"The Miser" is one of the most famous and performed comedies by Moliere. It was the peak of the worldwide drama making and an inspiration for many other writers.
The theme and the main inspiration of the work emerged from one of the capital human diseases - greed and miserliness. Miserliness is a theme that could be discussed in aspects of all social layers and times because it was a flaw linked to the human species in general. Because of that it became a laughing stock of the social layers he didn’t have a big fortune and on one hand understood the obsession with money and on the other hand they thought they knew how to use it better than the people that had it.
The main character Harpagon represented a cheapskate, selfish man, and a common usurer. He stopped at nothing in his cruelty and distrust even when it involved his kids. In this comedy the author makes fun of Harpagon’s flaws in every way possible.
On the one side we have Harpagon who embodies all the negativity and on the other side we have four young people who are fighting for love with the help of a wise plotter which maintains the balance between the characters. In this comedy the servants have a big role and it is obvious how one of them manipulates the feelings between a father and son who are in dispute.
Moliere judges bad characteristics and the laws of the society back then such as father’s limitless power, the position of wives and children, forced marriages and marring out of interest etc… He sympathized with youth, harmony, joy, wisdom and the freedom to live.
The main motive of the comedy is a little pot of gold that leads to an amusing plot twist. The characters are clearly divided to those who represent virtues and flaws. For example Harpagon represents flaws with his miserliness and lies and all of the people who court and stand by him just add up to the representation of flaws.
On the other side there is Anselme. He contradicts Harpagon’s negativity and destroys the obstacles Harpagon put up for his children’s happiness. With his positivity Anselme gives a whole new aspect to this comedy. He binds two families in a special way and starts the love between his and HArpagon’s children.
When Harpagon gets his pot in the end, he stops caring about everything. His greed infected life restores its balance and everyone got what they deserved. The children fell in love, Anselme got his long lost family back and a new life and Harpagon got his greed, miserliness and selfishness.
Genre: satire comedy
Theme: obsession with money that leads to neglecting human feelings
Moral: money is a tool and not a life goal
Time: 17th century
Elise and Valere are in love with each other. Valere saved Elise from drowning and his heroic act made her fall in love with him. In order to spend more time with Elise, Valere started working as the administrator of her father Harpagon’s estate. He did everything Harpagon wanted just so that he would like him and approve him. Elise was very close with her brother so it was important to her that he also approves of her love and helps her convince her father that Valere is the right for her.
Cleante wanted to talk with his sister Elise. He told her that he was also in love but he was afraid to give his word to the woman he loves before talking to his father whom he respected a lot. Their family had a lot of money but Harpagon would borrow money “just to survive” and he was very cheap. Cleante was ready to abandon him and his home if his father won’t approve of his love.
Harpagone suspected that his servant La Fleche wanted to rob him because he saw him sneaking around the house so he checked all of his pockets before leaving the house just to be sure that he didn’t steal anything. He started to think about the money he had hidden in the garden when all of the sudden his children came to talk to him. When they heard their father mumble something they didn’t know how to tell their problems to him. Before they could even speak Harpagon started yelling at them because of their expensive clothes. He was scared that his kids will ruin him and rob him. After that he told them about the spouses he picked for them. He had chosen a rich widow for his son and for Elise he picked Anselme who asked for no dowry in return. For himself he picked Mariane, the woman his son loved.
When they realized how greedy their father was Cleante couldn’t even ask him for the money for the weeding and he was horrified when he heard his father wanted to marry the woman he loved. He was forced to ask an usurer for the money and his interest rate was weird. He found the usurer with La Fleche’s help. The condition to get the money was an interst rate of 25% on 25 thousand francs, from which 20 is in cash and the rest is in possession no one will be needing anymore.
The encounter of the usurer, middleman and Cleante was intensive. Cleante was bitter, angry and surprised all at the same time. He knew that his father was a cheapskate but he didn’t expect him to be so cruel. The angry Cleante was left without the money in the end and his dreams of spending the life with MAriane were ruined.
