The use of satire in The Misanthrope Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts, such as plays. In satire; vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, with the intent of shaming individuals and society itself. Moliere, an actor-manager-director-playwright all in one, knows and loves his stage as few have done, and writes with the use of literary satire. This research paper will express Moliere’s use of satire in his most profoundly written play, The Misanthrope.
In a time in which power is one of the rarest virtues, Moliere draws on the widest imaginable range, from the subtlest irony to the broadest slapstick, in order to reach the accomplishments of keeping an audience amused for five whole acts. Moliere usually works under extraordinary pressures, even during personally difficult times. Often, he will interpret his own thoughts and opinions into his works’ by using different varieties of satire. The Misanthrope was written during a personal crisis and is certainly coloured by Moliere’s own domestic difficulties.
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There is no doubt that personal suffering helped to give Moliere the astonishing insight into the human heart which he displays in The Misanthrope and which contributes to its richness and maturity. (Turnell) Turnell is noting that Moliere uses his own experiences to resemble the acts that are shown throughout this play. His voice is heard not only through the words the actors’ speak, but by the emotion you can feel. Moliere represents his own personal views and feelings on society by using ridicule and satire throughout this tragic comedy.
Examine The Misanthrope carefully and ask yourself whether a poet has ever represented his inner spirit more completely or more admirably. We can well call the content and treatment of this play “tragic. ” Such an impression at least it has always left with us, because that mood is brought before our minds eye which often in itself brings us to despair, and seems as if it would make the world unbearable. Here is represented the type of man who despite great cultivation has yet remained natural, and who with himself, as well as others, would like only too well to express himself with complete truth and sincerity.
But we see him in conflict with the social world, where one cannot mine without dissimulation and shallowness. (Von 212) Goethe Von states that Moliere does try to express himself by being truthful and sincere, but he appears to have conflict in doing so. Moliere seems to want to express his emotion and opinion in honest ways, but often becomes too honest. “Moliere’s play asks a question that is no easier to answer today than it was then: When one is asked to be completely honest, is it better to be painfully and perhaps hurtfully truthful, or should one prevaricate a little to save the feelings of a friend” (Kellerman 48).
In Moliere’s attempt to being honest, he comes off more hurtful. By doing so, he uses ridicule and satire in his play to demonstrate his views on society. Moliere also uses different genres of language and literature throughout his many works’. “In Le Misanthrope, Moliere looks into the subject of language, exploring how it may be used or abused as a means to communicate or conceal reality, to do battle in the realm of human interaction or to make social intercourse endurable” (Regosin 265-271).
Moliere uses language and communication from one character to another in a form of “battle” in order to get his personal view of society played out on the stage (Regosin 265-271). Satire is used by Moliere as the characters’ in The Misanthrope are interrogating, humiliating, and ridiculing one another with different forms of language and also different types of emotion. “A number of recent critics have sensed in Le Misanthrope a violence of emotion in the relationship among the characters akin to that of real combat and have described the action by using metaphors of battle” (Regosin 265-271).
Moliere generally explains his opinion of society by comparing the actions of the people around him to the actions of people in battle. Again and again Moliere infuses intense life into his characters’ by shaming one another through the eyes of society. Moliere never fails when attempting to reach out and explain to his audience the irony and ridicule that stains the heart of society day in and day out. It is as if Moliere sees a social game being played, and even cheated, throughout the places he lives in. He makes it his ultimate goal for his audience to view society in the unique and sometimes shallow way that he does. The Misanthrope, a masterpiece among Moliere’s comedies of manners, holds a universal appeal in its ridicule of social games of propriety and power-mongering in the context of a setting that is unique to the fashion, society, and politics of the Louis XIV era” (Brent). Moliere shows his inventiveness in extraordinary ways and extremely high levels. His play is a comedy that represents social satire, ridiculing the conventions of the society in which he lives in and observes. He expresses that humankind is full of hypocritical and ironic actions and views, which is how he creates this play to become a social tragedy.
A close examination of Le Misanthrope reveals Moliere’s initial ambition of wanting to be an actor and writer of tragedies. His protagonist, Alceste, could plausibly be portrayed as comic or tragic, and is ultimately an imponderable figure. Alceste’s disdain of insincerity in public life is compelling and undeniable; his suffering is authentic; and, at the end, he appears destined to a loveless and self-imposed isolation. At the same time, his self-awareness is deficient, his egotistical demands are not noble, and his speech and behavior contain more contradictions than one would expect from a man who proclaims to have everything figured out.
Alceste responds differently to the same social hypocrisy that Dom Juan exuberantly uses to validate and advance his own misbehavior, preparing exile to the insults of society contaminated by insincerity. (Bloom 67) Bloom is noting that Moliere claims to have everything figured out, but his actions on the stage state differently. Moliere seems to have certain contradictions about his own personal views on society, meaning things are not exactly matching up. Moliere uses different words and ideas to extract his feelings and viewpoints on society.
