There are indications I will not live eternally, but I have an unfinished project: publishing a book on Molière.
This goal may be unrealistic. However, I will not be given another chance. It will be a short book and I may not have reviewed recent literature on the subject as thoroughly as I would like to. Yet, I wrote a PhD thesis on Molière, and a PhD thesis is a scholarly venture. Moreover, I was expected to “dust it off,” a thesis is a thesis, and publish it.
Dusting it off is what I plan to do. In other words, it will not sound too scholarly. I will quote fellow moliéristes, but will focus on my findings.
Tartuffe, 1664 – 1669
Dom Juan, 1665
Le Misanthrope, 1666
Were it not for the intervention of a second father, the young couples in L’Avare(The Miser), 1668, could not marry. They would be at the mercy of Harpagon’s greed.
Matters are worse in Tartuffe, 1664 -1669. Were it not for the intervention of the king, not only would the young lovers not marry, but Orgon’s family would be ruined. In The Misanthrope,1666, Alceste is his own worst enemy. In Dom Juan, 1665, Dom Juan is removed by a deus ex machinaand he has left Elvira, his wife.
Chapters may resemble Molière’s “L’Avare:” Doublings, a post. This post is informative, but not too scholarly. It also illustrates my main finding. In Molière’s plays, the young lovers cannot marry without an intervention, or putting on a play (Le Bourgeois gentilhomme). In L’Avare, they are saved by a second father: doublings. Molière uses stage devices, such as a deus ex machina, to save the society of the play.
Therefore, if a blocking character is removed, he is apharmakos (a scapegoat).
For instance, Rousseau criticized Molière’s Misanthrope, because the playwright had juxtaposed in one character, Alceste, “l’homme de bien” (the good man) and “l’homme emporté” (the angry man).Professor Jules Brody has described Alceste and Dom Juan as “morally” in the right but “esthetically” in the wrong. Alceste is right when he says about courtiers that they are not necessarily sincere. However, we also know that an angry Alceste criticizes courtiers because he cannot tell whether or not they are sincere when they pay him a compliment. This is the reason why Rousseau called him “unhomme emporté [angry].” Alceste gets angry.
The faults Alceste found in courtiers were frequently very real, but a superficial reading of the Misanthrope or limited exposure to the play do not allow the reader or spectator to realize that Alceste himself needs to be validated to such an extent that genuine praise and compliments are as important to him as a seemingly devout Tartuffe is to Orgon (Tartuffe). Alceste threatens to leave Paris and live in a desert, a location outside Paris, and will not marry Célimène unless she follows him, which she cannot and will not do. After he has settled in a desert, Alceste will probably forever return to court, or, metaphorically, to Célimène. At the end of the Misanthrope, the curtain falls on an empty stage. Philinte, Le Misanthrope‘s raisonneur, and Éliante, a woman Alceste could have married but will marry Philinte, are leaving so they to can help Alceste.
In L’Avare, Molière also created characters wishing the death of Harpagon, a tyrannical miser. In the best of all possible worlds, children love their parents and parents love their children. Harpagon, however, loves his money more than he loves his children, Cléante and Élise. Before the anagnorisis, Mariane, who loves Cléante, Harpagon’s son, tells Frosine, a matchmaker, that she wishes Harpagon were dead, which she says is strange. Cléante also wishes his father were dead and tells his valet La Flèche. Yet, despite his cruelty, Harpagon remains a father and his children resent finding fault with him.
