The article analyzes the triviality of Austin’s version of everyday-world speech act theory (which explicitly excluded fictional uses of language) in favor of its specific value for investigation of fictionality, invoking ideas of Pierre Bourdieu and Émile Benveniste. Noting the thematic prominence in the Misanthrope of two of Austin’s favorite examples of speech acts, for marriage (“I do”) and courtroom testimony (“I swear to tell the truth . . . ”), the article examines the work’s dramatic ambiguities in relation to Austin’s theory—and in particular, its shortcomings. Molière thus articulates the profoundly divided nature of Alceste indicated by Donneau de Visé (“ridicule”/“juste”), Rousseau (“un homme droit, sincère, estimable,” but also facing the world as “un personnage ridicule”), and recently by Georges Forestier and Claude Bourqui (the melancholic, jealous lover vs. the philosophe misanthrope, the world champion of sincerity), permanently at war with himself, in a war he is bound to lose. The article concludes that Molière constructs much of the famously conversational dramatic texture and indeterminate conclusion not through “successful” speech acts, but rather through failed ones; a reflection, too, of the rapidly transforming social values of the play’s historical moment.

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