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The Miser (L'Avare)
Translation by TIM GOODING
© 11 June 2004
First performed at the Palais-Royal, Paris, on 9 September 1668, by 'The King's Players' (la Troupe du Roi).
(Grouped for a cast of ten)
1. HARPAGON Father of Cleante and Elise, suitor to Mariane.
2. CLEANTE Harpagon's son. In love with Mariane.
3. ELISE Harpagon's daughter. In love with Valere.
4. VALERE Anselme's son. In love with Elise.
5. FROSINE Intriguer and go-between
6. MAITRE JACQUES Cook and coachman to Harpagon.
7. MARIANE In love with Cleante. Harpagon's intended.
DAME CLAUDE Harpagon's maidservant
8. ANSELME Father of Valere and Mariane.
MAITRE SIMON A Broker
BRINDAVOINE Harpagon's footman
9. LA FLECHE Cleante's valet
10. LA MERLUCHE Harpagon's footman
(*POLICE OFFICER and POLICE CLERK have been merged into a single character.)
Set in Paris.
VALERE: What is this? Sweet Elise, do I see you sad? After so tenderly promising me your love? I see you sigh? And at the height of my happiness! Do you regret making me happy? Tell me. Has my passion compelled you to a vow of marriage you now regret?
ELISE: No, Valere, I cannot regret anything I do for you. I am swept along by too sweet a power, and lack the strength even to wish things were different. But to be honest, I find this effect..unnerving. I am terribly afraid I love you a little more than I should.
VALERE: He? What is there to fear in loving me, Elise?
ELISE: A hundred things, and all at once: my father's fury, my family's disapproval, the ticking of tongues in town.. But more than anything, a change of heart in you, Valere, and the cruel coldness of men which usually rewards the innocent girl who declares her love too passionately.
VALERE: Ah! You wrong me to judge me by other men. Suspect me of anything but losing respect for you, Elise. I adore you too much, and my love for you will last as long as I live.
ELISE: Ah! You all say the same thing, Valere. Men are all the same when they give their word. They reveal their differences only through their deeds.
VALERE: Since we are only to be known by our deeds, at least wait to judge my love by mine. Do not seek my faults in your own baseless fears and unfortunate forebodings. Please, do not destroy my happiness with the grievous wounding of unjust suspicion, only give me time and I will convince you, a thousand thousandfold, that my heart is true.
ELISE: How easily we are persuaded by those we love! Valere, I know your heart is incapable of taking advantage of me. I know your love is faithful, and true; I have no desire at all to doubt you, it is just that I am wary of the disapproval of others.
VALERE: Why is that a worry?
ELISE: I would have nothing to fear if everyone saw you through my eyes, for what I see explains every little thing I do for you. Your virtue is my heart's defence, fortified by gratitude in knowing that Heaven itself guided me to you. How can I ever forget the shocking peril which first threw us together?; the amazing selflessness in risking your life to pluck me from the raging sea; the overflowing tenderness on lifting me from the water; the ceaseless tributes of a burning love which neither time nor adversity has diminished, and which has led you to forsake your parents and your country, stop in this place, disguise your true rank and lower yourself to take employment as my father's servant! Just to be near me! Oh, this is all wonderful, absolutely, to me, and fully justifies my promise to you, but it may not be enough for others. I am not so sure they will share my feelings.
VALERE: Of all you have said, it is by my love alone I dare believe I am worthy of you. As to your misgivings, what more could your father possibly do to vindicate you? His overweening greed, the parsimonious regime he inflicts on his children, would excuse far stranger things. Sweet Elise, forgive me for speaking like this. But as you are aware, on this subject there is nothing pleasant to be said. In the end, should I succeed in locating my parents once more, as I hope, we will have little trouble gaining his consent. I am tired of waiting for news: if word does not arrive soon, I will go and search for them myself.
ELISE: No! Stay here with me, Valere, please. Concentrate on getting in father's good books.
