The Misanthrope and Other Plays

ISBN: 0451529871
ISBN 13: 9780451529879
By: Molière Lewis Seifert Donald M. Frame

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Classics Currently Reading Drama Fiction French Play Plays Theater Theatre To Read

About this book

Including The Misanthrope, The Doctor in Spite of Himself, The Miser, The Would-Be Gentleman, The Mischievous Machinations of Scapin, The Learned Woman, and The Imaginary Invalid, this collection highlights perhaps France's greatest playwright of all time.

Reader's Thoughts

Bruce

I'm going to use this space primarily to survey the works contained herein and give readers a sense of what they might find here. That said, I can't fail to plug my review of Bermel's book on farce, which contains pretty much everything I have to say on the subject at this point. It's not nearly as learned as the Bermel book I'm ostensibly reviewed, but it is significantly shorter. Anyway, you should consider my other review as context, inasmuch as it contains the perspective through which I read and enjoy plays such as those contained in this volume.Of all my recent reviews of farce anthologies, I'm saving my favorite author for last! I’ve now read eight Moliere works, of which I loved five, liked one (which I took turns reading aloud with my daughter), tolerated another, and hated the last. Six of these are included in the Penguin anthology I’m recommending here (as usual, readable translations, fine endnotes, excellent introductory material, but alas, minimal verse). Le malade imaginaire can be found in the Bermel anthology I’ve already cited and L’Avare you’ll want to find on your own, as I enjoyed it the most of all the plays I read. Okay, so here’s the general formula for Moliere’s monomania plays: in each one, lovers who wish to wed are kept apart by a father bedeviled by an obsession with ______________. The lovers are aided by one or more familial allies who try to talk sense to the rigid jerk, but remain frustrated until a clever ploy succeeds in separating reason from delusion. (And all live happily ever after.) I’ll take these in rank order, filling in the above synopsis with the appropriate blank, and sharing a pair of excerpts for your delectation and edification (personal note: of the plays listed below that form the basis of this anthology, those not in boldface are ones I wouldn't bother revisiting): The Miser (L’Avare) - money, of course. Lots of dodges here and wheels within wheels, right up until Harpagon’s final comeuppance. It’s hilarious (and credible) throughout. The Would-Be Gentleman (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme) - social prestige. A minor departure from the usual formula in that Monsieur Jourdain’s idee fixe renders him jolly rather than nasty, and that it is his own affaire d’amour he seeks to establish (he’s already married, y’see). This is a good humoured turn all round as Monsieur Jourdain is a Falstaffian character who appreciates any sort of joke, even those played on himself. The Doctor Despite Himself - Not a monomania play. The comedic set-up here is that a brute of a lumberjack (Sganarelle) has been mistaken for a famous physician and -- an initial comeuppance -- beaten into service. However, since the patient he needs to cure is only feigning her illness, her not-so-miraculous recovery confirms his genius, and the “doctor” thereafter placebos his way to a higher standing and drives from town legitimate practitioners and hucksters alike. The biggest joke is that this turn of events proves best for all concerned, because unlike the interventions of other learned fools and frauds who ply their trade, Sganarelle’s prescriptions of small doses of cheese and exercise at least do no harm. Allow me some extensive quotation of this play’s rapid-fire patter and see if you don’t fall in love with Moliere yourself. (Excerpts taken from Scenes II and IV of Act Two, pp. 162-165 in the Penguin version)The first bit opens with the concerned father of the “patient” Geronte greeting Sganarelle. Geronte’s the straight man, of course. Now imagine this reluctant “doctor” as played by Groucho Marx.GERONTE: Sir, I’m delighted to see you in my house. We’re in great need of your help.SGANARELLE (in doctor’s gown and steeple hat): Hippocrates says… that we should both keep our hats on.GERONTE: Hippocrates says that?SGANARELLE: Yes.GERONTE: In what chapter please?SGANARELLE: In his chapter… er… on hats.GERONTE: If Hippocrates says so, we must do it.SGANARELLE: My dear doctor, having heard of the remarkable things --GERONTE: May I ask whom you are talking to?SGANARELLE: You.GERONTE: But I’m not a doctor.SGANARELLE: You aren’t