Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1622-1673), better known as Molière, was an actor and playwright whose comedies, characterized by gallant, perspicacious and penetrating humour, do not spare any one, and rank as the very best of classical comedy writing. He began to write for the stage after he had met Italian actors in Lyon as a head of a theatre company and was impressed by their style of acting. Subsequently he authored many comedies for his company. They were a complete novelty in Parisian theatre life. Blending the culture of the ruling aristocracy with popular elements, he introduced many topics that ridiculed current affairs. As a result he enraged not only the Catholic Church, but also other theatre companies, critics and many of his contemporaries.
Written in 1666, The Misantrophe became a great success instantly. The main character of Alceste is a virtuous person who does not endure any moral defects of his milieu, harshly criticizing everyone and telling them off uninhibitedly. His friend Philinte advises him to be lenient and sensitive to people, but Alceste refuses to listen to him. He is in love with the flirtatious Célimène who is being courted by several other men. As a result, Alceste becomes a victim of an emblematic classicist clash between reason and emotion. The tragicomedy does not have a happy ending; the main protagonist must retreat from the society into solitude, which puts an end to his moral high horse.
Josip Vidmar, the famous Slovenian 20th century literary critic, analysed the »self-portrait« parallels between Molière and Alceste as follows: »The Misanthrope, written during the most challenging time of his life, is Molière’s most personal declaration. It presents his most bitter and hidden views on love, friendship, people and the value of the world. In The Misanthrope his healthy and therapeutic laughter is reduced to a pale and sickly impulse of the lips struggling to smile. His battle for laughter is crushing. It's a battle against the final despair. Had Molière not attempted to laugh at the misanthrope, he would have been a shattered man.«