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Theatre / The Miser

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The 1980 film adaptation starring Louis de Funès.

The Miser (L'Avare), written in 1668, is one of the more famous plays by Molière.

The eponymous greedy miser is Harpagon, ruling his house with an iron hand, whose children are caught up in a number of complex love problems; son Cléante wishes to marry Marianne, whom Harpagon himself intends to marry, while daughter Élise loves Valère, who works in Harpagon's house in order to be closer to his beloved. Harpagon, however, intends to marry Élise off to old Mr. Anselme. As usually in comedies the children, with some help, try and find out a way out of the mess.

The play (translated by Charles Heron Wall) can be found on Project Gutenberg. The 1980 film adaptation has its own trope section.

For the character archetype, see The Scrooge.

The play provides examples of:

  • Arranged Marriage: Harpagon arranges his daughter to marry a much older man, because he'd take her without dowry.
  • Aside Comment: Subverted — Snarky servant La Flèche says a couple of such comments, only for Harpagon to actually hear them and ask who is La Flèche talking to.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: As Harpagon is freaking out over the theft of his cash-box, he notices a "crowd of people", all of whom "look at [him] and laugh". Of course, Harpagon is on the edge of going insane with grief at this point.
  • Cargo Ship:invoked Harpagon demands that Valere explain his odious crimes, obviously referring to the theft of his money. Valere, however, thinks Harpagon is talking about his wooing of Elise. Harpagon is so fixated on the stolen money that he takes unusually long to realize what's up, even when Valere begins talking of Elise's "fair eyes", "modesty," and "purity".
    Valere: All my desires were limited to the pleasures of sight, and nothing criminal has profaned the passion those fair eyes have inspired me with.
    Harpagon: [aside] The fair eyes of my cash-box! He speaks of it as a lover does of his mistress.
  • Companion Cube: Harpagon refers to his money as his friend after it goes missing.
  • Cultural Translation: There is a scene where numerous worthless kitschy objects are listed, including "tapestry hangings representing the loves of Gombaud and Macée"; these were apparently characters from "an old comic pastoral" sometimes depicted on tapestries at that time. The Polish translation of the play (by Tadeusz Boy-Zelenski) replaces this with "...the courtings of Jupiter", which is much less hopelessly obscure to modern audiences.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: The d'Alburci family was separated in a shipwreak after they had to flee violence in Naples. While Anselme and Valère were lucky enough, the first to be marooned with all his money, the latter to be Happily Adopted, Marianne and her mother were captured and enslaved by corsairs for ten years. When they were finally freed, they tried to return to Italy, where all their money was lost and their remaining relatives refused to help them.
  • Did They or Didn't They?: In the beginning, Valère and Élise speak about the "dear tokens of [Élise's] love" and "the engagement which [Valère's] love has forced from [Élise]", which can be interpreted as a sexual act.
  • Double In-Law Marriage: In the end, siblings Elise and Cleante marry respectively Valere and Marianne, who just turned out to be brother and sister.
  • Dowry Dilemma: Harpagon, the titular miser, is willing to marry his daughter off to a nobleman instead of the man she wants because he has accepted to marry her without a dowry, and his son to a rich widow.
  • Hypocritical Humour:
    Harpagon: Always money! I think they have nothing else to say except money, money, money! Always that same word in their mouth, money! They always speak of money! It's their pillow companion, money!
  • Insane Troll Logic: Frosine uses it in act II, scene VI in hopes of convincing Harpagon that marrying Marianne will give him "a clear twelve thousand francs a year", by listing all the expensive things that Marianne does not indulge in.
  • Likes Older Men: Frosine claims Marianne to be this to convince Harpagon that she's willing to marry him.
  • Loan Shark: Cléante has to resort to these to help Mariane's mother, before discovering the financer he would be speaking to was Harpagon, who used strawmen like Master Simon to loan money to rate around 25%. As said Cléante, "The deuce! What a Jew! what a Turk we have here! That is more than twenty-five per cent." To tell you how exploitative Harpagon's usury was, around one-fourth of the loaned capital was in form of over-evaluated rubbish furniture and tapestry.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Pops up out of nowhere at the end, where Anselme turns out to be Valere's father, and Marianne his sister.
  • A MacGuffin Full of Money: Harpagon's cash-box with ten thousand crowns.
  • The Matchmaker: Frosine.
  • Mistaken Confession: On Valere's part, as noted in One Dialogue, Two Conversations, below.
  • Money Fetish: Harpagon.
  • Nervous Wreck: Harpagon throughout the entire play.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations:
    • Harpagon and Valere's conversation about Valere's roguish thievery — Harpagon is convinced that Valere has stolen his cash-box and demands him to return that, while Valere is certain that Harpagon is talking of Valere's love for Elise (which Harpagon doesn't actually know of).
    • Later, Maitre Jacques has convinced Harpagon and Valere to make up... by telling each one that the other agreed with him. Naturally, it falls apart as soon as they thank each other for being reasonable.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Anselme, even before learning that Valère is his long-lost son, is willing to hear him and treat him fairly without letting himself be taken for a fool. He only wanted to marry Elise to get a new family out of her, and is happy to leave her to Valère once he and Marianne are returned to him.
  • Rescue Romance: Valère and Elise met when he saved her from drowning.
  • The Scrooge: Harpagon, who else.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Because he keeps going back to check on his buried cash-box, Harpagon ends up leading La Flèche straight to it.
  • Servile Snarker: Flèche and, even more so, Master Jacques (who gets beaten for it, twice).
  • Stealth Insult: Harpagon wants Elise to marry Mr. Anselme, because he'd take her without dowry. When Valère hears this, he comments: "When a man offers to marry a girl without a dowry, we ought to look no farther. Everything is comprised in that, and 'without dowry' compensates for want of beauty, youth, birth, honour, wisdom, and probity." Harpagon takes it completely seriously.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Harpagon goes to great lengths to tell his son how he totally doesn't have a money-filled cash-box hidden.
  • Tranquil Fury: When Valere is professing his love for Elise, Harpagon (thinking about his money) asks if he took any liberties, Valere stands straight up in outrage.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Harpagon's maddened rant at the end of Act IV lives and breathes this trope.
  • Yes-Man: Valère acts like this towards Harpagon.

The 1980 film adaptation provides examples of:

  • Bear Trap: Harpagon is seen adding a bear trap atop his cash-box to protect it at the beginning of the movie. Later, after La Flèche unearthed said treasure, he's seen dragging the bear trap around his ankle.
  • Brick Joke: The church servant seen at the beginning of the movie in Harpagon's Establishing Character Moment reappears again at the very end, still hounding the Miser for money.
  • Establishing Character Moment: This movie adaptation introduces Harpagon with a scene where he is attending mass. Once the church servant starts collecting money, he initially pretends to not have noticed the person, then he flees the church without donating any coin.
  • Pink Means Feminine: Frosine (Claude Gensac) wears a hot pink, rather anachronistic dress.
  • Shout-Out: When Harpagon (Louis de Funès) is discussing feeding the horses with Maître Jacques (Michel Galabru), they are not figured by real horses but by a life-sized drawing from Albert Uderzo, as if coming straight out of Asterix. Marianne's alleged sketches of Neptune, Priam and Anchises are also drawn in Uderzo's style.

Alternative Title(s): L Avare