VALERE: Surely you see how I have already taken to the task? The masterly fawning I have employed to insinuate myself into his service? The mask of sympathy and nodding compliance I wear to please him? The groveling role I play, constantly, to gain his approval? I am making splendid progress. I find there is no better way to win people over than to completely agree with them, embrace their principles, ladle praise on their shortcomings, and applaud everything they do. And have no fear: one cannot overdo servility. One can humour people quite openly: the shrewder they are, the more susceptible to flattery, always; nothing is so unreasonable or so ludicrous it cannot be swallowed if sufficiently seasoned with praise. One's integrity is a trifle diminished by this method, but if one wants something from someone, an accommodation to them is necessary. Further, since this is the only way to win people over, then the fault lies not with the flatterer, but with the flattered.
ELISE: Why don't you try to win my brother over as well, in case the maid takes it upon herself to betray us?
VALERE: I cannot humour father and son at the same time. It is nigh impossible to juggle such opposing confidences simultaneously. But you, on the other hand, you may influence your brother and use the affection between you to persuade him to our side. Here he comes. I will go. Do speak to him, but reveal only as much as you think wise.
ELISE: I am not sure I can bring myself to confide in him at all.
CLEANTE: Dear sister. I am thrilled to find you alone. I have been dying to speak to you and share my secret.
ELISE: Here I am, all ears, dear brother. What do you want to tell me?
CLEANTE: So many things, my sister, all wrapped in a single word: I am in love.
ELISE: You are in love?
CLEANTE: Yes, I am in love. Before I continue, however, let me first say that I totally understand how I am beholden to my father; that as his son, I am subordinate to his will; that we should never contract to marry without the blessing of those who gave us life itself; that Heaven made them master of our nuptial destiny; that it is incumbent on us to allow them to decide on whom we may bestow our affection, because they, being more alert to the sway of foolish infatuation, are less likely to be deceived than we, and better placed to see what is for our own good; that we must trust in the light of their judgement rather than the blindness of our own passion; and that the fires of youth most often burn out in the abysses of regret. I say all of this, dear sister, to spare you the pain of saying it. For in the end, my heart has no intention of listening, and accordingly I ask you, please, to refrain from admonition.
ELISE: You've given your promise of marriage to this love of yours, dear brother?
CLEANTE: No, but I have made up my mind to do so. And I entreat you, again, do not bring up the reasons why I should not.
ELISE: Am I so awful a person, dear brother?†
CLEANTE: No, dear sister. But you are not in love. You are ignorant of the sweet violence a tender love inflicts upon the hearts of we who are in love. And I am wary of your common sense.
ELISE: Ha! Dear brother, don't speak to me about common sense. Everyone lacks it at least once in their life. If I opened my heart to you, you might just see I have even less sense than you.
CLEANTE: Ah! Would to God your heart was like mine..
ELISE: Let us deal with you first. So, tell me, who is she?
CLEANTE: She is young, and new to these parts, and seems created to inspire love in all who see her. Sweet sister, Nature has fashioned nothing more adorable. I was swept away the instant I saw her. Mariane. Her name is Mariane. She lives with her elderly invalid mother, to whom this divine girl is unimaginably devoted. She nurses her, solaces her, cares for her with a tenderness that touches the soul. She brings the most enchanting poise to everything she does and a thousandfold Graces sparkle in her every movement. A sweetness so magnetic, a kindness so captivating, an openness so adorable, a..if only you could have seen her, dear sister!
ELISE: I see her in the picture you paint. That you love her is enough to tell me what she is like.
CLEANTE: I have learned, discreetly, that they are not well situated. Despite living modestly, they find difficulty in making ends meet. Sister, picture the joy in restoring the fortunes of the one you love! In contributing "discreetly" to the humble needs of a virtuous family! Then imagine my anguish as I see that, because of father's greed, I can never taste such happiness, nor utter single word of love to this beautiful creature.
ELISE: Yes, I can well imagine your anguish.
