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The Miser Moliere Essay Format

Accessible, Melodramatic

For something that's over 300 years old, The Miser is written in a very readable, easy-to-understand way. The play contains none of the dense poetic speeches you'll find in Shakespeare, but instead gets right to the point and lays out the character's thoughts and motives for you in a clear way.

Check out this passage, for example, from the beginning of the play, in which Harpagon is convinced La Flèche has stolen money from him:
"It's a terrible worry having such a large sum of money in the house […] It's difficult finding a safe hiding-place anywhere in this house" (1.4.1). It ain't going to get any more straightforward than that.

But the fact that the language in The Miser is easily digestible, that doesn't mean that the characters don't turn the whole emotion thing up to 11. They get pretty wild. The script can read at times like a bizarre-o 17th Century reality show. So. Many. Feels.

"I'll kill myself rather than marry a man like that!" (1.4.95), shouts Élise. And then, if she was a 21st Century damsel in distress, she throws a wine glass against a wall and slides to the floor weeping. "What with talk like that and your extravagance, someone will turn up one of these days and slit my throat because they think I've got money coming out of my ears!" (1.4.31), says Harpagon, being a total diva. In the context of this quote, 'extravagance' means 'wearing clothes that aren't rags.' Totally warrants a throat-slitting, bro.

The melodrama is part of what makes The Miser so enjoyable though. What's funnier than watching a bunch of lovesick/ money-hungry people getting confused? Watching a bunch of lovesick/money-hungry people getting confused andsuper-melodramatic.

''Moliere is dealing with a miser, with greed and avarice, but he goes beyond those personality characteristics,'' Mr. Porter says. ''In all his major works, such as 'Tartuffe,' 'The Misanthrope' and 'The Imaginary Invalid,' he goes deeper than the specific traits that give the plays their titles and looks into the anxieties and fears that cause all these traits. 'The Miser,' for instance, is more about getting old, about feeling that things are getting away from you, that the younger generation is crowding you. His son's youth, virility and attractiveness are threats to Harpagon. They are moving him away from the center of things.

''Many of the plays hinge on the crisis of getting older, the aging process and what it does to the mind, to one's sexuality and one's sense of self-worth and how people get involved with lopsided passions, like greed and the passion for money, because it presents them with some kind of security. The central character is in fact insane, although that word is a bit overused nowadays. He seems like a victim of Alzheimer's disease. There's a lot of personality disintegration in him. He begins to get very suspicious. Because he's afraid of death, he hoards money and thinks everyone's trying to rob him.''

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

There is in the play, Mr. Porter says, a general atmosphere of deception and violence, an atmosphere created by Harpagon, whose behavior affects everyone else's. ''Almost everyone in the play cheats, lies, extorts, bribes or steals,'' he says. ''All of them are somewhat corrupt. At the beginning, they may seem merely a little foolish, but they are driven into crime and deception by Harpagon. Because his brain is full of paranoia, he turns the people around him into enemies. He accuses a servant of robbing him, and the servant is so hurt he goes out and robs him. He beats a servant for telling him the truth, and the servant becomes a liar and tries to get someone hanged for a crime he didn't commit. The son, who at first is just a little bit silly, ends up as an extortionist and an accomplice to grand larceny.''

Mr. Porter has had much experience directing Moliere. ''I haven't directed an enormous number of the plays, but I've directed the ones I've directed many times,'' he says. Among them are ''The Misanthrope,'' ''Tartuffe,'' ''The School for Wives,'' ''Don Juan,'' ''The Miser,'' ''The Imaginary Invalid'' and ''Scapin.'' His ''School for Wives'' on Broadway won a Tony Award for Brian Bedford as best actor in 1971 and a Tony nomination for Mr. Porter.

Mr. Bosco and Mr. Porter have previously collaborated not on Moliere but on Shaw: ''Man and Superman,'' ''Major Barbara,'' ''You Never Can Tell'' and ''The Devil's Disciple'' at Circle in the Square and ''Misalliance'' at the Roundabout Theater. Mr. Bosco, though, is no stranger to farce, having won a Tony Award as best actor in 1989 for his role as an apoplectic opera impresario in ''Lend Me a Tenor.'' And although he has not done much Moliere, he has performed in ''The Miser'' before, as Anselme, the older suitor for Harpagon's daughter, at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center in 1969.

The Process of Caving In

He is, he says, enjoying a role that is physically very different for him. ''Usually I play a kind of big, tall, stand-up guy with large heels,'' the 6-foot-2, 220-pound-plus actor says, mentioning his performances in ''Lend Me a Tenor'' and as General Burgoyne, the British aristocrat in ''The Devil's Disciple.'' ''But the other day, someone who saw a preview of 'The Miser' said to me that I seemed so much smaller on the stage than I actually am. I told him that it wasn't a deliberate thing. I found that with no conscious effort I was bending over.

''Now it's corny to play an old man by bending over. But I have a feeling that as Harpagon gets more paranoid, as things get worse for him, he tends to close in on himself; he gets very tight and defensive, almost like a turtle retreating into his shell. And I'm trying to do it progressively, so that at the beginning I'm not so bent over, but that toward the end, when things really cave in, he really caves in, too.''

Mr. Porter says it's clear to him that even though ''The Miser'' is a comedy, it's essentially pessimistic, or at least more pessimistic than many of Moliere's plays. ''The audience gets a happy ending,'' he says, ''but it's a very arbitrary one, taken from Roman comedies, of the coincidence of a long-lost father reappearing. Moliere is saying that he's giving the audience this happy ending because they're in a theater having a good time. He's saying that things don't turn out like this in the real world. If this play were in the real world, Moliere says, it would end up in a mess.''

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