With using satire throughout his writing, he has his characters’ ridicule and humiliate one another in social settings. His role in the play is Alceste, the misanthrope, a man who is in love with a woman, Celimene, who claims to have love for not only him, but every other man that walks her path. She is full of unusual wit and intuition when delivering mocking words that ridicule the men that are not present, and delight the ones who are. Moliere not only uses satire when it comes to Celimene, but Alceste as well. Once Alceste discovers her hypocrisy, he humiliates her in front of all her suitors.
The humiliation and ridicule continues against Celimene and Alceste throughout the play. Not only did Alceste humiliate Celimene, but his close and personal friend Philinte as well. Alceste rejects Philinte when he finds him being flattered by Celimene. Moliere uses satire when Alceste ridicules Philinte in front of all society. Philinte continues to remain loyal to his friend and attempts to rescue him from the miserable isolation that Alceste is headed for. Moliere also uses satire when Alceste becomes frantic with jealousy and abandons sincerity just to plead with his lover to pretend to love him as well as he will pretend to believe her. His irony is turned on society as well as on Alceste, and the play ends, as we shall see, not with the restoration of order, but with something that is very like a mark or interrogation” (Turnell 398-426). Celimene finally admits to her wrongdoings at the end of the play by writing all of her suitors a letter of apology. One would normally assume a happy ending to this story, but that is not the case. Celimene calls out to Alceste saying she does not love him, and that he does not love her. When Celimene makes this statement, it interrogates Alceste.
In conclusion, this play is hypothetically about the different lifestyles of people who have different views on society. Because the characters’ have different points of view on the matter, there is often some sort of debate. As Knutson states: At the very beginning of the play, by an adroit manipulation of visual signs, Moliere plunges us straightaway into the unsettling ambiguities of his greatest masterpiece. The world view conveyed by the play as a whole comes remarkably close to the cynical urbanity of the Restoration. Neither Philinte nor Celimene, nor Alceste for that matter, has any illusions about mankind.
They all see society as a jungle of conflicting egos where one’s own self-interest must reign supreme. The debate revolves around the stance to take before this state of affairs. (Knutson 115-17) Moliere uses satire to describe the personalities and intake of each character. Alceste, Philinte, and Celimene have a different opinion on society. Each character wants their opinion to be above everyone else’s. In doing so, this causes conflict between each character and gives Moliere the unique opportunity to have an intense use of satire throughout this play.
What must have made this play highly comic for the seventeenth-century spectators, an aspect probably lost on audiences today, is the way it parodies that period’s conventions of tragic plots and language. This parody corresponds to ancient Greek notions of theater, which staged a “satyr” play after a series of three tragedies. The satyr play took the same material as the tragic ones but reversed it and played it as comedy. In Le Misanthrope, Moliere is standing Racine and tragic discourse on their heads. (Melzer 143-44) Melzer is noting that Moliere is definitely getting the job done correctly for the seventeenth-century time period.
Spectators can see certain effects by experiencing sentiments and desires from Alceste, but at the same time they can laugh about it while thinking those sentiments and desires are only his. Moliere can take serious issues out of society and form them into a playwright. Moliere masks his characters’ from his own general perspective, and the viewer must note that and keep that in mind while attending his plays. Moliere wrote The Misanthrope to become a basic form of satire in itself. From each character ridiculing and humiliating and even shaming one another through the eyes of the public, Moliere forms the shape of this tragedy with satire.
As a reflection on both theatrical and social exchange, Le Misanthrope offers a complex, and at times perplexing, mechanism of depiction and recognition. The duel between Celimene and Arsinoe in the third act provides an illustration. As a satire of salon conversations, Celimene’s portrait of the prude Arsinoe presents the following configuration: one character, representing the malicious wit social type, depicts another character, representing the prude social type. In terms of recognition, the scene offers the spectacle of one other character seeing herself in the portrait sketched by the other.
However, the moral value and mimetic fidelity of the portrait are placed in great doubt, due to the compromising situation of its enunciation, motivated as it is with irony. The scene thus exposes the underbelly of the social art of description and judgment. (Norman 155-56) Not only is satire full of ridicule and humiliation, but it is also full of description and judgment. Moliere has one character ridicule and judge the description of another character. By doing that, Moliere instills satire into his work. Moliere’s profoundly written play, The Misanthrope is full of satire through actions, words, thoughts, and views.
Moliere inflicted his personal and political view on society through his works’. He often comes off too honest at times, without noticing. He writes scenes regarding the moral effects of satiric comedy, and he does it well. “The moral uncertainty resulting from the shifting voices of satire is, I believe, the hallmark of Le Misanthrope, the secret of its continual ability to escape fixed interpretations” (Norman 155-56). As Norman stated, satire is the “hallmark” of Le Misanthrope (Norman 155-56). In his play, The Misanthrope, Moliere uses satire to ridicule, humiliate, and shame individuals and society itself.
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