L’Avare (The Miser) was written by Molière, in 1668 and published in 1669 (Britannica) when he was forty-six years old. It is a comedy, and the dialogue is written in prose. The play has five acts which contain themes of love, hypocrisy, and greed. The plot unfolds in Harpagon’s (the miser’s) house in the time span of twenty-four hours. Harpagon wants his daughter Elise to marry a wealthy old man, Anselme, even though she is in love with Valère, who appears to be lacking in material wealth.
Throughout the entire play, it is possible to see how the role of money and women tend to mirror each other. In the play, Harpagon, the rich and greedy nobleman, obsesses about his safebox of money and guards it ferociously. In another blog, “The Miser and His Money: A Lesson in Investment,” the importance of money to Harpagon is explained: “When the Miser discovered his loss, he was overcome with grief and despair. He groaned and cried and tore his hair.” It is possible to analyze how money was so significant to Harpagon simply for what it gave him in return. In this case, money represents a means to an end, much as his own daughter does as well. He is intent on Elise marrying another rich old man despite the feelings that she has for Valère. Similarly, throughout the story, readers can observe that father and son, Harpagon and Cléante, are fighting over who is to take Mariane’s hand in marriage. In both cases, the women are being treated as commodities that can simply be kept away and exchanged for the pleasure and convenience of men. When speaking about the role of money in The Miser, Ludovic Lagarde says that “…Everything can be sacrificed for money, since nothing else matters, there is no value, and no price… except for money of course.” In the play, since money is seen as the supreme good that everyone seeks, when people have motives other than to gain money to marry or engage in any interaction, they are immediately dismissed. Here, I believe that Molière was trying to point out how it is that in his society money was idolized and prioritized even over people’s feelings and what might be good for them.
In The Miser, there is little to no freedom for women and their thoughts. Throughout various scenes in the play, when women try talking, they are unapologetically interrupted by men. An example of this can be seen as early as in Act I, Scene 4, when Harpagon, Cléante, and Elise are having a conversation and it is more than obvious that Harpagon is dominating the discussion and Cléante is a close second with how many lines he has. Elise, on the other hand, can barely get out a couple of words before she is always interrupted or invalidated.
An instance in the play that ties in the role of money and women together is when Harpagon says “There’s just one little difficulty. I’m afraid she [Mariane] might not bring as much money with her as could be wished” (Molière, from an English translation of the play, 1.4.55). When planning to marry a much younger and beautiful woman, Harpagon is not satisfied with just that; rather he wants to get paid for marrying her. In the play it is noticeable that, in the period in which Molière was alive, marriages were oftentimes arranged to benefit parties socioeconomically. Many people were not able to marry out of love. Women were usually the ones to be most affected by this, since their duty was to serve men. Women were meant to adorn men, make them look better and, if possible, make them richer.
With this play, Molière brings to the light the inherent objectification of women that was occurring in his society and that still permeates today’s communities. Women, much like money, were seen as a means to an end, objects to be fought over and covet, and silent things that should be stashed away and exchanged for the convenience of men.
Killeen, Andrew. “A Tale of Corruption and Greed: Moliere's Classic 'The Miser' Resonates with Chinese Audiences, Jun 30-Jul 1.” The Beijinger, The Beijinger, 29 June 2017, https://www.thebeijinger.com/blog/2017/06/29/corruption-greed-moliere-miser-resonates-chinese-tianqiao-theater.
“The Miser and His Money: A Lesson in Investment.” Magenta Financial Planning, 30 Nov. 2018, https://magentafp.com/the-miser-and-his-money-a-lesson-in-investment/.
“The Miser.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Miser-play-by-Moliere.
Molière. L'avare. Larousse, 2007.