CLEANTE: Oh, sister, it is worse than you can imagine. Can anyone anywhere imagine anything more cruel than the Spartan economy he imposes on us, the reign of unnatural stinginess under which he compels us to languish? What is the point of coming into money when we are too old to enjoy it? While in the meantime I have to borrow here, there, and everywhere just to support myself? And constantly lower myself, as must you, to seeking the assistance of shopkeepers in order to clothe myself in a decent manner. Anyway. I wanted to ask your help in sounding out father on where I stand. If he opposes my desires, I am resolved to elope with my beloved, to wherever, where we will enjoy whatever fate Heaven allows. With this in mind, I am looking to borrow anywhere and everywhere. And if your situation is similar, and father opposes your wishes also, let us abandon him together and break the tyrannous chains of intolerable greed which have bound us for so long.
ELISE: He does daily give us new reasons to regret the death of our mother, that is true..
CLEANTE: (Hearing HARPAGON'S voice) That's his voice. Let us continue this discussion elsewhere. After which we join forces and launch attack on his heart of stone..
(ELISE and CLEANTE exit.)
(HARPAGON, LA FLECHE)
(HARPAGON and LA FLECHE enter.)
HARPAGON: I want you out of here, right this minute, so save the smart replies. Out you go, out of my house, you prince of thieves, you gallows bird supreme!
LA FLECHE: (aside) I've never seen such a poisonous old.. piece of work. If you ask me, he's possessed by Satan, with all due respect.
HARPAGON: What is that you are muttering?
LA FLECHE: Why are you kicking me out?
HARPAGON: Oh, how marvellous, the man most likely to hang asks me for my reasons. Get out before I knock you out.
LA FLECHE: What have I done to you?
HARPAGON: Enough for me to want you out of here.
LA FLECHE: My master, your son, he ordered me to wait.
HARPAGON: Go and wait for him out in the street instead of planting yourself inside my house like a lamppost, watching everything that goes on, angling for your cut. I don't want a spy peering over my shoulder all the time, a nefarious little rat with his sinister eyes always ogling my affairs, constantly covetting my possessions, forever ferreting about for whatever he can steal.
LA FLECHE: How the devil could anyone steal from you? You're unstealable-fromable! You double-padlock everything and stand guard day and night!
HARPAGON: I lock whatever I want, and stand guard whenever and wherever I please. Do not tell me informers are not taking note of everything I do. (Aside) I fear he has wind of my money. (to LA FLECHE) You are the type who runs round spreading stories I have money hidden in the house, are you not?
LA FLECHE: Have you? Got money hidden?
HARPAGON: No, you degenerate, I did not say that. (Aside) This drives me insane. (to LA FLECHE) I am simply requesting you not go round spreading malicious rumours that I have.
LA FLECHE: Ha! Who cares if you have or you haven't? We don't see it either way.
HARPAGON: Quibble with me, would you? I will give you a good quibble about the ears!
(He raises his hand to hit LA FLECHE)
HARPAGON: For the last time, will you get out of here!
LA FLECHE: Fine, then. I'm off.
HARPAGON: Hold it! You're not taking anything of mine with you?
LA FLECHE: Like what?
HARPAGON: Come here so I may see. Show me your hands.
LA FLECHE: There they are.
HARPAGON: And the others.
LA FLECHE: The others?
LA FLECHE: There they are.
(HARPAGON points to LA FLECHE'S voluminous culottes.)
HARPAGON: What about in there?
LA FLECHE: See for yourself.
(HARPAGON checks inside the bottom of the trousers.)
HARPAGON: This style of culotte is perfect for receiving stolen goods. Whoever makes them should be strung up.
LA FLECHE: (Aside) Just begging to get what they're afraid of, aren't they, his sort? It'd tickle me pink to give him his robbery.
LA FLECHE: What?
HARPAGON: Did you say something about a robbery?
LA FLECHE: I said: have a good rummage. Make sure I haven't robbed you.
HARPAGON: That is what I am doing.
(He searches LA FLECHE's pockets.)
LA FLECHE: A plague on stinges and their stinginess!
HARPAGON: What? What are you saying?
LA FLECHE: What? What am I saying?
HARPAGON: Yes. About stinges and stinginess. What are you saying?
LA FLECHE: I am saying: a plague on stinges and their stinginess.
HARPAGON: Referring to whom?
