Molière's The Misanthrope tells the story of Alceste, an aristocratic man who does not believe in the niceties of polite society, yet is in love with a woman who embodies those to a T. Alceste believes people should be told the truth, no matter the cost, while his love Célimène strings a long line of suitors, outwardly praising them while privately ripping them to shreds. In his wordiest comedy, Molière chooses subtler points of humor over slapstick comedy. That Alceste both loves the very thing he loathes and acts as the hypocrite he claims to detest is simultaneously comic and tragic.
Below is a complete summary of Molière's The Misanthrope. It does contain spoilers but may be helpful background for approaching David Ives' School for Lies.
All of the action takes place in Célimène's house.
The play begins with Alceste accusing his friend, Philinte, of flattery. They argue over the best way to treat people, either with brutal honesty (Alceste) or a less critical eye (Philinte). Alceste reveals that he is involved in a court case. When Oronte enters and attempts to befriend Alceste, Alceste is unwilling to commit to a friendship right away. He says they must first get to know one another. Oronte suggests Alceste might better receive his friendship after hearing him recite one of his poems. When he does, Alceste condemns it (and Philinte praises it). Oronte storms off, and Philinte criticizes Alceste for so badly treating Oronte.
Alceste confronts his love Célimène about accepting the advances of multiple suitors. Célimène assures him that she only has eyes for him but must keep the other suitors around for any number of reasons: Clitandre is helping her with a lawsuit; Acaste has good standing at court, and so on. Alceste still believes that she is false to him and berates himself for being so in love.
Célimène's many suitors arrive with Philinte and her female cousin, Éliante. All listen rapt while Célimène gossips about members of court and applaud her many "perfect" qualities. Alceste, on the other hand, notes that while Célimène speaks ill of these people behind their backs, she would likely flatter them to their faces. He claims that in being honest with Célimène about her negative qualities, he is in fact proving more faithful and loving than all the rest.
An officer arrives, announcing that he must speak with Alceste about the earlier remarks he made concerning Oronte. Alceste refuses to take back his remarks and must accompany the officer to speak with the Marshals (a French judicial body created to settle matters of honor).
Clitandre and Acaste discuss their love for Célimène and agree, should one fall out of her favor, that he will support the other's suit. Arsinoé, an older woman, comes over to discuss the lovers with Célimène, who tells Arsinoé that she favors Alceste. A jealous Arsinoé tells Célimène that people are talking behind her back about her flirtatiousness. Arsinoé claims to have defended Célimène but she does not believe her and accuses her instead of being a pious hypocrite.
Célimène leaves just as Alceste arrives. Arsinoé flatters Alceste's integrity and charm, claiming the lawsuits against him unjust. But Alceste criticizes Arsinoé for being too forthcoming with her flattery. She tells him that she has proof of Célimène's deception, and so they leave to retrieve the evidence at Arsinoé's house.
Philinte and Éliante discuss Alceste and his recent court hearing over his comments about Oronte. Éliante finds Alceste peculiar but noble and honest. She says she would accept an advance from Alceste, but Philinte says he would rather pursue her himself.
Alceste returns to the house and asks Éliante to help him make Célimène jealous. He has a letter Arsinoé gave to him proving her false. Éliante persuades Alceste that all may not be lost with Célimène. He goes to confront her. Célimène admits to writing the letter to Oronte and, furious, Alceste rages that she must tell him it was for a woman so that his mind may be put to ease. She refuses and claims he does not deserve her love, prompting Alceste to proclaim his love further. At this moment, Alceste's servant arrives to tell them that they must leave at once due to the lawsuit proceedings. Alceste goes to investigate the matter further.
He soon returns, outraged that a verdict has been made against him. He vows to live a life of solitude. Philinte tries to reason with him but he will not budge. Alceste then asks Célimène to live with him in solitude. Oronte is outraged at this and demands that she choose between the two of them. Célimène refuses and asks Éliante instead to determine who feels more affection for her. Éliante refuses and asserts that Célimène has a responsibility to be honest with both men. At this moment, Clitandre and Acaste enter with Célimène's letters, insulting all of the suitors. Clitandre, Acaste and Oronte leave, once and for all.
Célimène says she will not leave society with Alceste but will marry him if he will stay. But he refuses, and once she leaves he tells Éliante that he cannot marry her because he is unworthy. She answers that she wants to marry Philinte anyway. Alceste again says he will withdraw from society. As they leave, Philinte and Éliante agree that they must persuade him not to. This is the end of the play.