Mon Dieu, Frosine, c’est une étrange affaire, lorsque pour être heureuse, il faut souhaiter ou attendre le trépas de quelqu’un, et la mort ne suit pas tous les projets que nous faisons. (Mariane à Frosine, III. iv)
[Oh, Frosine! What a strange state of things that, in order to be happy, we must look forward to the death of another. Yet death will not fall in with all the projects we make.] [Mariane to Frosine, III. 8]
Que veux-tu que j’y fasse ? Voilà où les jeunes gens sont réduits par la maudite avarice des pères ; et on s’étonne après cela que les fils souhaitent qu’ils meurent. (Cléante à La Flèche, II. i)
[What would you have me do? It is to this that young men are reduced by the accursed avarice of their fathers; and people are astonished after that, that sons long for their death.] [Cléante to La Flèche, II. 1] [eBook #6923]
Rousseau is indignant:
« C’est un grand vice assurément d’être avare et de prêter à usure, mais n’en est-ce pas un plus grand encore à un fils de voler son père, de lui manquer de respect, de lui faire les plus insultants reproches, et quand ce père irrité lui donne sa malédiction, de répondre d’un air goguenard, qu’il n’a que faire de ses dons ? Si la plaisanterie est excellente en est-elle moins punissable ? Et la pièce où l’on fait aimer le fils insolent qui l’a faite, en est-elle moins une école de mauvaises mœurs ? »
[It is no doubt a fault to be a miser and a usurer, but isn’t it a greater fault for a son to rob his father and to be disrespectful towards him, to heap upon him insulting blame and, when this irritated father curses him, to answer mockingly that he has no use for his gifts? If the joke is witty, is it less punishable? And is the play where the father is depicted as a loving father, any less a school for vice?]
Yet, after it is revealed that Anselme is Dom Thomas d’Alburcy, Valère and Mariane’s wealthy father, the miser is so happy to learn that his cassette will be returned to him that he abandons his project to remarry. His son Cléante will marry Mariane, Dom Thomas d’Alburcy’s daughter and the woman Harpagon wished to take as a wife.
Dom Juan: le Grand Seigneur méchant homme
Dom Juan is a Grand Seigneur méchant homme, a great lord and a bad man who is felled by heaven itself. In his duality, Dom Juan resembles Le Misanthrope‘s Alceste, homme de bien and homme emporté (Rousseau). In fact, in Dom Juan, a masterful Molière created a dark version of his apparently virtuous Alceste, the misanthrope. Célimène, whom Alceste wishes to marry, belongs not to a corrupt as much as a frivolous court. Molière will not condemn court altogether. The courtiers Célimène’s portraits amuse have read Charles Sorel‘s Lois de la galanterie. Moreover, she knows that when age has tarnished her charm, she may well be a prude, a role, or function, played by the Misanthrope‘s Arsinoé. The world Arsinoé criticizes is the very world that had been sustenance to her in earlier and better years.
Il est une saison pour la galanterie, Il en est une, aussi, propre à la pruderie ; On peut, par politique, en prendre le parti, Quand de nos jeunes ans, l’éclat est amorti ; Cela sert à couvrir de fâcheuses disgrâces. (Célimène à Arsinoé, III. iii, 975 – 79)
[There is an age for love-affairs, methinks,
And there’s an age that’s fit for prudery.
It may be policy to choose the second
When youth is gone and all its glamour faded,
For that may serve to hide a sorry downfall.] [Célimène to Arsinoé, III. 3]
As for Dom Juan himself, he has redeeming features. He is not the demonic figure his valet Sganarelle describes to Dom Gusman, Elvira’s horseman, in the first act of Dom Juan:
[m]ais par précaution, je t’apprends (inter nos,) que tu vois en Dom Juan, mon maître, le plus grand scélérat que la terre ait jamais porté, un enragé, un chien, un diable, un Turc, un hérétique, qui ne croit ni Ciel, ni Enfer, ni loup-garou, qui passe cette vie en véritable bête brute, en pourceau d’Epicure,en vrai Sardanapale, qui ferme l’oreille à toutes les remontrances qu’on lui peut faire, et traite de billevesées tout ce que nous croyons. (Sganarelle à Don Gusman, I. i)
[Still, as a warning, inter nos, I would teach you that you will find in Don Juan, my master, the greatest renegade that the earth has ever endured, a wild man, a dog, a devil, a Turk, a heretic, who does not believe in Heaven, Hell, or the Wolf-man, who disports in this life as a thoroughly brute beast, a pig of Epicurus, a true Sardanapalus, who closes his ears to all Christian remonstrances that one could make to him, and treats all that we believe as empty words.] [Sganarelle to Don Gusman, I. 1, p. 3]
However when Dom Juan enters, he asks Sganarelle if perhaps the person who was speaking to him could have been Done Elvire’s “good” Gusman:
Quel homme te parlait là, Il a bien de l’air ce me semble du bon Gusman de Done Elvire ? (I. ii)
Who were you just speaking to? He looked a little like the good Gusman of Donna Elvira. [Dom Juan to Sganarelle, I. 2, p. 4]
According to Jules Brody, Molière’s Dom Juan has committed a “single crime,” so all is not lost:
His single crime, after all, consists not in having lured Done Elvire out of her convent, but, rather, in having married and abandoned her. (Brody, p. 568)
The difficulty would lie in the fact that Dom Juan cannot love a person who loves him. He must feel jealous. If he does not fear losing a woman he loves, he cannot love. Molière’s Dom Juan is more of a jaloux than he is a seducer.