LA FLECHE: To stinges.
HARPAGON: And who might they be, these stinges?
LA FLECHE: Assorted skinflints. Various tightwads.
HARPAGON: But who is it you are alluding to?
LA FLECHE: Why's that a worry to you?
HARPAGON: I worry about what I need to worry about.
LA FLECHE: You think I was speaking about you.
HARPAGON: I think what I am thinking. I want you to tell me who you were talking to, when you said it.
LA FLECHE: I am talking to my hat.
HARPAGON: And I could well be chatting with your beret. You are asking for a slap across the face.
LA FLECHE: Are you forbidding me to curse misers?
HARPAGON: No, I am forbidding you to prattle on and show insolence. So shut up.
LA FLECHE: I didn't name names.
HARPAGON: Open your mouth one more time and I will thrash you.
LA FLECHE: But if the cap fits..
HARPAGON: Will you be quiet?
LA FLECHE: Yes. In spite of my better judgement.
HARPAGON: Ha, ha!
LA FLECHE: Hold on. Found another pocket.
(He turns out a vest pocket.)
LA FLECHE: Happy now?
HARPAGON: Come on, do not make me frisk you, hand it over.
LA FLECHE: What?
HARPAGON: Whatever it is you have taken.
LA FLECHE: I haven't taken anything.
HARPAGON: Are you sure about that?
LA FLECHE: Positive.
HARPAGON: Goodbye, then. Off to hell with you.
LA FLECHE: Nice farewell, that is.
HARPAGON: I leave you to your conscience.
(Exit LA FLECHE.)
HARPAGON: That villain of a valet causes me considerable anxiety. I cannot stand the sight of the dirty limping dog.
HARPAGON: Keeping a large amount of cash around the house is terribly worrying, to be sure; blessed is he who invests soundly and retains only a bare minimum for expenses. I am hard-pressed to find a single secure hiding place anywhere on the premises, as, in my view, safes are unreliable and I can never bring myself to trust them. What are they but a tasty morsel for thieves, and the first thing they head for?
(HARPAGON, CLEANTE, ELISE)
HARPAGON: (Thinking he is alone.) On the other hand, was it such inspiration to bury in the garden the ten thousand gold Louisí I received yesterday? Ten thousand Louis' in cash is a tidy sum to have around.
(CLEANTE and ELISE come into sight, talking low.)
HARPAGON: God in Heaven! I have dug my own grave. Passion got the better of me and I was debating myself out loud. What is it?
CLEANTE: Nothing, father.
HARPAGON: How long have you been here?
ELISE: We have just arrived.
HARPAGON: You heard, did you?
CLEANTE: Heard what, father?
HARPAGON: What I was saying.
HARPAGON: Yes, you did. I know you did.
ELISE: Excuse me?
HARPAGON: I can tell you heard several words. What I was actually conversing with myself about was, how impossible it is to get hold of money these days, and how only a very, very lucky man could have ten thousand gold Louis' on him.
CLEANTE: We hesitated to approach, for fear we were interrupting.
HARPAGON: I am delighted to have the chance to explain, just in case you got things completely the wrong way round, and thought I said that I had ten thousand gold Louis'.
CLEANTE: Your business is none of our business.
HARPAGON: Would to God I had ten thousand gold Louis'!
CLEANTE: I don't think..
HARPAGON: What a stroke of fortune that would be!
ELISE: Such things..
HARPAGON: I could certainly do with it.
CLEANTE: I think..
HARPAGON: That would do me nicely, that would.
HARPAGON: Then I would have no need to bemoan our wretched circumstances so much, as I do now.
CLEANTE: Good God, father! You have nothing to complain about. It is common knowledge you have more than enough to get by.
HARPAGON: What? Me, have enough? Anyone who says that is a liar. Nothing is further from the truth. And people who run round spreading stories like that are nothing but troublemakers.
ELISE: Don't get yourself overwrought.
HARPAGON: How unnatural is it, when my own children turn on me and become my enemies!?
CLEANTE: Saying you've done well for yourself makes me your enemy?