a doctor?GERONTE: No.SGANARELLE (picks up a cudgel and beats him as he was beaten): Honestly?GERONTE: Honestly. Ow! Ow! Ow!SGANARELLE: You are now. That’s all the qualifications I ever had.This is followed by some further foolishness -- Sganarelle chases the skirts chest of a wet nurse -- until Geronte is given opportunity to introduce his “sick” child.SGANARELLE: Is this the patient?GERONTE: Yes, she’s my only daughter. It would break my heart if she were to die.SGANARELLE: She mustn’t do anything of the kind. She can’t die without a doctor’s prescription. All of which really goes to show that the Marx Brothers’ vaudevillian schtick has a long and distinguished ancestry. The Imaginary Invalid (Le malade imaginaire) - hypochondria. For more, see my discussion in my review of the Bermel anthology. The Misanthrope - hypocrisy (really, a big hissy fit about others’ affected manners). As in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, the formula is slightly altered such that the exasperated Celimene is the thwarted lover, the subject of whose affection is, ironically, a shameless frivol and flirt. He can’t help himself, except that he can, and exiles himself to the country to prove it. Celimene’s such a sourpuss that his attractiveness to the ladies fails to leap from the page. Suffice it to say that the play struggles to work if the audience has trouble swallowing the premise. This is also one of those works that reads tragically if Celimene is portrayed too sympathetically; the audience will join the hero in despairing for humanity. (For an expansion of my thoughts on this, read my opinions on the Janus-like relationship between farce and tragedy.) Tartuffe (The Hypocrite) - a con artist’s fake piety. This wicked play wastes two full acts hyping the eponymous villain before introducing him, but when he arrives, watch out! Tartuffe will leave you squirming. The play ends with an outrageous regis ex machina (which makes sense once you know that royal patronage proved to be the only way Moliere could get this particular work staged). Put finger quotes around the tacked on finale, and Tartuffe reads as straight-on tragedy about the cruel implications of confusing faith with credulity.Such Foolish Affected Ladies - the tropes of soap opera romances. Only it’s not the father who is twisted, but his silly daughters. This is basically a one act with only enough material to sustain a skit, and is an early Moliere play in which the characters are close to cardboard cutouts.Those Learned Ladies - women’s right to education, although the impediment here is the mother, not the go-along-to-get-along father. I think Moliere really intended to mock faux-intellectual pretension (and the emperor’s new clothiers who peddle it) and would have succeeded better had he hewed more closely to Patience than to Princess Ida or considered the way that Shakespeare spoofed academia; I enjoyed a production of Love’s Labour’s Lost in which matching trios of young men and women pretended to foreswear love to devote themselves to study... in closer proximity to one another, naturally. However, Moliere’s is just an ugly work of chauvinism that actually uses its female protagonist to advocate the cliche that women best be left barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.Considering French farce as a whole, I confess to being a big Moliere fan. From the 19th century, my favorites remain any libretti that Jacques Offenbach has set to music. From the 20th century -- well, the recent past has (fortunately!) not winnowed down all the various farcical offerings from stage, screen, and broadcast to allow any kind of thoroughgoing sample, but --Oh, alright, I'll confess that in addition to the other works cited above, after Jean-Paul Sartre and Irish ex-pat Samuel Beckett my taste in turns primarily (entirely?) to farces by native English speakers (I also have a preference for satire, which is not to say that I see firewalls between genres). George Abbott. Woody Allen. Charlie Chaplin. Nora Ephron. William Goldsmith. Harold Ramis. Not a complete list by any means.Still, if you’re looking to sample a variety of French farces by different authors, I think Albert Bermel's and Eric Bentley’s respective collections the best places to begin. I enjoyed half of Bermel’s and two-thirds of Bentley’s samples. In entering this review, and my respective reviews of Bentley, Bermel, three Feydeau anthologies, and probably Plautus and Terence (anthologies of whose works I am reading at the time of posting this), you can look for me to include brief synopses of (most of) the plots found within and at least one excerpt of representative dialogue.