Mais lorsqu’on en est maître une fois, il n’y a plus rien à dire ni rien à souhaiter ; tout le beau de la passion est fini, et nous nous endormons dans la tranquillité d’un tel amour, si quelque objet nouveau ne vient réveiller nos désirs, et présenter à notre cœur les charmes. (I. ii) [But let us be master once, nothing more is left to say or to wish; the beautiful part of passion is done, and we would sink into the tranquility of such a love, if some new object did not come to awaken our desires, and present to our heart the alluring charms of another conquest.] [I. 2, p. 6]
However, Dom Juan has also trivialized God himself, which is not a mere detail. He will not repent.
Non, non, il ne sera pas dit, quoi qu’il arrive, que je sois capable de me repentir,
allons, suis-moi. (V. v)
[No, no, it will never be said, whatever happens, that I repented. Now, follow me.]
Dom Juan. [V.v, p. 61]
Rousseau questioned the morality of theatre and in particular Molière’s Misanthrope and Miser, L’Avare (1668). Rousseau wrote to d’Alembert when a theatre was under construction in Geneva. It was a private letter, but d’Alembert published it. As noted above, a first or superficial reading of Molière’s plays, Le Misanthrope in particular, may bring confusion as to the morality of his comedies. So could attending one performance of both Dom Juan (1665) and Le Misanthrope (1666). The rapidity inherent to performances may condition a text.
Reading plays and examining such elements as their structure is more likely tolead to a better grasp of their meaning. The doubling of functions,the intervention of a deus ex machina, ananagnorisis, the use of a pharmakos(a scapegoat), incongruities, and other factors may be extremely revealing.A title, such as Dom Juan, may also condition a play. Dom Juan is a reputed seducer, but Molière’s Dom Juan is unconvincing in this regard (see II. 1-5, pp. 12-28). He is not as Sganarelle depicts him. Returning home to his wife could rehabilitate him. However, he has killed the commandeur and his name is Dom Juan. He is therefore invited to a festin de pierre, a feast of stones. Led by the Statue, he is engulfed into an abyss.
In short, Molière’s plays may skirt what is deemed unacceptable. He did have to rewrite his Tartuffe twice because it was considered an attack on devotion, rather than an attack on hypocrisy. However, hypocrisy was attacked and the hypocrite, Tartuffe, used casuistry shortly after the publication of Blaise Pascal‘s Lettres provinciales, written in 1656-1657.
As for L’Avare, Harpagon is forcing his daughter Élise to marry Anselme while he, the miser, marries Mariane, who loves Cléante, Harpagon’s son. Were it not for an anagnorisis and the kindness of Dom Thomas d’Alburcy, Valère and Mariane’s reportedly lost father, Élise and Mariane may have had to enter a forced marriage.
Yet, Rousseau’s critique of Molière is not to be trivialized. It had the benefit of introducing a very long discussion on an enigmatic Molière. In Dom Juan, the jeune premier, the young man who wishes to marry, Dom Juan himself, marries and leaves his wife before the play begins. He will not give money to the poor unless he swears (III. ii) [III. 2, p. 34] and he challenges God Himself. He will settle his dues with God.