Forsine, an expert plotter, came to be the middleman between Mariane and Harpagon and she was hoping to get some profit out of it. While talking with Harpagon she kept on giving him compliments and despite her efforts she didn’t receive any money. Harpagon kept on planning the weeding. He told his servants that wanted to come off as a classy man but he wasn’t ready to spend a lot of money.
While he was giving out orders during dinner he asked his servants to assume different roles. While he was talking to the chef his miserliness came to the surface. Jacques, a chef and a stableman, had few ingredients for the dinner. Valere was always reproaching the servants because he was bitter for not getting Elise’s hand in marriage. Harpagon actually liked his reproaches so much that he wanted to carve them above the fireplace.
While Harpagon was getting ready for the upcoming dinner Forsine came to visit with Mariane. She had no intention of seeing the old cheapskate. She had a certain blond man, who she met but didn’t know his name, in her heart. Harpagon tried to look older because Forsine told him that Mariane likes older men. When Mariane saw Harpagon she got desperate. Then Cleante appeared and her heart started racing. She agreed or disagreed with him on the reasons why she should or shouldn’t be his stepmother.
When she met everyone, she and Elise were supposed to go to the fair. Before leaving Cleante took his father’s diamond ring and gave it to Mariane as a promise of his love and he insisted on her keeping the ring. Harpagon was furious and called his son all kinds of names. After a lot of convincing Mariane, to Harpagon’s despair, decided to keep the ring but she still had the desire to give it back to its cheap owner.
When Harpagon left the three of them had a chance to talk and try to find a solution for their problem. They needed to find a way to outsmart Harpagon and stop the weeding. If Forsine had known about their situation she would have never caused all of the troubles with Harpagon. She decided to help them. They agreed that they should find a widow with big dowry for Harpagon because it would make him forget all about Mariane. Forsine remembered that she has a good friend who would assume the role. While Mariane and Cleante talked about their feelings they didn’t suspect that Harpagon was listening to them. He was ready to get the truth out of his son and he decided to defraud him by saying that he realized that he is much older than Mariane and that it would be best to let his son have her but due to Cleante’s behavior when he met Mariane he had decided to stay with her.
Poor Cleante didn’t even know that his father has got him on thin ice and he confessed his love and desire to marry Mariane. During a big argument Harpagon named Jacques the judge of the dispute between him and his son. Jacques wanted to make both of them happy and make them reconcile. He told them what they wanted to hear so Harpagon believed that Cleante was giving up on Mariane and Cleante thought that his father realized he was wrong and gave him Mariane.
Everything got even more twisted and the two of them declared peace, not knowing it was all a plot. Their peace was short lasting because the truth came out. Harpagon got so angry that he denied his son and threatened to leave him without any money. While the furious Harpagon was leaving he missed to see La Fleche running to Cleante with a big pot of gold.
Cleante, knowing what La Fleche had done, decided to find out how he did it. While La Fleche was about to tell him everything they heard the furious Harpagon yelling that his gold was stolen. Everyone was guilty until proven otherwise in his eyes. He was out of his mind because of the pain and desperation.
Harpagon hired someone to find the thief. When his man of trust found out how much money was stolen he was surprised. He talked to Jacques first. Jacques was angry that he became Harpagon’s favorite so he accused him of stealing the money. While he was questioning Jacques Valere came, without even knowing he was accused of theft.
Harpagon believed that Valere stole from him and he accused him of being a thief, ingrate and taking advantage of his trust. Valere was stunned because he knew nothing about the theft and he thought that Harpagon was talking about his love for Elise. Valere decided to come clean without knowing he was actually coming clean about a theft and not his feelings. While the poor Valere was talking about his pure and honest love for Elise Harpagon thought that he finally found the thief of his pot of gold. When he realized that Valere was talking about Elise he said he will sue him for being a thief and a seducer.
Elise begged her father for forgiveness but he was stubborn as always and wanted to take Valere to trial. With all of the accusation Valere decided to tell his life story to Anselme. Sixteen year ago Valere’s family was killed in a shipwreck. Valere was saved by a Spanish ship whose captain raised him. When Valere got older he found out that his father was alive and he went looking for him but he fell in love with Elise. As a proof for his story he showed his father’s stamp and other’s bracelet.
