Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Misanthrope, by Molière


Alceste, the titular misanthrope, is frank to a fault and disgusted with humanity.  He is also, to his consternation, enamored of the young and flirtatious Célimène.  But then, so is every other Tom, Dick, and Harry (in this case, Acaste, Oronte, and Clitandre) in town . . . a fact which causes Alceste no small amount of frustration.  Meanwhile, two other women have the hots for Alceste, who of course is far too lovestruck to care. When Alceste ignores a friend's advice and gives a rather scathing critique of a poem penned by one of Célimène's more highly placed suitors, he finds out just how costly honesty--and love--can be.

The audiobook is a bit hard to follow, since it can be a challenge to keep track of who is speaking.  Which is not to say that the print version is better. I expect, like most plays, it's better watched than read (or merely listened to).  Still, it's a clever, snarky play full of zingers--entertaining and well worth your time.

A note about translations:  Richard Wilbur's translation is exquisite (which makes sense, since he's won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry twice, and been named the United States Poet Laureate).  Rather than simply converting Molière's poetic comedy into mundane prose (a sadly common choice among translators), his translation is in verse, and even maintains the same rhyming couplets. The rhymes are natural, and somehow make the funny bits funnier.  It's a bit Elizabeth Bennett-as-voiced-by-Dr.-Seuss at times (sort of a Cat in the Hat and Cravat and Waistcoat), but Wilbur clearly has a gift for rhyme to rival the legendary Fezzik.

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