Va, va, c’est une affaire entre le Ciel et moi, et nous la démêlerons bien ensemble, sans que tu t’en mettes en peine. (Dom Juan à Sganarelle, I. ii)
[That’s enough. It’s an issue between Heaven and me, and we get along just fine without bothering yourself about it.] [Dom Juan to Sganarelle. I. 2, p. 7]
In remote antiquity, the old king may have been put to death leaving room for a new generation, a younger society. This happened on the day of the longest night, the winter Solstice. French 17th-century comedies kept alive the spirit of the Kōmos, a “drunken procession” and the Saturnalia, an equinoctial reversal of roles. (See Wikipedia.)
____________________  Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Lettre à M. d’Alembert, in Du Contrat social (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 1962), p. 154.  Jules Brody, “Don Juan” and “Le Misanthrope,” or The Esthetics of Individualism in Molière, PMLA 84 (1969), pp. 559 -576.  See Jean-Jacques Rousseau, op. cit. Madame de La Fayette‘s La Princesse de Clèves (1678), a novel, is the finest French 17th- century portrayal of jealous love.  Anne Ubersfeld, Lire le théâtre (Paris : Éditions sociales, 1978).
L’Avare is one of Molière’s better-known comedies and it was translated into English by Thomas Shadwell (1772) and Henry Fielding, the author of Tom Jones. However, it was not a huge success in Molière’s own days. It has been speculated that Molière’s audience expected a play written in verse, the nobler alexandrine verse (12 feet or syllables), first used in the twelfth-century Roman d’Alexandre.
Harpagon, father toCléante, in love withMariane. Cléante, Harpagon’sson, lover toMarianne. Valère, son toAnselme, lover toÉlise, and “intendant” to Harpagon Anselme / Dom Thomas d’Alburcy, father toValèreandMariane, and Master Simon, broker. Master Jacques, cook and coachman toHarpagon. La Flèche, valet toCléante. Brindavoine, andLa Merluche, lackeys toHarpagon. A Magistrateand hisClerk. Élise, daughter toHarpagon. Mariane, daughter toAnselme. Frosine, an intriguing woman. Mistress Claude, servant toHarpagon.
The scene is at Paris, in Harpagon’s house.
We will be focusing on the manner in which the young couples featured in the Miser, L’Avare, manage to overcome the obstacle to their marriage. Short of a miracle, they are condemned to do as their father’s greed dictates. All the elements of L’Avare’s plot are introduced in the first act of the play, which reflects the Græco-Roman origins of comedy and tragedy. As a five-act play, Molière’s L’Avare is a ‘grande comédie,’ not a farce (Molière wrote both), and its plot is the archetypal struggle, also called the agôn, between, on the one hand, the alazṓn of Greek comedy, or the blocking character, and, on the other hand, the eirôn, the young couple and their supporters: valets, maids, zanni. In other words, it is a traditional blondin-berne-barbon plot. The young couples will succeed in marrying.
A Comedy of Manners and A Comedy of Intrigue
doublings: two young couples and two fathers
Harpagon is the father of Élise and Cléante
Anselme is Valère and Mariane’s father, which we do not know until the fifth act (V. v) of the comedy
L’Avare is both a comedy of manners, a form we inherited mostly from Greek dramatist Menander, and a comédie d’intrigue, a comedy where the plot prevails. As the portrayal of a miser, L’Avare is a comedy of manners (see the full text in Wikisource and eBook #6923). Harpagon’s greed constitutes the obstacle to the marriage of Cléante (Harpagon) and Mariane as well as the marriage of Valère and Élise (Harpagon).
Cléante gambles and wins, which allows him to buy elegant clothes and court Mariane, but he does not have sufficient money to marry and must therefore go to a moneylender. Ironically, the moneylender happens to be Harpagon himself who demands no less than the now metaphorical “pound of flesh” (Shylock) as repayment. The moneylender episode—act two, scene two (II. i) [II. 2]—shows to what extent Harpagon’s greed is an obstacle to the marriage of our young couples. The plot advances in that Cléante cannot obtain a loan that might enable his marriage. Another “trick” must be devised. However, plot and manners (greed) are inextricably woven.
