The Miser

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For the 1980 film, see L'avare (film).

The Miser (French: L'Avare; pronounced: [lavaʁ]) is a five-act comedy in prose by the French playwright Molière. It was first performed on September 9, 1668, in the theatre of the Palais-Royal in Paris.[1]

The play[edit]

The play was first produced when Molière's company was under the protection of Louis XIV himself. It was loosely based on the Latin comedy Aulularia by Plautus, from which many incidents and scraps of dialogue are borrowed, as well as from contemporary Italian farces.[2][3]

The miser of the title is called Harpagon, a name adapted from the Latin harpago, meaning a hook or grappling iron. He is obsessed with the wealth he has amassed and always ready to save expenses. Now a widower, he has a son, Cléante, and a daughter, Élise. Although he is over seventy, he is attempting to arrange a marriage between himself and an attractive young woman, Mariane. She and Cléante are already devoted to each other, however, and the son attempts to procure a loan to help her and her sick mother, who are impoverished. Élise, Harpagon's daughter, is the beloved of Valère, but her father hopes to marry her to a wealthy man of his choosing, Seigneur Anselme. Meanwhile Valère has taken a job as steward in Harpagon's household so as to be close to Élise. The complications are only resolved at the end by the rather conventional discovery that some of the principal characters are long lost relatives.

Satire and farce blend in the fast-moving plot, as when the miser's hoard is stolen. Asked by the police magistrate whom he suspects, Harpagon replies, “Everybody! I wish you to take into custody the whole town and suburbs” (5.1) and indicates the theatre audience while doing so. The play also makes fun of certain theatrical conventions, such as the spoken aside addressed to the audience, hitherto ignored by the characters onstage. The characters of L'Avare, however, generally demand to know who exactly is being spoken to.[4]


Harpagon and La Flèche in a German production of “The Miser”, 1810
  • Harpagon, miser, tyrannical father of Cléante and Élise, suitor of Mariane.
  • Cléante, Harpagon's son, in love with Mariane.
  • Élise, daughter to Harpagon. In love with Valère.
  • Valère, later discovered to be the son to Anselme and brother to Mariane. In love with Élise.
  • La Flèche, valet to Cléante.
  • Master Jacques, cook and coachman to Harpagon.
  • Seigneur Anselme, eventually revealed as the father of Valère and Mariane.
  • Mariane, daughter to Anselme and sister to Valère. In love with Cléante.
  • Master Simon, broker.
  • Frosine, an intriguing woman, the matchmaker.
  • Brindavoine and La Merluche, lackeys to Harpagon.
  • An Officer and his clerk.
  • Mistress Claude, servant to Harpagon.

Theatrical adaptations[edit]

In England Thomas Shadwell adapted Molière's work under the title "The Miser" in 1672 and added eight new characters.[5] A version based on both Plautus and Molière was produced by Henry Fielding in 1732.[6]

In Russia, Vasily Pashkevich based his 18th century comic opera The Miser on Molière's play. Another musical adaptation in Arabic was pioneered by the Lebanese Marun al-Naqqash (1817–55) as al-Bakhil. This was performed in Beirut in 1847.[7]

Jovan Sterija Popović, the founding father of Serbian theatre, based his Tvrdica (The Miser, 1837) on Molière's play. In this work, the Harpagon figure is represented as a small town Greek merchant.[8]

During the 20th century there was a German adaptation by Carl Sternheim (Die Geizige, 1916) and a Hungarian adaptation by István Örkény, (Zsugori, 1947). More recently, John Coutts' English-Scots version of "The Miser" was performed in 2009 under the title The Auld Skinflint.[9] In 2012 the play was made into a Bollywood musical titled Kanjoos The Miser by Hardeep Singh Kohli and Jatinder Verma and began a tour of the UK.[10]

There are three productions known to have been produced and performed on Broadway. The first was performed at the Experimental Theatre and ran for only three performances May 13–19, 1936.[11] The second was at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center May 8 - June 21, 1969 and featured Robert Symonds as Harpagon, David Birney as Cleante, Blythe Danner as Elise and Philip Bosco as Anselme.[12] The most recent revival was at the Circle in the Square Theatre October 11 - December 30, 1990 and starred Philip Bosco as Harpagon and Carole Shelley as Frosine.[13]

In 1998, The Miser was performed at the Stratford Festival for the first time; the production was later transferred to City Center in New York City for a limited run (November 12-29, 1998) with William Hutt as Harpagon and Martha Henry as Frosine[14]

Film and television adaptations[edit]

L'avare is a French movie from 1980, directed by and starring Louis de Funès.[15]

The play was also filmed by the Comédie-Française in 1973, with Isabelle Adjani in the role of Mariane.[16]

The Italian film L'Avaro (L'avaro) was made in 1990 by Tonino Cervi, with Alberto Sordi in the lead role.

There were also television adaptations in Italy (1957) and France (2006).

On 2 April 1988, the BBC broadcast an updated, period adaptation to an English setting in their Theatre Night series using the Alan Drury translation. The production featured Nigel Hawthorne as Harpagon, Janet Suzman as Frosine, Jim Broadbent as Maitre Jacques, Ron Cook as La Fleche and Christopher Benjamin as Anselme.[17]

Audio recordings[edit]

An audio recording of the 1969 Lincoln Center production with Robert Symonds as Harpagon, David Birney as Cleante and Blythe Danner as Elise (but with Paul Sparer replacing Philip Bosco as Anselme) (see "Theatrical adaptations" above) was released by Caedmon Records (TRS 338); there is no translator listed in the album liner notes. To date, this is the only known English recording of the play.


  1. ^ Garreau 1984, p. 417; see also this entry at césar.
  2. ^ The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 7. London: Historical Publishing Company 1906, pp.215-217
  3. ^ Theatre history site
  4. ^ Cummings study guides
  5. ^ Albert S. Borgman, Thomas Shadwell, his life and comedies, New York 1969, pp.141-7
  6. ^ Available on Google Books
  7. ^ M.M.Badawi, “Arabic drama: early developments” in Modern Arabic Literature, Cambridge 1992, pp.331-2
  8. ^ McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama, 1984
  9. ^ Scots language site
  10. ^ The Stage website
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ L’Avare (1980) / The Miser / Louis de Funès /1980 / Film Review
  16. ^ Mise-en scène by Andrei Serban, directed by Yves-André Hubert, DVD published by as part of collected works of Molière
  17. ^


  • Garreau, Joseph E. (1984). "Molière", pp. 397–418 in McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama, Stanley Hochman, editor in chief. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 9780070791695.

External links[edit]