The Misanthrope
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The Misanthrope

A Play


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eBook - ePub

The Misanthrope

A Play


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The classic comedy about seventeenth-century French society—and a man who despises everyone.

This play in verse, which debuted in 1666 in Paris, lives on as one of the greatest masterpieces of stage comedy. It follows Alceste—who constantly bemoans the flaws, foibles, and hypocrisies of the human race—and his competition with many other suitors for the hand of the alluring and flirtatious Celimene. In addition to its sheer entertainment value as an intriguing tale of romantic rivalries, The Misanthrope sparks debate on questions of honesty, idealism, and social niceties to this day.

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Act I

Scene I

What is it? What’s the matter?
ALCESTE, seated
Leave me, pray.
But tell me first, what new fantastic humour …
Leave me alone, I say. Out of my sight!
But can’t you listen, at least, and not be angry?
I will be angry, and I will not listen.
I cannot understand your gusts of temper;
And though we’re friends, I’ll be the very first …
ALCESTE, starting to his feet
What, I, your friend? Go strike that off your books.
I have professed to be so hitherto;
But after seeing what you did just now,
I tell you flatly I am so no longer
And want no place in such corrupted hearts.
Am I so very wicked, do you think?
Go to, you ought to die for very shame!
Such conduct can have no excuse; it must
Arouse abhorrence in all men of honour.
I see you load a man with your caresses,
Profess for him the utmost tenderness,
And overcharge the zeal of your embracings
With protestations, promises, and oaths;
And when I come to ask you who he is
You hardly can remember even his name!
Your ardour cools the moment he is gone,
And you inform me you care nothing for him!
Good God! tis shameful, abject, infamous,
So basely to play traitor to your soul;
And if, by evil chance, I’d done as much,
I should go straight and hang myself for spite.
It doesn’t seem to me a hanging matter,
And I’ll petition for your gracious leave
A little to commute your rigorous sentence,
And not go hang myself for that, an’t please you.
How unbecoming is your pleasantry!
But seriously, what would you have me do?
Be genuine; and like a man of honour
Let no word pass unless it’s from the heart.
But when a man salutes you joyfully,
You have to pay him back in his own coin,
Make what response you can to his politeness,
And render pledge for pledge, and oath for oath.
No, no, I can’t endure these abject manners
So much affected by your men of fashion;
There’s nothing I detest like the contortions
Of all your noble protestation-mongers,
So generous with meaningless embraces,
So ready with their gifts of empty words,
Who vie with all men in civilities,
And treat alike the true man and the coxcomb.
What use is it to have a man embrace you,
Swear friendship, zeal, esteem, and faithful love,
And loudly praise you to your face, then run
And do as much for any scamp he meets?
No, no. No self-respecting man can ever
Accept esteem that ‘s prostituted so;
The highest honour has but little charm
If given to all the universe alike;
Real love must rest upon some preference;
You might as well love none, as everybody.
Since you go in for these prevailing vices,
By God, you ‘re not my kind of man, that’s all;
I’ll be no sharer in the fellowship
Of hearts that make for merit no distinction;
I must be singled out; to put it flatly,
The friend of all mankind’s no friend for me.
But, while we’re of the world, we must observe
Some outward courtesies that custom calls for.
No, no, I tell you; we must ruthlessly
Chastise this shameful trade in make-beliefs
Of friendship. Let’s be men; on all occasions
Show in our words the truth that’s in our hearts,
Letting the heart itself speak out, not hiding
Our feelings under masks of compliment.
There’s many a time and place when utter frankness
Would be ridiculous, or even worse;
And sometimes, no offence to your high honour,
tis well to hide the feelings in our hearts.
Would it be proper, decent, in good taste,
To tell a thousand people your opinion
About themselves? When you detest a man,
Must you declare it to him, to his face?
What!—you’d tell that ancient dame, Emilia,
That she’s too old to play the pretty girl,
And that her painting is a public scandal?
Of course.
And Dorilas, that he’s a bore;
And that he’s wearied every ear at court
With tales of his exploits and high extraction?
By all means.
You are joking.
No. I’ll spare
No one. My eyes are far too much offended.