Obstacles to Two Marriages
a family tyrant
The action takes place in Harpagon’s house in Paris and can be described as genre art, a depiction of ordinary people engaged in ordinary activities. Will G Moore has remarked that Molière’s characters
“[a]re concerned with everyday life; the stuff of which it was made was by tradition the doings of ordinary people in ordinary surroundings.”
L’Avare is a five-act comedy, but it is written in prose, not verse, and Harpagon, our blocking character, is an enriched bourgeois. Although he does not feed his horse properly, he owns a carriage and he has servants. As depicted by François Boucher, the interior of his house is rather elegant. However, he is extremely greedy and he behaves as though he owned his children. He is a domestic tyrant. In act one, Harpagon states that he has arranged for his children to marry, but has not consulted them. Cléante will marry a “certain widow,” our tyrant has just heard of, and Élise will be “given” to Mr. Anselme, a gentleman who will not request the customary dowry, or “sans dot”
Quant à ton frère, je lui destine une certaine veuve dont ce matin on m’est venu parler; et, pour toi, je te donne au seigneur Anselme. (Harpagon to Élise, [I. iv])
[As to your brother, I have thought for him of a certain widow, of whom I heard this morning; and you I shall give to Mr. Anselme. [1. 6] [eBook #6923]
Élise does not know Mr Anselme and refuses to marry him, threatening to commit suicide. As for Harpagon, he plans to marry Mariane, who loves his son (Cléante). For Harpagon, Mr Anselme is a perfect choice because Élise will marry at no cost to the miser: “sans dot.” (I. iv FR) (I. 6 EN)
Valère will attempt to save Élise from a marriage to a person other than himself. Valère, Harpagon’s “intendant,” begs Harpagon to free Élise. However, the objections he presents are followed by Harpagon’s “sans dot” (without a dowry). Molière’s blocking characters are inflexible or rigid. This rigidity is the feature Henri Bergson (18 October 1859 – 4 January 1941) attached to the comical or comedic in his Laughter. Valère’s objections having been rebuked by a litany of “sans dot,” he is literally speechless. He simply repeats what the Harpagon, the miser, has told him:
Lorsqu’on s’offre de prendre une fille sans dot, on ne doit point regarder plus avant. Tout est renfermé là-dedans, et sans dot tient lieu de beauté, de jeunesse, de naissance, d’honneur, de sagesse, et de probité. (Valère à Harpagon, I. v)
[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.] (I. 10) [eBook #6923]
But there is some hope. As the story goes, Valère’s father, Dom Thomas d’Alburcy, is believed to have drowned when he and his family (his wife, Valère and Mariane) were fleeing Naples. It appears, however, that Dom Thomas has survived and that he is a man of means. Valère was looking for him when he met Élise. At her request, he decided to stay near her and made himself Harpagon’s “intendant,” but someone else is looking for Valère’s father.
Mais enfin, si je puis, comme je l’espère, retrouver mes parents, nous n’aurons pas beaucoup de peine à nous le rendre favorable. J’en attends des nouvelles avec impatience, et j’en irai chercher moi-même, si elles tardent à venir. (I. i)
[However, if I can find my parents, as I fully hope I shall, they will soon be favourable to us. I am expecting news of them with great impatience; but if none comes I will go in search of them myself.] [I.1]
The curtain will then fall on an anagnorisis (V. v) [V. 5], a recognition scene. However, when Anselme enters Harpagon’s house and hears that there is opposition to the contract he has come to sign, he tells Harpagon that he will not coerce a woman into a mariage, which frees Élise. He also remarks that he will not “lay claim to a heart which has already bestowed itself,” thereby allowing Mariane, his daughter, to marry Cléante, Harpagon’s son, rather than Harpagon.
