This reflective paper reveals how Hamlet and the Misanthrope reveal the theme of satire.
Satire in the Misanthrope
The Misanthrope (1666) is considered as autobiographical play to a certain extent; Moliere attempted to reach misanthropy while approaching Alceste’s bitterness. In contrast to his previous plays (Tartuffe) in the Misanthrope Moliere emphasizes on a more serious theme of human relationships through his masterful satirical approach. He satirizes French aristocracy by openly revealing the ever-existing human flaws. Moliere deliberately twists the conventional satire and farce based on flat stereotypes to draw our attention to the important socio-political issues. He introduces Célimène and Alceste as well as other characters by developing a multidimensional approach to their ambivalent behaviors. Particularly through Alceste Moliere challenges the existing social stereotypes and criticizes human traits that are encouraged by social setting.
In the Misanthrope Moliere relies on the gossip among Clitandre, Acaste, and Celimene to reveal a double satire. Through this conversation Moliere exemplifies his satirical reaction to the hypocrisy of his personages and the society that tolerates and even promotes such falsehoods. In his satirical approach Moliere harshly criticizes the rectitude of Alcaste to address the sense of falsehood. In such a way Moliere depicts the then society by masterly crafting his character and the dialogues between them.
For instance, by developing the characters of Eliante and Philante Moliere perfectly balances forgiveness and honesty to place the satirical focus on the corrupt society. Philante is portrayed through his the selfless friendship with Alceste: “you have a way of bridling at whatever people say; whether they praise of blame, your angry spirit is equally unsatisfied to hear it” (Moliere 25). In a similar way the author reveals the genuine value of Celimene who is reflected as a gossip queen: “The conversation takes its usual turn and all our dear friends’ ears will shortly burn” (Moliere 33). By this short passage, Moliere satirically expresses his condemnation of Acaste, Clitandre and Celimene by showing that the society constructs and widely accepts dishonestly. Furthermore, Moliere is satirical towards the society by speaking through his characters to recognize the fact that it would be erroneous to call all people hypocrites, however, namely the society (at least its overwhelming majority) presents the greatest threat as it tolerates the false hypocrisies.
Satire in Hamlet
Nonetheless, the entire play is not considered as satirical after all, through Hamlet Shakespeare masterly satirizes his enemies. William Shakespeare applies satire in his famous Hamlet to downsize people he did not respect. Hamlet appears before us as a rather intelligent personage who genuinely disapproves when others trying to ‘play’ him as well as weasel information from him. In the play the main personage is under permanent interrogation. In the episode when Polonius spies on Hamlet, he satirizes against him by comparing him to ‘a fishmonger’ and indirectly claiming that Polonius is not sincere. While ridiculing Polonius Hamlet uses humor and wit and namely through these components we widely recognize Shakespeare’s satire:
Slanders, sir; for the satirical rogue says here that old men have grey beards; that their faces are wrinkled; their eyes purging thick amber and plum-tree gum; and that they have a plentiful lack of wit, together with most weak hams. All which, sir, though I most powerfully and potently believe, yet I hold it not honesty to have it thus set down; for you yourself, sir, shall grow old as I am if, if like a crab, you could go backward (Shakespeare 215).
Another outbreak of satirical response is evident in Hamlet’s responses to Claudius when the latter attempts to interrogate Hamlet about Polonius’s body location in Act 4.3.
This time Hamlet satirizes the king in the opening line of the Act by claiming that Polonius’s body is where it is eaten rather than where it is eating. Herein, through the smooth satire William Shakespeare conveys an important message to us that worms eat the bodies of kings in the same way as they do it with beggars. Through the Hamlet’s wordplay the famous playwright concludes that “a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar” (Shakespeare 30-31).
- Moliere. The Misanthrope. Dover Publications. First Edition. 1992.
- Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Simon & Schuster. First edition. 2003.