Mike

Fuh-nee.

RK Byers

only "The Doctor Despite Himself" was really funny.

Krista Ivy

An interesting look at the church of the time.

Simon Mcleish

Originally published on my blog here (with other Molière reviews) in between October 1998 and January 1999.The Would-Be GentlemanMolière's delightful exposé of the world of the rich bourgeois aspiring to take a place in upper class society never fails to delight. M. Jourdain is so anxious to fit into that society where he never can; he will always be an outsider there because he is only aping a way of life which the others above him have led from the cradle. He would be better off to imitate the Boffins in Dickens' Our Mutual Friend, who continue to talk of their disreputable trade in fashionable drawing rooms because it is inconceivable to them that the dust heaps could fail to be an object of passionate interest.The Would-be Gentleman is certainly not perfect; it is really a series of sketches, almost as though Molière was writing a series of treatments for a sit-com season. This is because of a distinct lack of overall plot, the main plot seeming almost tacked on. This is the courtship between Cléonte and Jourdain's daughter Lucille. Jourdain refuses to allow Cléonte to marry her because he comes from Jourdain's old background; he wants Lucille to marry a noble. Cléonte takes advantage of Jourdain's extreme snobbishness by disguising himself as a Turkish prince who has heard of Lucille's famous beauty.The best parts of the play are the episodes at the beginning, completely independent from the Cléonte/Lucille plot, concerning Jourdain's attempts to better himself at the hands of his dancing master, music master, fencing master and a philosopher. Molière makes much comedy from his lack of aptitude for these arts, which is only equalled by his incomprehension of them. (They include the famous scene in which Jourdain is amazed to discover that he has been speaking prose all his life, when he thought he was just talking.)In a later age, Molière would surely have integrated these scenes more closely with what comes later, and into the overall plot of the drama. Since The Would-Be Gentleman is actually quite a short play, this could have been acheived without losing anything; but the tightly plotted farce was not Molière's genre, and we must be grateful for what his genius did leave us.The MisanthropeThe Misanthrope has two juvenile leads, who represent different aspects of human nature - indeed, as surmised by John Wood in his introduction, different aspects of the personality of Molière himself. On the one hand, we have Alceste, disgusted with the hypocrisy of the world, who has declared that there is no good in man, and who has vowed never to lie about the virtues of others. He is, of course, the misanthrope of the title. This attitude gets him into a considerable amount of trouble, including a law suit which he loses because he refuses to flatter the judge and the enmity of Oronte, whose poetry he cannot bring himself to praise. His big problem is that he is in love with the flirtatious and shallow Célimène (as is his rival Oronte), and continues to be so despite his knowledge of all her faults, ones which he despises in others.On the other hand, we have his friend Philinte, who has the instincts of a courtier, always ready to find a word in praise of others. Molière manages to make him sufficiently sympathetic that the audience will not blame or despise him for this in the way that it will some of the other characters. Nevertheless, the main interest for both Molière and for us is the character of Alceste, which is only natural given that there are more possibilities for comedy in a character who is different from everyone else around him (and from the audience too - a major part of the point of the play), and who refuses to moderate his principles in any way whatsoever.We all know both the impulse to be the courtier and that to reject all hypocrisy, and this is one reason why The Misanthrope succeeds so well. John Wood