The Misanthrope, by Molière

Act iv

Scene I. — Eliante, Philinte

Philinte. No, never have I seen so obstinate a mind, nor a reconciliation more difficult to effect. In vain was Alceste tried on all sides; he would still maintain his opinion; and never, I believe, has a more curious dispute engaged the attention of those gentlemen. “No, gentlemen, ” exclaimed he, “I will not retract, and I shall agree with you on every point, except on this one. At what is Oronte offended? and with what does he reproach me? Does it reflect upon his honour that he cannot write well? What is my opinion to him, which he has altogether wrongly construed? One may be a perfect gentleman, and write bad verses; those things have nothing to do with honour. I take him to be a gallant man in every way; a man of standing, of merit, and courage, anything you like, but he is a wretched author. I shall praise, if you wish, his mode of living, his lavishness, his skill in riding, in fencing, in dancing; but as to praising his verses, I am his humble servant; and if one has not the gift of composing better, one ought to leave off rhyming altogether, unless condemned to it on forfeit of one’s life. ” In short, all the modification they could with difficulty obtain from him, was to say, in what he thought a much gentler tone — “I am sorry, Sir, to be so difficult to please; and out of regard to you, I could wish, with all my heart, to have found your sonnet a little better. ” And they compelled them to settle this dispute quickly with an embrace.

Eliante. He is very eccentric in his doings; but I must confess that I think a great deal of him; and the candour upon which he prides himself has something noble and heroic in it. It is a rare virtue now-a- days, and I, for one, should not be sorry to meet with it everywhere.

Philinte. As for me, the more I see of him, the more I am amazed at that passion to which his whole heart is given up. I cannot conceive how, with a disposition like his, he has taken it into his head to love at all; and still less can I understand how your cousin happens to be the person to whom his feelings are inclined.

Eliante. That shows that love is not always produced by compatibility of temper; and in this case, all the pretty theories of gentle sympathies are belied.

Philinte. But do you think him beloved in return, to judge from what we see?

Eliante. That is a point not easily decided. How can we judge whether it be true she loves? Her own heart is not so very sure of what it feels. It sometimes loves, without being quite aware of it, and at other times thinks it does, without the least grounds.

Philinte. I think that our friend will have more trouble with this cousin of yours than he imagines; and to tell you the truth, if he were of my mind, he would bestow his affections elsewhere; and by a better choice, we should see him, Madam, profit by the kind feelings which your heart evinces for him.

Eliante. As for me, I do not mince matters, and I think that in such cases we ought to act with sincerity. I do not run counter to his tender feelings; on the contrary, I feel interested in them; and, if it depended only on me, I would unite him to the object of his love. But if, as it may happen in love affairs, his affections should receive a check, and if Célimène should respond to the love of any one else, I could easily be prevailed upon to listen to his addresses, and I should have no repugnance whatever to them on account of their rebuff elsewhere.

Philinte. Nor do I, from my side, oppose myself, Madam, to the tender feelings which you entertain for him; and he himself, if he wished, could inform you what I have taken care to say to him on that score. But if, by the union of those two, you should be prevented from accepting his attentions, all mine would endeavour to gain that great favour which your kind feelings offer to him; only too happy, Madam, to have them transferred to myself, if his heart could not respond to yours.

Eliante. You are in the humour to jest, Philinte.

Philinte. Not so, Madam, I am speaking my inmost feelings. I only wait the opportune moment to offer myself openly, and am wishing most anxiously to hurry its advent.

Scene ii. — Alceste, Eliante, Philinte.

Alceste. Ah, Madam! obtain me justice, for an offence which triumphs over all my constancy.

Eliante. What ails you? What disturbs you?

Alceste. This much ails me, that it is death to me to think of it; and the upheaving of all creation would less overwhelm me than this accident. It is all over with me . . . My love . . . I cannot speak.

Eliante. Just endeavour to be composed.

