“I expect you to be sincere and as an honourable man never to utter a single word that you don't really mean.” Alceste, the protagonist of Moliere’s comedy, The Misanthrope, utters these words in the opening scene of the play. Alceste wanted a world of genuine people. His desire was not as demanding as that of Jesus or the Buddha. Yet Alceste became a comic character in the society while Jesus and the Buddha became gods.
Alceste lived in the 17th century when the world was more complex than when Jesus demanded childlike innocence as the price of the ticket to heaven. The Buddha had found it even more impossible to accept life’s absurdity than Jesus, let alone Alceste. The Buddha sought deliverance in the nonexistence of nirvana while Jesus nailed his body’s abominable passions to the cross and thus delivered his soul from those passions.
Moliere’s Alceste is more human than these gods. He eventually accepted the limitations of human nature. None of us is wise, he says towards the end of the play. “There’s some touch of human frailty in every one of us,” he realises. And “every one” includes himself.
Alceste became a comic character while Jesus and the Buddha became gods. Alceste could not have nailed himself to a cross. Nor could he go through the living hell that the Buddha had embraced. So Alceste learnt to accept the importance of compromise and condescended to become like the other human beings. But he really could not become what he could accept intellectually. He remains at a distance from the society at the end of the play. Moliere ends the play leaving the hope to the audience that Alceste would eventually learn the fundamental lesson of life – that hypocrisy is an integral part of human life unless you want to nail your body to a cross or live your life in a self-created hell.