The Misanthrope by Molière
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Between my light, fluffy reads, I like to have something to chew on. That was my motivation in picking this one up. That and, why are people always talking about this play?
Having read it, now, I honestly have no idea.
The Misanthrope tells the story of Alceste, a man who despises all the hypocrisy and sucking-up in society. He wants honest discourse, and gives plenty of it, himself. Meanwhile, he's in love with Célimène, who embodies everything he hates about people. She's a two-faced flirt, only in love with herself, which only becomes more obvious as the play goes on.
Alceste is being sued for slander against a man nobody likes, but who has a lot of social capital. He's also pulled into court by Oronte, whose sonnet he gives his honest opinion of. To be fair, he did warn the man, and Oronte was egotistical enough to think he'd flatter him.
Célimène has a lot of suitors. Alceste begs her to dismiss them for his sake, but she enjoys being the center of attention too much. As the play goes on, her rivals and suitors start comparing notes, and see her for who she is.
The ending of the play seemed abrupt. Alceste's fate is left up in the air. That of his more temperate friend, Philinte, is pretty well settled. I think if I'd read the play seeing him as the protagonist, I might've found the ending less jarring. I really couldn't tell if the play is condemning Alceste's snobbery, or agreeing with his opinion of French society.
The translation I read is entirely in verse, which automatically made it sound more clever. Though, clearly, my sense of poetry is less refined than Molière's; I couldn't find the flaws that justified Alceste's poor opinion of Oronte's sonnet.
There isn't very good female representation here, but then, the men are no better. The cast is populated with vain, egotistical, two-faced people, with two exceptions other than Alceste. And Alceste's rigidity is its own problem.
It was an entertaining play, full of wit and glimpses into the time it was written, but I have no idea what's made it survive to modern day as a classic. It didn't strike me as particularly memorable.
I listened to an audio performance by L.A. Theatre Works. That made the characters harder to keep straight in my mind, but I do tend to believe that plays should be read as performances, as the writer intended. The actors do a fine job, and all the lines are able to be heard and understood.
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