Alceste. Oh, just Heaven; can the odious vices of the basest minds be joined to such beauty?

Eliante. But, once more, what can have . . .

Alceste. Alas! All is ruined! I am! I am betrayed! I am stricken to death! Célimène . . . would you credit it! Célimène deceives me and is faithless.

Eliante. Have you just grounds for believing so?

Philinte. Perhaps it is a suspicion, rashly conceived; and your jealous temper often harbours fancies . . .

Alceste. Ah! ’Sdeath, please to mind your own business, Sir. (To Eliante). Her treachery is but too certain, for I have in my pocket a letter in her own handwriting. Yes, Madam, a letter, intended for Oronte, has placed before my eyes my disgrace and her shame; Oronte, whose addresses I believed she avoided, and whom, of all my rivals, I feared the least.

Philinte. A letter may deceive by appearances, and is sometimes not so culpable as may be thought.

Alceste. Once more, sir, leave me alone, if you please, and trouble yourself only about your own concerns.

Eliante. You should moderate your passion; and the insult . . .

Alceste. You must be left to do that, Madam; it is to you that my heart has recourse to-day to free itself from this goading pain. Avenge me on an ungrateful and perfidious relative who basely deceives such constant tenderness. Avenge me for an act that ought to fill you with horror.

Eliante. I avenge you? How?

Alceste. By accepting my heart. Take it, Madam, instead of the false one; it is in this way that I can avenge myself upon her; and I shall punish her by the sincere attachment, and the profound love, the respectful cares, the eager devotions, the ceaseless attentions which this heart will henceforth offer up at your shrine.

Eliante. I certainly sympathize with you in your sufferings, and do not despise your proffered heart; but the wrong done may not be so great as you think, and you might wish to forego this desire for revenge. When the injury proceeds from a beloved object, we form many designs which we never execute; we may find as powerful a reason as we like to break off the connection, the guilty charmer is soon again innocent; all the harm we wish her quickly vanishes, and we know what a lover’s anger means.

Alceste. No, no, Madam, no. The offence is too cruel; there will be no relenting, and I have done with her. Nothing shall change the resolution I have taken, and I should hate myself for ever loving her again.

Here she comes. My anger increases at her approach. I shall taunt her with her black guilt, completely put her to the blush, and, after that, bring you a heart wholly freed from her deceitful attractions.

Scene iii. — Célimène, Alceste.

Alceste (aside). Grant, Heaven, that I may control my temper.

Célimène (aside). Ah! (To Alceste). What is all this trouble that I see you in, and what means those long- drawn sighs, and those black looks which you cast at me?

Alceste. That all the wickedness of a heart that is capable is not to be compared to your perfidy; that neither fate, hell, nor Heaven in its wrath, ever produced anything so wicked as you are.

Célimène. These are certainly pretty compliments, which I admire very much.

Alceste. Do not jest. This is no time for laughing. Blush rather, you have cause to do so; and I have undeniable proofs of your treachery. This is what the agitations of my mind prognosticated; it was not without cause that my love took alarm; by these frequent suspicions, which were hateful to you, I was trying to discover the misfortune which my eyes have beheld; and in spite of all your care and your skill in dissembling, my star foretold me what I had to fear. But do not imagine that I will bear unavenged this slight of being insulted. I know that we have no command over our inclinations, that love will everywhere spring up spontaneously, that there is no entering a heart by force, and that every soul is free to name its conqueror: I should thus have no reason to complain if you had spoken to me without dissembling, and rejected my advances from the very beginning; my heart would then have been justified in blaming fortune alone. But to see my love encouraged by a deceitful avowal on your part, is an action so treacherous and perfidious, that it cannot meet with too great a punishment; and I can allow my resentment to do anything. Yes, yes; after such an outrage, fear everything; I am no longer myself, I am mad with rage. My senses, struck by the deadly blow with which you kill me, are no longer governed by reason; I give way to the outbursts of a just wrath, and am no longer responsible for what I may do.

