Richard Wilbur -- and Moli`ere -- on being frank

Richard Wilbur's translation of Moli`ere's ``The Misanthrope'' had its world premi`ere at the Poets' Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., in 1955. The Poets' Theatre, which also put on verse plays by Archibald MacLeish, John Ashbery, and Sylvia Plath, is being celebrated tonight and tomorrow at Radcliffe College. In this excerpt, Alceste, the title character, discusses with his confidant, Philinte, the philosophy that will lose Alceste his friends. Philinte But in polite society, custom decrees That we show certain outward courtesies . . . Alceste Ah, no! we should condemn with all our force Such false and artificial intercourse. Let men behave like men; let them display Their inmost hearts in everything they say; Let the heart speak, and let our sentiments Not mask themselves in silly compliments. Philinte In certain cases it would be uncouth And most absurd to speak the naked truth; With all respect for your exalted notions, It's often best to veil one's true emotions. Wouldn't the social fabric come undone If we were wholly frank with everyone? Suppose you met with someone you couldn't bear; Would you inform him of it then and there? Alceste Yes. Philinte Then you'd tell old Emilie it's pathetic The way she daubs her features with cosmetic And plays the gay coquette at sixty-four? Alceste I would. Philinte And you'd call Dorilas a bore, And tell him every ear at court is lame From hearing him brag about his noble name? Alceste Precisely. Philinte Ah, you're joking. Alceste Au contraire: In this regard there's none I'd choose to spare. All are corrupt; there's nothing to be seen In court or town but aggravates my spleen. I fall into deep gloom and melancholy When I survey the scene of human folly, Finding on every hand base flattery, Injustice, fraud, self-interest, treachery . . . Ah, it's too much; mankind has grown so base, I mean to break with the whole human race. Philinte This philosophic rage is a bit extreme; You've no idea how comical you seem; Indeed, we're like those brothers in the play Called School for Husbands, one of whom was prey . . . Alceste Enough, now! None of your stupid similes. Philinte Then let's have no more tirades, if you please. The world won't change, whatever you say or do; And since plain speaking means so much to you, I'll tell you plainly that by being frank You've earned the reputation of a crank, And that you're thought ridiculous when you rage And rant against the manners of the age. Alceste So much the better; just what I wish to hear. No news could be more grateful to my ear. All men are so detestable in my eyes, I should be sorry if they thought me wise. From Moli`ere's THE MISANTHROPE, translated and copyright 1954, 1955, 1982, 1983 by Richard Wilbur. Reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.

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