HARPAGON: Yes. Talk like that - combined with all your extravagances - will one day cause someone to come round here and slit my throat, in the belief that I am fabulously wealthy.
CLEANTE: What do you mean, my extravagances?
HARPAGON: What do I mean? Is anything more scandalous than the opulent wardrobe in which you parade yourself around town? I had to reprimand your sister yesterday, but this is far worse! Am I being punished for something? This - whatever it is you call what you are wearing - would be a year's rent to some. I have told you over and over, my son, your conduct does not impress me one iota: this feverish aping of the aristocracy, this promenading round in lavish getup, can only mean one thing: you are stealing from me.
CLEANTE: Eh? I am stealing from you? How?
HARPAGON: How do I know? Where do you obtain the wherewithal to support your..style of deportment?
CLEANTE: I play cards. And as I am extremely lucky, I clothe myself with my winnings.
HARPAGON: Wrong. Wrong! That is completely the wrong thing to do! The successful gambler maximizes his earnings by investing his winnings at high interest for the long-term future. I would also like to know, apart from anything else, what is the point of all the ribbons draping you from head to foot, and would not half a dozen pins serve to suspend your britches? Where is the need to spend good money on a wig when you can wear your own hair for free? I am willing to wager that all your wigs and your ribbons cost twenty Louis', at least, and twenty Louis' invested at only 8.33% will earn interest of two gold pistoles, one Ècu, eighteen livres, six sols, and eight deniers, per annum.
CLEANTE: You are quite right.
HARPAGON: Then let us move on to other business - eh?
(He sees CLEANTE and ELISE gesturing to each other.)
HARPAGON: (Aside) I think they are signalling each other to steal my purse. (to CLEANTE) The signalling. What is that all about?
ELISE: We are haggling over who speaks first. We both have something to talk to you about.
HARPAGON: I have something to say to both of you as well.
CLEANTE: We wish to talk to you about marriage, father.
HARPAGON: Ah. I want to raise the subject of marriage with you, also.
ELISE: (Fearful) Ah! Father.
HARPAGON: "Ah! father?" What is it about marriage that alarms you, dear daughter, the word, or the thing itself?
CLEANTE: Marriage may cause both of us alarm, father, depending on your understanding of it, as we fear our feelings and your choice will not be in harmony.
HARPAGON: A little patience. No need to alarm yourselves. I have the best interests of both of you at heart. Neither of you will have any cause for complaint at what I intend for you. Now, to begin at the beginning, are you familiar with a young lady named Mariane, who lives near here?
CLEANTE: Yes, father.
HARPAGON: And you?
ELISE: I have heard talk of her.
HARPAGON: What do you think of the young lady, son?
CLEANTE: A most delightful person.
HARPAGON: Her face?
CLEANTE: Completely honest, and with a sparkling intelligence.
HARPAGON: Her manner? Her comportment?
CLEANTE: Impeccable, beyond shadow of doubt.
HARPAGON: Such a young lady merits serious consideration, in your opinion?
CLEANTE: Yes, father.
HARPAGON: She would be a desirable match?
CLEANTE: Very desirable.
HARPAGON: With seemingly all the makings of a good housewife?
HARPAGON: And able to satisfy a husband?
CLEANTE: Most assuredly.
HARPAGON: There is one small problem: I am afraid she is not accompanied by the size of dowry one could want.
CLEANTE: Ah! Dear Papa, surely money is of no importance when it is a matter of marrying an honest woman?
HARPAGON: Excuse me, excuse me. Although there is this to be said: if the dowry is not all that one might wish, one may endeavour to make up for it by other means.
CLEANTE: That makes sense.
HARPAGON: How it warms my heart to hear you agree with me, because her decency and sweetness have captured my heart, and as long as she comes with some cash, I have made up my mind to marry her.
CLEANTE: Euh - ?
CLEANTE: You've made up your mind to - what did you say?
HARPAGON: To marry Mariane.
CLEANTE: Who? You? You yourself?
HARPAGON: Yes, me, me, me myself. What are you trying to say?
CLEANTE: I feel dizzy all of a sudden, and have to leave the room.