Célimène. Whence comes, I pray, such a passion? Speak! Have you lost your senses?

Alceste. Yes, yes, I lost them when, to my misfortune, I beheld you, and thus took the poison which kills me, and when I thought to meet with some sincerity in those treacherous charms that bewitched me.

Célimène. Of what treachery have you to complain?

Alceste. Ah! how double-faced she is! how well she knows how to dissemble! But I am fully prepared with the means of driving her to extremities. Cast your eyes here and recognize your writing. This picked- up note is sufficient to confound you, and such proof cannot easily be refuted.

Célimène. And this is the cause of your perturbation of spirits?

Alceste. You do not blush on beholding this writing!

Célimène. And why should I blush?

Alceste. What! You add boldness to craft! Will you disown this note because it bears no name?

Célimène. Why should I disown it, since I wrote it.

Alceste. And you can look at it without becoming confused at the crime of which its style accuses you!

Célimène. You are, in truth, a very eccentric man.

Alceste. What! you thus out-brave this convincing proof! And the contents so full of tenderness for Oronte, need have nothing in them to outrage me, or to shame you?

Célimène. Oronte! Who told you that this letter is for him?

Alceste. The people who put it into my hands this day. But I will even suppose that is for some one else. Has my heart any less cause to complain of yours? Will you, in fact, be less guilty toward me?

Célimène. But if it is a woman to whom this letter is addressed, how can it hurt you, or what is there culpable in it?

Alceste. Hem! The prevarication is ingenious, and the excuse excellent. I must own that I did not expect this turn; and nothing but that was wanting to convince me. Do you dare to have recourse to such palpable tricks? Do you think people entirely destitute of common sense? Come, let us see a little by what subterfuge, with what air, you will support so palpable a falsehood; and how you can apply to a woman every word of this note which evinces so much tenderness! Reconcile, if you can, to hide your deceit, what I am about to read . . . .

Célimène. It does not suit me to do so. I think it ridiculous that you should take so much upon yourself, and tell me to my face what you have the daring to say to me!

Alceste. No, no, without flying into a rage, take a little trouble to explain these terms.

Célimène. No, I shall do nothing of the kind, and it matters very little to me what you think upon the subject.

Alceste. I pray you, show me, and I shall be satisfied, if this letter can be explained as meant for a woman.

Célimène. Not at all. It is for Oronte; and I will have you believe it. I accept all his attentions gladly; I admire what he says, I like him, and I shall agree to whatever you please. Do as you like, and act as you think proper; let nothing hinder you and do not harass me any longer.

Alceste (aside). Heavens! can anything more cruel be conceived, and was ever heart treated like mine? What! I am justly angry with her, I come to complain, and I am quarreled with instead! My grief and my suspicions are excited to the utmost, I am allowed to believe everything, she boasts of everything; and yet, my heart is still sufficiently mean not to be able to break the bonds that hold it fast, and not to arm itself with a generous contempt for the ungrateful object of which it is too much enamoured. (To Célimène). Perfidious woman, you know well how to take advantage of my great weakness, and to employ for your own purpose that excessive, astonishing, and fatal love which your treacherous looks have inspired! Defend yourself at least from this crime that overwhelms me, and stop pretending to be guilty. Show me, if you can, that this letter is innocent; my affection will even consent to assist you. At any rate, endeavour to appear faithful, and I shall strive to believe you such.