Ce n’est pas mon dessein de me faire épouser par force, et de rien prétendre à un cœur qui se serait donné ; mais pour vos intérêts, je suis prêt à les embrasser ainsi que les miens propres. (Anselme to Harpagon [V. v])
[It is not my intention to force anybody to marry me, and to lay claim to a heart which has already bestowed itself; but as far as your interests are concerned, I am ready to espouse them as if they were my own.] (V. 5) [eBook #6923]
Anselme seems a fine gentleman whom the anagnorisis(V. v) [V. 5], the dénouement (see Dramatic Structure, Wikipedia), will identify as Valère and Mariane’s father. A greedy Harpagon has chosen Anselme as the perfect groom because Anselme would marry Élise without requesting the customary dowry, or at no cost to the miser: “sans dot.” (I. v) [I. 5]
Qu’il faut manger pour vivre, et non pas vivre pour manger. (III. i)
Harpagon’s greed is enormous, so students are taught that Molière concentrates on manners rather than the plot. He does, but in L’Avare, although the plot is mainly episodic, manners and plot (intrigue) are inextricably linked. For instance, when Harpagon is having a meal prepared to celebrate the marriage(s) that are to take place that very day, Harpagon hears Valère say that il faut manger pour vivre and not vivre pour manger, that one should eat to live and not live to eat, Harpagon so loves Valère’s witty chiasmus, that he wants these words engraved in gold and placed above his fireplace. (III. i) [III. 1] It is unlikely that Harpagon would use gold to celebrate greed, but it is true to character and comical. A meal often ends comedies and may solemnize a wedding.
Moreover, it is a quiproquo, a comical misunderstanding which, in L’Avare, leads to the anagnorisis. When Harpagon realizes his cassette has disappeared and may have been stolen, he loses his composure and accuses Valère, at the instigation of Maître Jacques. Maître Jacques resents the trust Harpagon has placed in Valère. If he could, Harpagon would have Valère drawn and quartered. Valère has not stolen Harpagon’s cassette, but he and Élise have signed a promise to marry another. Valère has ‘robbed’ Harpagon, but it is Élise he has taken, not a cassette. (V. iii & iv) [V. 3 & 4] [eBook #6923]
Anselme first steps foot on the stage as the battle rages. Given Élise’s promise, he cannot and would not marry her. However, Valère stands accused of a theft and wants to tell his story. The anagnorisis has now begun. To give himself credibility, Valère says that he is the son of Dom Thomas d’Alburcy, which Anselme hesitates to believe because he is a friend of Dom Those and, to his knowledge, all members of Dom Thomas’ family drowned as they were trying to flee Naples, which is not the case.Valère says that he was rescued by Pedro, a servant, and later adopted by the captain of the ship he and Pedro were allowed to board. He can prove his identity. As he speaks, Mariane realizes that Valère is her brother.
For their part, Mariane and her mother were also saved, but their helpers were corsaires, pirates, who enslaved them. Following ten years of enslavement, they were released and they returned to Naples where they could not find Dom Thomas d’Alburcy. They therefore picked up a small inheritance in Genoa and moved to Paris. Mariane’s mother is Valère’s mother and Dom Thomas d’Alburcy’s wife. As he watches this scene, Dom Thomas learns that no member of his family died leaving Naples. He has just found his children and his wife. He would not stand in the way of Valère and Mariane’s marriage who wish to marry Harpagon’s children. Le sieur Anselme knows le sieur Harpagon.
Le Ciel, mes enfants, ne me redonne point à vous, pour être contraire à vos vœux. Seigneur Harpagon, vous jugez bien que le choix d’une jeune personne tombera sur le fils plutôt que sur le père. Allons, ne vous faites point dire ce qu’il n’est point nécessaire d’entendre, et consentez ainsi que moi à ce double hyménée. (V. v)
[Heaven, my dear children, has not restored you to me that I might oppose your wishes. Mr. Harpagon, you must be aware that the choice of a young girl is more likely to fall upon the son than upon the father. Come, now, do not force people to say to you what is unnecessary, and consent, as I do, to this double marriage.] [V. 5] [eBook #6923]
Molière’s L’Avare has an intrigue which resembles the intrigue of most comedies. A young couple wishes to marry, but a blocking character, or alazṓn, prevents their marriage. However, Molière has doubled the young couple who are a brother and sister wishing to marry a brother and a sister, so Molière has therefore doubled the father figure which happens during the anagnorisis. As Dom Thomas d’Alburcy, Anselme is the eirôn who allows the young couples to marry.
