Originally aired live October 15, 2020
Classics Revisited Webinar Series: The Misanthrope by Moliere
Professor Michael Sugrue
Professor of History at Ave Maria University, BA in History from the University of Chicago, M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University
Moliere’s The Misanthrope is one of the wittiest and simultaneously the deepest reflection on comedy by a comedian. It contains the clever repartee of Jane Austen or Oscar Wilde (in French verse) combined with the self-conscious defense of comedy like Shakespeare’s defense of drama in Measure for Measure. Very thoughtful reflections on human nature are combined with reflections on comedy in the moral economy of the court. White lies make social life possible and sincerity has its limits. Moliere knows only too well the temptations of brutal honesty and sees the falsity of politesse at Versailles, yet he is wise enough to understand that the mild inclusive philanthropic comedy of Horace is the only one compatible with life at court. A century later, Rousseau was baffled when his fellow theatregoers found Alceste, the misanthrope, funny, since he was so clearly right.
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