Célimène. Bah, you are mad with your jealous frenzies, and do not deserve the love which I have for you. I should much like to know what could compel me to stoop for you to the baseness of dissembling; and why, if my heart were disposed towards another, I should not say so candidly. What! does the kind assurance of my sentiments towards you not defend me sufficiently against all your suspicions? Ought they to possess any weight at all with such a guarantee? Is it not insulting me even to listen to them? And since it is with the utmost difficulty that we can resolve to confess our love, since the strict honour of our sex, hostile to our passion, strongly opposes such a confession, ought a lover who sees such an obstacle overcome for his sake, doubt with impunity our avowal? And is he not greatly to blame in not assuring himself of the truth of that which is never said but after a severe struggle with oneself? Begone, such suspicions deserve my anger, and you are not worthy of being cared for. I am silly, and am vexed at my own simplicity in still preserving the least kindness for you. I ought to place my affections elsewhere, and give you a just cause for complaint.

Alceste. Ah! you traitress! mine is a strange infatuation for you; those tender expressions are, no doubt, meant only to deceive me. But it matters little, I must submit to my fate; my very soul is wrapt up in you; I will see to the bitter end how your heart will act towards me, and whether it will be black enough to deceive me.

Célimène. No, you do not love me as you ought to love.

Alceste. Indeed! Nothing is to be compared to my exceeding love; and, in its eagerness to show itself to the whole world, it goes even so far as to form wishes against you. Yes, I could wish that no one thought you handsome, that you were reduced to a miserable existence; that Heaven, at your birth, had bestowed upon you nothing; that you had no rank, no nobility, no wealth, so that I might openly proffer my heart, and thus make amends to you for the injustice of such a lot; and that, this very day, I might have the joy and the glory of seeing you owe everything to my love.

Célimène. This is wishing me well in a strange way! Heaven grant that you may never have occasion . . . But here comes Monsieur Dubois curiously decked out.

Scene iv. — Célimène, Alceste, Dubois.

Alceste. What means this strange attire, and that frightened look? What ails you

Dubois. Sir . . .

Alceste. Well?

Dubois. The most mysterious event.

Alceste. What is it?

Dubois. Our affairs are turning out badly, Sir.

Alceste. What?

Dubois. Shall I speak out?

Alceste. Yes, do, and quickly.

Dubois. Is there no one there?

Alceste. Curse your trifling! Will you speak?

Dubois. Sir, we must beat a retreat.

Alceste. What do you mean?

Dubois. We must steal away from this quietly.

Alceste. And why?

Dubois. I tell you that we must leave this place.

Alceste. The reason?

Dubois. You must go, Sir, without staying to take leave.

Alceste. But what is the meaning of this strain?

Dubois. The meaning is, Sir, that you must make yourself scarce.

Alceste. I shall knock you on the head to a certainty, booby, if you do not explain yourself more clearly.

Dubois. A fellow, Sir, with a black dress, and as black a look, got as far as the kitchen to leave a paper with us, scribbled over in such a fashion that old Nick himself could not have read it. It is about your law-suit, I make no doubt; but the very devil, I believe, could not make head nor tail of it.

Alceste. Well! what then? What has the paper to do with the going away of which you speak, you scoundrel?

Dubois. I must tell you, Sir, that, about an hour afterwards, a gentleman who often calls, came to ask for you quite eagerly, and not finding you at home, quietly told me, knowing how attached I am to you, to let you know . . . Stop a moment, what the deuce is his name?

Alceste. Never mind his name, you scoundrel, and tell me what he told you.

Dubois. He is one of your friends, in short, that is sufficient. He told me that for your very life you must get away from this, and that you are threatened with arrest.

Alceste. But how! has he not specified anything?

Dubois. No He asked me for ink and paper, and has sent you a line from which you can, I think, fathom the mystery!

Alceste. Hand it over then.

Célimène. What can all this mean?

Alceste. I do not know; but I am anxious to be informed. Have you almost done, devil take you?

Dubois (after having fumbled for some time for the note). After all, Sir, I have left it on your table.

Alceste. I do not know what keeps me from . . .

Célimène. Do not put yourself in a passion, but go and unravel this perplexing business.

Alceste. It seems that fate, whatever I may do has sworn to prevent my having a conversation with you. But, to get the better of her, allow me to see you again, Madam, before the end of the day.

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