The anagnorisis, the recognition scene, does not take place unannounced. As mentioned earlier, as he despairs,Valère tells Élise that he hopes to find his father who may still be alive. Act one (I. i) [I. 1] has prepared the reader or spectator:
Mais enfin, si je puis comme je l’espère, retrouver mes parents, nous n’aurons pas beaucoup de peine à nous le rendre favorable. (Valère à Élise, I. i)
[However, if I can find my parents, as I fully hope I shall, they will soon be favourable to us.] [I. 1] [eBook #6923]
In L’Avare, Molière does not use a deus ex machina. He simply introduces a second father figure who will allow the young couples to marry and will pay all costs. L’Avare‘s young couple are in fact very resourceful, but one cannot marry without money. Mariane (Dom Thomas) recoils at wishing Harpagon’s death, feelings that are reciprocated by Cléante (Harpagon).
Mon Dieu, Frosine, c’est une étrange affaire, lorsque pour être heureuse, il faut souhaiter ou attendre le trépas de quelqu’un, et la mort ne suit pas tous les projets que nous faisons. (Mariane à Frosine, III. iv)
[Oh, Frosine! What a strange state of things that, in order to be happy, we must look forward to the death of another. Yet death will not fall in with all the projects we make.] [III. 8] [eBook #6923]
Que veux-tu que j’y fasse ? Voilà où les jeunes gens sont réduits par la maudite avarice des pères ; et on s’étonne après cela que les fils souhaitent qu’ils meurent. (II. i)
[What would you have me do? It is to this that young men are reduced by the accursed avarice of their fathers; and people are astonished after that, that sons long for their death.] [II. 1] [eBook #6923]
When his father falls, accidentally, Cléante is worried:
Qu’est-ce, mon père, vous êtes-vous fait mal ? (III. ix)
[What’s the matter, father? Have you hurt yourself?] [III. 14] [eBook #6923]
Critic Northrop Frye states that “[t]he tendency of comedy is to include as many people as possible in its final society: the blocking characters are more often reconciled or converted than simply repudiated.”
As for Harpagon, although he may he has been tyrannical, when Dom Thomas and the young couples leave to bring good news to Dom Thomas’ wife, Harpagon is off to see his dear cassette. His cassette, a casket, his vital to Harpagon.
I have already suggested that Molière uses doubling and fusion of functions. Harpagon is a miser and will remain a miser ready to sacrifice his children. It is a sad reflection on humanity but perhaps less sad than the intervention of a deus ex machina. Dom Thomas d’Alburcy is a major member of the play’s society, the intervention of a second father figure allows the happy ending the play demands. An anagnorisis may not be as dazzling a dénouement as the intervention of a deus ex machina, the prince in Tartuffe and a godlike figure inDom Juan, but all’s well that ends well.
____________________ L’Avare in Maurice Rat, Œuvres complètes de Molière (Paris : Éditions Gallimard, coll. La Pléiade, 1956), p. 968. Will G. Moore, Molière, a New Criticism (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1968 , pp. 69-70.  Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 ), p. 165. Micheline Bourbeau-Walker, « Le Misanthrope,oula comédie éclatée, » in David Trott & Nicole Boursier, eds. L’Âge du théâtre en France (Edmonton, Alberta: Academic Printing and Publishing, 1988 ), 53 – 63. (papers from a conference held in Toronto, May 14 – 16, 1987) ISBN 0-920980-30-9 — PQ527.A33 1988
Below is an excerpt from an article I posted in 2014, when our topic was the commedia dell’arte. Pantalone is a mask, a stock character. His name may differ from play to play, but his function, or role, does not change. He is the blocking character, or the obstacle to the marriage of comedy’s young lovers, the innamorati of the commedia dell’arte and, in the case of Pantalone, money prevents the marriages that comedy favours. He is an ancestor to Molière’s Harpagon, L’Avare‘s protagonist.
