The Misanthrope (or the ‘The Cantankerous Lover’) by Moliere, is a comedy first performed at the Theatre du Palais-Royal in 1666. Despite its age the play deals with modern concerns, like the nature of friendship and the choice to embrace cynicism over solipsism. Although absent the careful plotting, dynamic staging or linguistic experimentalism of modern theatre, Moliere’s wit remains alive and entertaining. The influence of his barbed dialogue and high society brinkmanship can be seen in writers from as Oscar Wilde to Whit Stillman.
In life Moliere (born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) was a controversial figure. Arguably one of the first literary celebrities, he was accused of numerous villainies, including having illegitimately fathered his much younger wife.
He once wrote ‘Doubts are more cruel than the worst of truths’, and it is this ambiguity that lies at the heart of The Misanthrope. Moliere writes ‘one cannot look into the heart’. Thus we vacillate between paranoia and pronoia, never certain in this life of the nobility of our actions, or whether moral pragmatism is ultimately more valid than holding a steady course. Is it true, as the cynically flirtatious Celimene says, ‘It is easy… to blame or praise everything and everyone may be right, according to their age and taste’. Or is there a moral centre to life, we may avoid or obey, according to our character.
We read the Henri Van Laun public domain translation of the play from the university of Adelaide.
Next weeks play
Arcadia [PDF] by Tom Stoppard. We’re actively soliciting suggestions for what plays to read in the coming weeks and months. If there’s a play you’d like us to discuss – especially if it’s less well known, or if there’s a production of it coming to Dublin soon, let us know in the comments below.