describes it as Molière's masterpiece, and that is certainly a judgment that his translation bears out.TartuffeLike The Misanthrope, Tartuffe is about hypocrisy; unlike the later play, Tartuffe aroused great indignation, and it was only after several re-writes (comemmorated in several prefaces) that the play was allowed to be performed in public. The Misanthrope was, in fact, written during the period that Tartuffe was banned.The reason for the differing reactions to the two plays is based on the way that Tartuffe shows his hypocrisy: through feigned religious piety. Not having the earlier versions which originally aroused the anger of powerful group (apparently mainly strongly pious lay people rather than the church), one can only guess at what exactly in Molière's play was so outrageous. He specifically denies in one of the prefaces that he intended any attack on true religion; his target was those who pretend true religion. You do have to admit that the more pious members of Orgon's family, he himself and his mother, seem to be portrayed as particularly stupid.The plot of Tartuffe is fairly simple. Tartuffe has wormed his way into the family of the wealthy Orgon, who believes his assumed piety and looks on him as a saint. Orgon will not believe the warnings of his family, all of whom see through Tartuffe with the exception of his mother. Orgon now tries to force his daughter Marianne to marry Tartuffe, breaking a contract he has already made to marry her to the man she really loves. Tartuffe attempts to seduce Marianne's stepmother Elmire; it is only when she arranges for him to repeat his propositions with Orgon hidden under a table that he realises Tartuffe's true nature. When Orgon tries to throw Tartuffe out of the house, the latter goes to the king with some documents to support an accusation of treason against Orgon (they are documents entrusted to Orgon by a friend who had fled the country). Just when it looks as though Orgon will lose everything, the king intervenes; he has recognised Tartuffe as a scoundrel and throws him into prison instead.The flattery of the king by Molière and the way he is used as a deus ex machine is the only real weakness of this otherwise great play. The whole thing comes so close to a very unhappy ending that there was very little else that Molière could do to arrange the outcome required in a comedy of the day, intended to be a piece of light entertainment.A Doctor in Spite of HimselfA Doctor in Spite of Himself is a short, farcical attack on the medical profession, on the ignorant doctors of Molière's time who tricked the unwary with long words and bogus science (they are one of Molière's favourite targets). He uses his standard plot of the man (Géronte) who will not allow his daughter to marry, but the centre of this play is not Géronte's family but the false doctor Sganarelle. Géronte's daughter Lucinde appears to be ill, refusing to speak to anyone, and so Géronte sends out two of his servants to find a doctor. They encounter Sganarelle's wife, who tells them that her good-for-nothing husband is in fact a great doctor; she recounts some (imaginary) amazing cures he has accomplished. She tells them that he is also incredibly modest, and won't allow anyone to call him a doctor; at the moment, because of his love of humble occupations, he is in the forest collecting firewood (this is, of course, so they won't be surprised when he shows no knowledge of being a doctor). The two servants go off and find him, and end up beating him up until he agrees that he is a doctor and that he will treat Lucinde.As in L'amour Médecin, her cure is to be united with her lover, but not before much fun is had making the medical profession ridiculous, and not before Sganarelle realises that medicine is the career for him: you make your money regardless of the quality of your work, whether the patient lives or dies.A Doctor in Spite of Himself is one of the funniest of Molière's shorter plays, much more polished and finished than the others I've read.

