Tuesday, 3 November 1998

Molière: The Miser (1668)

Translation: John Wood, 1953
Edition: Penguin, 1984
Review number: 155

The Miser is one of Molière's best known plays, an original variation on the commedia dell'arte models which form the basis for his work. The elements are the young lovers withing to marry - a brother and sister with their chosen spouses - who are unable to because of the opposition of a parent. By making the reason for Harpagon's refusal to let them marry his extreme miserliness, Molière is able to ring the changes on his threadbare plot (shared by almost all his plays).

Harpagon dominates the play, and is splendidly grotesque. He is entirely one dimensional, avarice to the core - always wanting to run to check his store of money, yet afraid to do so in case thieves see him do it. There is a wonderful scene where he is trying to cut the costs of a banquet he wishes to hold in honour of his own impending marriage - to the young woman his son loves.

As in The Would-Be Gentleman, the idiosyncrasies of the title role are what raise the play above the standard attained by Molière's less well known plays.

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