By Mary Buckner
The Miser (L’Avare) is a play written by Jean Baptiste Poquelin, better known as Molière. I borrowed the play from a classmate named Sam Arnold who is a B.F.A. Theatre Major at Florida State University. I was fortunate enough to see this play live onstage a little less than two months ago when the FSU School of Theatre put on the production at the Conradi Studio Theatre located in Tallahassee, Florida. The Miser was written in 1668 and opened in Paris on September 9, 1668 at the Palais-Royale (Lewis 124). The play takes place in a beautiful house in Paris and tells the story of a greedy, elderly man named Harpagon and the challenge his two children, Cléante and Élise, face when they quickly learn that their father is not going to permit their marriage requests to their beloveds. Harpagon being the selfish Miser he is, only wants companions for his children that will benefit him financially and forbids them marriage with their true loves. The two couples’ (Cléante and Marianne and Élise and Valère) strong passions for each other and determination to get what they desire create an exciting, sneaky, suspenseful, and very interesting plot.
The Miser is a five-act satirical farce that is identified as a comedy. However, many interpretations and presentations of this play have often not been a comedy at all, due to the darkness of the play and its themes of cruelty and loss (Lewis 122). Moliere did indeed include of mixture of emotions in his plays, as he intelligently “analyzed the foibles of French life in twelve penetrating satirical comedies that had the lasting impact of tragedy” (Matthews and Platt 431). In The Miser, Moliere highlighted the comedy of dark situations by using all the trappings of farce such as sight gags, slapstick, pratfalls, puns, and mistaken identities.
Moliere often used the period’s social types to create the characters in his plays, “exposing the follies of the entire society” (Matthews and Platt 431).His work The Miser is one of the best examples of this, seeing as the protagonist of the show, as well as the play’s title, is in itself a social type-a miser. “As his own son’s rival in love, Harpagon is the archetypal archetype, the ultimate “blocking” character and violator of the order of “nature.” (www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides2/Miser.html) Although labeled as the “blocking” character, Harpagon is certainly an active protagonist, as his decisions and choices are what the rest of the characters actions are based off of. I personally identified with Harpagon’s daughter Élise. I didn’t identify with her for the reasons for that we have gone through the same experiences; but as an actress myself, when I was reading the script I kept finding myself wanting to be cast as her. I love her aura and language, as well as the devoted passion she has for her lover, Valère.
One of the play’s biggest themes is that of greed. Harpagon’s greed for gold and money prohibit him from really ever receiving anything back in life. Through out the play’s entirety, Harpagon just constantly wants more and more money, never being satisfied. And although he is very financially wealthy, “All that glisters is not gold”, as quoted in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (2.7.67). More valuable by far are love, friendship, family harmony, and common decency. In all of these things, Harpagon is poverty-stricken. (www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides2/Miser.html). Other themes in the play are the power of true love, loss, and cruelty.
Moliere’s The Miser is a play filled with high, witty, and creative language. The characters speak in a much more sophisticated fashion than I feel most of us in the USA do today. Their jokes and ridicules were even so intelligently written that they come across as proper. However, a lot of the basis for the style of dialogue is due to the time period the play. I didn’t think the language hindered my reading. I think because the language is as heightened as it is, it actually helped bring out certain emotions in me that contemporary way of speech would not have. I will admit sometimes I would have to re-read a couple sentences or two to fully understand what was being said, but it was never anything that caused me great confusion or lack of understanding.
Overall, Molière’s The Miser was one that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is so brilliantly written because one moment within the play could have a certain person laughing, while another could be feeling much sympathy or despite. An example of this would be the very end of the play when Harpagon is alone with his casket of money-one person could find this slightly funny and another could be disgusted that he gave up everything else in his life without thought so he could just have his wealth returned. The Miser not only brings out different emotions in different people, but also brings out various emotions in one person within a very short period of time. I applaud Molière for being creative and intelligent enough to accomplish this. I loved reading the script and I am so fortunate that I got to see this text live on a stage and I highly recommend to any one who can to see Molière’s entertaining play.
Matthews, Roy T., F. Dewitt Platt, and Thomas F.X. Noble. The Western Humanities. abcdef7th Edition. New York: McGraw Hill, 2011. Print
“The Miser: a Study Guide for the Molière Play.” Free Study Guides for Shakespeare abcdefand Other Authors. Web. 15 Apr. 2011. abcdefhttp://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides2/Miser.html
Molière, and David Chambers. The Miser. New York, NY: Dramatists Play Service, abcdef1993.
Lewis, D. B. Wyndham. Molière: The Comic Mask. New York: Coward-McCann, 1959.
Shakespeare, William, Burton Raffel, and Harold Bloom. The Merchant of Venice. abcdefNew Haven: Yale UP, 2006
Molière wrote Tartuffe not to condemn organized religion or religious people but rather to condemn hypocrisy and to instruct audiences, through the use of humor, on the importance of moderation, common sense, and clear thinking in all areas of life. Although the play was originally condemned as an outright attack on religion and devout people, a proper reading suggests just the opposite. Religion is not the problem; rather, the misuse of religion for personal gain at the expense of innocent, unsuspecting people is Molière’s concern. Works such as Tartuffe in fact help to protect and promote religion by exposing impostors for who they really are and demonstrating the real danger they pose to society when they go unchallenged.
The play’s major emphasis is on the silly yet serious results of failing to act with common sense. The reactions of the various characters of the play to the hypocrite, Tartuffe, serve to remind the audience of the importance of clear thinking in a world where some people will take advantage of simple thinking and blind trust. The play reinforces the golden virtue of “moderation in all things.” Excess, even in service of the most sacred faith, leads to ridiculous conclusions and potentially catastrophic actions.
The comic way in which the story unfolds, from seemingly harmless simple belief about religious doctrine to eventual trust in the absurd notion that Tartuffe should be in control of the family’s finances and estate, is a warning to all people to avoid letting others take advantage of them through their own lack of careful observation and scrutiny of human behavior. Orgon is unable to see the absurdity of the restrictions that Tartuffe places on his family. Ordinarily a reasonable and capable man, Orgon becomes so enamored of Tartuffe’s manner and so dazzled by his rhetoric that he jeopardizes family, wealth, societal position, and eventually his own faith in the value of religion for the sake of appeasing the manipulative hypocrite. Molière clearly understood the dangers of false piety.
The play sets forth the theme of the importance of a well-ordered soul living in a well-ordered society under the virtue of reason. The comical yet serious unraveling of Orgon’s professional and personal life at the hands of Tartuffe is the vehicle for the author’s implicit appeal for reason and order in personal interactions and societal institutions. As Molière shows, when individuals such as Orgon ignore common sense and become infatuated with charismatic figures, the results can be tragic. Orgon’s relationship with Tartuffe leads directly to the breakdown of his relationship with his son, the growth of mistrust between Orgon and his wife, personal embarrassment, and financial problems. These troubles have adverse effects on everyone in Orgon’s life and, by extension, on society as a whole. The dishonest intentions of one man wreak havoc on many lives. Through the comic manner in which he tells the story, the playwright reinforces the idea that Orgon’s difficulties could have been avoided. Tartuffe and his kind have power only when ordinary citizens willfully give up their ability to think for themselves.
In the end, the audience sees Orgon as remorseful for foolishly placing his trust in Tartuffe; he is also angry. In his anger, he inappropriately asserts that religion has been the cause of all the calamity that he and his family have undergone. Cléante, however, reminds Orgon that the real problem is not religion but the misuse of religion by impostors. Through Cléante’s final speech, Molière reinforces the validity of appropriate religious expression by the truly devout.