Mariane came forward in the whole mess and said that Valere was her brother. She and her mother were bought by pirates and they held them captive for ten yeats. Ansleme was stunned by their declarations because he was actually their father. Sixteen years ago he thought his family died so he changed his name.
When the situation was clear Cleante blackmailed his father into letting him marry Mariane. Harpagon accepted all terms and conditions in order to get his gold back. Cleante married Mariane, Elise married Valere and Harpagon stayed with his pot of gold.
Characters: Harpagon, Cléante, Elise, Valerie Mariane, Anselme, Prosine, Simon, Jacques, La Fleche,
Harpagon - the main character of the comedy whose life revolved around his pot of gold and getting even more money that was usesles because he never spent it. In the eyes of others he was the most cruel, cheapest and inhuman man on the planet who loved money more than reputation, honor and virtues. His only true fear was losing his money. Harpagon is a usurer who only wanted to increase his wealth no matter what it takes. Even though he was rich he would reproach his kids about wearing expensive clothes, buying expensive food. He wanted to make a feast out of few ingredients and didn’t want to pay a lot of money for it. He never gave anything to anyone from the heart without expecting something in return. He trusted no one and after having his pot stolen he even stopped trusting himself.
Elise - was Harpagon’s daughter and Cleante’s fiancé. She was sweet girl that didn’t care much about her father’s money. Spending a lifetime with the man she loves was more important for her than money. She didn’t even consider bowing down to her father and give up without a fight. She knew the value of a good marriage and how happy she was to have found a man she truly loved.
Valere - was a young man who tried to get to Elise over Harpagon. He wasn’t a materialist and loved Elise with all his heart. When he realized that hiding his feelings might cause him losing Elise he decided to come clean and suffer the accusations. He was ready to do anything in order to keep Elise.
Cleante - was Harpagon’s son. He was described as everything opposite from his father. He was young and kind hearted. Much like his sister he wasn’t infatuated with wealth and he only needed money to pay for his weeding. He was in love with MAriane. Due to his love he stops at nothing to get what he wants and he only fights for one cause. Even though he didn’t understand or approve his father’s miserliness he respected him and didn’t want to, unless he had to, go against his father’s will.
Mariane - was Cleante’s love and Cleante’s father wanted to marry her. She lived with her ill mother and she took care of her with a lot of love. She was very honest and wanted to be with her only love. The thought of marrying Cleante’s father was repulsing for her so she accepts all plots in order to prevent the weeding.
Anselme - was Valere and Mariane’s father who had an accident in which he thought he had lost all of his family. Once he discovered his children were alive happiness came back to his life.
Forsine - was a well known plotter that tried to gain profit from her schemes. Even though in the beginning she comes off as a negative character by the end the tables turned and it turns out that she has a good heart and a desire to help those in need. She realized how much damage her plots were causing to young people so she decided to use her power to do good.
Jacques - was what he needed to be in a certain occasion. He could be a chef, a stableman… He was vengeful and did what he wanted to disregarding the consequences.
Jean-Baptiste Poqelin Moliere Biography
Jean-Baptiste Poqelin Moliere was born in 1622 and is one of the most famous French comedy writers, next to Corneille and Racine. He is the best writer of the golden era in French playwriting that reached it’s peak in the 17th century.
Except for being a writer Moliere was also a screenwriter and contributed to the development of the humoristic satire.
He was going to become a lawyer but he gave up on that and decided to dedicate his life to the theater where he worked as an actor, writer, director till the rest of his life.
He wrote 33 comedies. Some of them were in verse and some of them were in prose and they are believed to be the mirror of the French society in the 17th century. Moliere always tried to give a detailed description of the social layers and their characteristics. He was judgmental and laughed out everything that wasn’t in harmony with the nature that he believed was the symbol of intellect.
His most famous comedies are: "The School for Husbands", "Tartuffe", "The Misanthrope", "Don Juan" …
He wanted to write tragedies but he became famous for his burlesques that were performed after the tragedies. Later on, he dedicated himself to writing musical comedies.
He suffered from tuberculosis and just a few hours after he coughed blood on stage he died on February 17th, 1673 in Paris.