Anne Nikoline

I only read The Misanthrope by Molière and not his other plays for a class of mine, and happened to enjoy it a lot. Basically it is a sophisticated comic drama that satirizes the hypocrisies of French aristocratic society. What really surprised me, even though I read this in Danish, is the rhythm. The ping-pong between the characters is very well created and adds a magnificent flow to the play that carries on the reader to the very end. Even though this is my very first Molière, it really demonstrates his incredible skills as a playwright and I am very much looking forward to read more of his theatrical plays.

Mark

Dry wit and puns... humor at its best for me! I have loved the works of Moliere since I was twelve. The French originals and the English translations each emphasize different styles of humor with hilarity. In this, the English edition, Moliere's dry wit and pithy sarcasm translate with a very contemporary feel, and his digs at elitism and incompetence are quite timely. If you have the chance, reading the original French text is definitely worthwhile as well. The subtle garishness (that makes sense once you read the absurdities...) of the puns in French can bring a whole new appreciation for my favorite language!

Kim

Wonder if The Misanthrope's Alceste and Philinte inspired Austen's characters Darcy and Bingley... Though Darcy evolves more than Alceste.

Rebecca

The play 'The Misanthrope' itself wasn't that great but the other were funny. The story of the misanthrope is a guy who ends up going into the wild to live with the wolves despite the fact they might eat him because mankind is nothing but a pack of wolves itself except they hide the fact they're tearing chunks out of your flesh.My personal favourite was 'A Doctor in spite of Himself' where a wife tells a nobleman's servant that her husband is a great doctor but he must be beaten in order to admit he's a doctor. And so hilarity ensues as the man admits he's a doctor to stop the beatings.Note: Moliere doesn't like doctors.

Ian

I prefer the verse translations, but a good introduction of Moliere's work

Lynne King

This book is on hold for the moment.

Phyllis

Why has it taken me 27 years to get around to reading Moliere? Perhaps, the first memorable reference to Moliere from "The Breakfast Club" seemed too highbrow. But, what does an 11 year old know?"The Misanthrope" is still funny 350 years later, although the translation feels a bit dry. If only I had the chops to read it in French! Perhaps, that is why the first Act seemed to drag, after which the pacing picks up. I picked up the play in preparation for "The School for Lies" at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. If you love Moliere, then I highly recommend seeing this update, which captures the rollicking spirit of the original French farce.

David Leung

I read this for my Liberal Studies grad class. It was an okay book. I am not a huge fan of Alceste since I always think it's best that we try to work things out rather than be too hard-headed about anything. This is mostly because I am a stubborn person by nature so I want to work on improving my ability to be flexible to new thoughts.Unfortunately, I don't think any of the other characters are very strong, including Celemine because she was almost on the other spectrum, playing around to what suited her best. Both Alceste and she are very self-centred and leaves no room for anybody to tell them differently. I found this book to be useful in understanding myself as a teenager. I thought I knew it all and if someone didn't agree with me, I would move away. I still feel that way, but I've learned that you can build a world with run-aways. Everyone will find a reason to run somewhere else, only to meet with other people who may eventually disagree with you and you'll have to run away again.

Rachel Matsuoka

My favorites from most liked to least liked:1. The Doctor in Spite of Himself (Hilarious, and some of Moliere's best-created and wackiest characters)2. The Miser (Best story arc of the bunch, I'd say)3. The Would-Be Gentleman (One of the most humorous, second only to The Doctor in Spite of Himself)4. The Misanthrope (Definitely his most philosophical)5. The Imaginary Invalid (I was bored by this play, but loved Toinette's character)6. The Mischievous Machinations of Scapin (This one bored me, but the character Scapin was intriguing)7. The Learned Ladies (This one fell flat for me; it had the weakest characters and the author definitely scorned and made fun of educated women and women who wished to become educated... bad bro humor alert, le sigh)Verdict: I'd say Moliere is a 17th-century Seth MacFarlane. Fun and full of frolic (and as a whole, I liked his plays all right), but his portrayal of women does not extend far beyond that of nagging wives and simpering daughters facing the prospect of marriage. There are one or two exceptions, of course, and granted he WAS from the 17th century, but hey, Shakespeare approached his female characters in a better, more multi-faceted manner. Common themes in Moliere's comedies I could identify are lots of patriarchal conflict and his protagonists were always older men, pretty much all were fathers of young women. These plays are full of wit, but let's be honest... there wasn't a whole lot of range and variety.

Brandon O'Neill

I only read The Misanthrope out of this collection, as that is the greatest of Moliere's works. For something written over 300 years ago, it was enjoyably translated. It is written in rhyme and in the form of a play, so reading it was a bit different for me.

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