The portrait I am featuring above is by Maurice Sand, whose full name is Jean-François-Maurice-Arnauld, Baron Dudevant (1823–1889). He was the son of writer George Sand (1 July 1804 – 8 June 1876), who separated from her husband, but brought up her son Maurice and daughter Solange (1828–1899). She may be the most colourful woman in 19th-century France and a prolific author. We will discuss George Sand in a future post.
Molière (15 January 1622 – 17 February 1673) was influenced by the comédie italienne and, in particular, by the commedia dell’arte. He once shared a theatre with the Italians. Moreover, Molière’s first troupe, L’Illustre Théâtre, went bankrupt in 1645, the year it was founded. Molière spent 24 hours in jail and then left Paris and toured the provinces until 1658. We do not have the text of the many comedies he performed during the 13 years he lived outside Paris, but he may have posted a canevas, the plot, and members of his troupe improvised their role as did the actors of the commedia dell’arte.
Pantalone is a heavy father or an alazôn, the blocking character of comedy, or the person who opposes the young lovers’ marriage. As for Pantalone, he is a ‘needy’ blocking character or Pantalon de’ Bisognosi, Italian for ‘Pantalone of the Needy.’ His name derives from San Pantaleone, or Saint Pantaleon. (See Pantalone and Saint Pantaleon, Wikipedia.) As an alazôn, Pantalone is the opponent of the victorious eirôn (as in the word ironic), who helps bring about the marriage of the young lovers. The role, or function, of the alazôn may be played by several characters such as a braggart soldier, a miles gloriosus, or a pedant, il dottore. Roman playwright Plautus (c. 254–184 BCE) wrote the Aulularia, featuring the miser Euclio.
Pantalone is an ancestor to Molière’s L’Avare(The Miser).L’Avare‘s other ancestor is Euclio, the miser featured in Aulularia, the pot of gold, a play by Roman dramatist Plautus. Molière’s Miser wasfirst performed on 9 September 1668, in the theatre of the Palais-Royal, lethéâtre du Palais-Royal. Harpagon is a descendant of Plautus’ Euclio (see L’Avare, Wikipedia).
My article on Molière’s L’Avare(The Miser) is ready for posting, but it is too long. This post will help me make it shorter. L’Avare originates in Greek Old Comedy and Greek New Comedy (Menander c. 342/41 – c. 290 BCE). He may be a type in the Latin Fabula palliata and Atellan Farce, but Molière’s best known-sources are Plautus‘ Aulularia and the commedia dell’arte. Money, or lack thereof, is a common obstacle to the marriage of comedy’s young lovers. As we will see in a future post, Molière’s L’Avare features two young couples and two father figures.
You may notice that a large number of individuals can be associated with Plautus’ Miles gloriosusand the commedia dell’arte‘s Pantalone, il Dottore and il Capitano. Comedies, farces in particular, often feature a boastful character. But Molière’s L’Avare is the depiction of a miser, a less prominent figure than boastful characters.
Pantalone is dressed as Pantalone and his costume is part of his mask. It is always the same and he looks like a hunchback. However, he is not Victor Hugo‘s Hunchback of Notre-Dame(1831). He is a hunchback because of the bag of money he conceals. Pantalone is lustful, jealous, deceitful, selfish, lazy, full of himself (“Il Magnifico”), but, above all, greedy.
Pantalone is the metaphorical representation of money in the commedia world. (See Pantalone, Wikipedia.)
Pantalone is “di bisognosi” (dans le besoin, the needy).
Other than his hunch, Pantalone wears a red cap, red tights, yellow Turkishslippers, a short vest and a long coat. (continue reading)