In a dilapidated old mansion, the story of Harpagon -a crotchety old miser -and his family unfolds. Harpagon's daughter, Elise, is in love with Valere, a young man of noble parentage separated from his family and working as a servant in her father's house. Harpagon's son, Cleante, also is in love and has given his heart to Marianne, a poor but virtuous girl from the country. Cleante and Marianne decide to tell Harpagon of their engagement, but as they are on the verge of their disclosures, Harpagon reveals he has a couple of his own announcements. First, Harpagon has decided to remarry. His betrothed is a girl from the country named Marianne. Second, Harpagon has accepted a suitor for Elise's hand -a wealthy but elderly gentleman named Anselme. The children are flabbergasted by Harpagon's revelations and confusion reigns until fate intervenes to reunite family and lovers.
Moliere (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, 1622-1673) was born a son of the court upholsterer. Because young Moliere was expected to inherit his father's court position and trade, he was given an excellent education as he was expected to spend his life in court surrounded by nobility. In 1643, Moliere and Madeleine Bejart, who was to become his lifelong companion, became instrumental in forming the Theatre Illustre. The Theatre Illustre was intended to be a permanent theater in Paris, but lasted only one year. Although this first venture was a financial failure, Moliere's theater appetite was whetted and it soon became apparent that he'd never return to the family upholstering business.
Who is Moliere? In 1646 Moliere set off on a tour of French provinces. In 1651, he was named head of his troupe and it was at this point in his career that he began playwriting. The troupe enjoyed modest success until 1658, when the King's brother invited them to play a royal performance. Because of the performance's success, Moliere's troupe was given the title Troupe de Monsieur, a charter to permanently play in Paris and use of the Petit Bourbon (a theater located in a palace adjacent to the Louvre). Between 1658 and 1673 (the year of Moliere's death), the troupe's main repertoire consisted of Moliere's plays. He wrote farces, comedy ballets and machine plays, but Moliere primarily is remembered for his comedies of avarice and hypocrisy. The Misanthrope (1666), The Miser (1668) and Tartuffe (1664, 1667, 1669) are among his funniest, most important and best-loved works. In these plays, Moliere tends to emphasize human idiosyncrasies. While happy endings seem inevitable, Moliere doesn't necessarily paint an altogether positive picture of human nature. At the end of these plays, protagonists often haven't realized their faults; instead, the world for them continues as it had at the beginning of the play. This somewhat cynical world view made Moliere a controversial figure in his day. His career was saved more than once by King Louis XIV. Moliere continued to act until his death, playing many leading roles including Harpagon. Although his reputation primarily rests in playwriting, Moliere was considered a fine actor in his day. At that time, actors were classified by their specific lines of business. A theater troupe, then, consisted of specific types who, regardless of the play, consistently portrayed the same character-type. Because Moliere was his company's chief playwright and leader, he was ensured prime roles well suited to his talents.