them. (To Clitandre and Acaste who are laughing). Hang it! gentlemen, I did not think I was so amusing.

Célimène. Go quickly whither you are wanted.

Alceste. I am going, Madam; but shall come back here to finish our discussion.

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