Dear friends, hi.
I love the theatre. I love its directness and realism. Even through the most surreal scenario and play theatre brings me as close as possible to being part of the stage, part of the plot, part of the emotions that unravel in front of our eyes.
A few days ago I had the chance to watch “The Misanthrope” (or “The Cantankerous Lover” as it was also played as), one of Moliere’s most iconic tragic comedies. This is a 17th-century play and part of its magic is how up to date it is, even a few centuries later. Alceste, the protagonist, is a noble who although part of the highest class, cannot stand the hypocrisy and narcissism of the people of the same class he is a member of. He reaches a point of hate towards them and cannot even stand their presence. (Misanthrope comes from the Greek word “Misanthropos” which is made of the words “misos” = hate and “Anthropos”= man/person). He despises them all BUT one: the beautiful Selimene who is a gorgeous young lady that Alceste is in love with and who is surrounded all the time by other nobles that he despises. And that makes him extremely jealous. The love part is the vehicle that Moliere is using in order to make the play spicy and meaningful to the many. The main issue of Alceste is the gap he feels between his morality and virtue and the sad reality of social decay. That is his main challenge and in light of the above, our protagonist has very specific choices: to try and change society, to go with the flow or run away. Being bluntly honest no matter the consequences is the only choice for him. That is the play in a nutshell.
One could focus on the romance and whatever it carries with it. I won’t as it is the spice of the play. In my opinion (and that is why I chose to write about it) the main point raised here is the alienation of the truly virtuous man, as long as he/she decides to stick to its values and fight till the end for them. That is the point and at the same time the dead end.
We many times like to talk about values and standards and ideas and many other nice things but I assume we intentionally choose to leave outside the scenario of actually applying them to the fullest during our lifetime. I don’t blame us. Is it self-preservation, since we know that in this life we have to deal and succeed with people who are not there? Is it convenient, since we also know that what we say doesn’t necessarily have to be what we do? Could be anything, but if we decide that we are what we say we are, then we might as well get prepared for some serious loneliness.
Looking back in history, there are numerous examples of people who when they started their own “battles”, got excluded by the rest of the society. Think of one and try to enter his/her existence and feelings: despair, isolation, injustice. Living the fascism of the many, having to accept the obviously evil and being laughed at. And all that, for believing what everyone else is evangelizing but not doing. Human nature is pretty paradoxical, isn’t it?
I thought of all these while watching the play, as they seem to be the favorite topic of today’s world: we scream for justice, equality, freedom, transparency and many other noble things but I’m not really sure we are prepared for them. Are we “screaming” just to do it or what? I don’t dare to have an opinion. It’s not that I don’t, it is that I don’t DARE to have one… Do we REALLY want a better world for us and our children? Do we really care about sustainability in everything? Do we really dream of a virtuous life/existence or it is just “ideas, nice to have”? And even if we do, is that the way to go? Probably not.
Alceste, found himself in this situation and made a call. For that brave decision, Moliere named him “Misanthrope”: the man who hates mankind. Pretty unfair from his side… Unfair for someone who being an idealist chose to sacrifice his existence in order to be free to advocate true freedom. Moliere means no harm: he just reflects society. And that is what society is doing to the thorns that from time to time show up to strip naked our existence: marginalizes them.
From Eschylos to Evripidis and from Shakespeare to Moliere all these iconic play writers prove to us all one more thing: that the belief that everything that is happening today happens for the first time in the history of mankind is nonsense. We are just another version of the same world that throughout the centuries fell in love, won, failed dramatically, fought etc etc. I can assure you that this is what people will be saying watching today’s plays, a couple of centuries later. We are unique indeed. But only as unique people as people have been for the last many years. After all, life is like a play. The script is the same, the actors and the director change.
I wish you a great month ahead full of love, health and progress.