HARPAGON: It will pass. Go into the kitchen and have a big glass of water. Cold water!
HARPAGON: These weedy young squires do not have the vigour of chickens. So there you have it, my girl, that is what I have concluded for myself. As for your brother, I am lining up a certain widow, about whom I was approached by a party this morning. And you I am giving to Seigneur Anselme.
ELISE: To Seigneur Anselme?
HARPAGON: Yes. A mature gentleman, prudent, wise, not a day over fifty, and reportedly very wealthy.
ELISE: (Curtseys) If you please, father, I don't want to marry.
HARPAGON: (Returns her cursey) If you please, my sweet, my pet, I myself do want you to marry.
ELISE: (Curtseys) Begging your pardon, father.
HARPAGON: (Curtseys) Begging your pardon, daughter.
ELISE: I remain Seigneur Anselme's very humble servant (curtseys again) but with your kind permission, I won't marry him.
HARPAGON: I remain your very humble servant (curtseys again) but with your kind permission, you will marry him this evening.
ELISE: This evening?
HARPAGON: This evening.
ELISE: (Curtseys) I will not do it, father.
HARPAGON: (Curtseys) You will do it, daughter.
ELISE: I won't, I tell you.
HARPAGON: You will, I tell you.
ELISE: You can't force me to do it!
HARPAGON: I can force you to do it.
ELISE: I'll kill myself before I marry a man like that!
HARPAGON: You will not kill yourself and you will marry him. Have you no shame? Daughters do not speak to their fathers like this!
ELISE: Fathers don't marry off their daughters like this!
HARPAGON: It is a perfect match, which will meet with universal approval, and I would put money on it.
ELISE: And I'd put money on the disapproval of anyone with the slightest sense whatsoever.
(VALERE enters, at a distance.)
HARPAGON: Ah. There is Valere. What if we allow him to adjudicate between us? What do you say?
ELISE: I agree.
HARPAGON: You will accept his decision?
ELISE: I'll abide by whatever he says.
(VALERE, HARPAGON, ELISE)
HARPAGON: Come here, Valere. We have elected you to decide which of us, my daughter or myself, is in the right.
VALERE: You are, Master. Without question.
HARPAGON: Do you have any idea what we are talking about?
VALERE: No, but you could not be wrong, as you are always correct.
HARPAGON: I wish to give my daughter's hand in marriage to a rich, wise man, tonight. The perverse girl tells me to my face that she finds the prospect laughable. What do you say to that?
VALERE: What do I say?
VALERE: Oh. Ah.
HARPAGON: Oh, ah, what?
VALERE: I think, fundamentally, I agree with you. As of course you can never be mistaken. On the other hand, she is not completely in the wrong, not -
HARPAGON: How can you say that? Seigneur Anselme is a fine catch, a gentleman, high born, kind-hearted, sober, wise, well to do, with no surviving children from his first marriage. She cannot do better.
VALERE: True. Although she could possibly say she feels a fraction..rushed, and might be granted a little more time to determine if her own personal inclinations can accommodate -
HARPAGON: There is no time to waste, only to seize, for I am granted here a unique, once in a lifetime opportunity: he is willing to take her without a dowry. No dowry.
VALERE: No dowry?
VALERE: Ah! Then there is nothing more to say. There you have it. The matter is settled. There is no arguing with that.
HARPAGON: It offers me a considerable saving.
VALERE: Assuredly and incontrovertibly. True, it may be your daughter could contend that marriage is a more serious situation than some might seem to think; that it determines whether one is happy or unhappy for the remainder of one's life; and that a commitment until death should never be made without the greatest caution.
HARPAGON: No dowry.
VALERE: You are right. That's the decisive factor. I can only agree. Of course there will always be people who will say that this is a situation wherein a father should definitely take his daughter's feelings into account, and that such a huge difference in age, temperament, and attitude, will place a deplorable strain on the marriage.
HARPAGON: No dowry.
VALERE: Ah! There is no disputing that. You know it, I know it, who on earth can contradict that? Not that there would not be a few fathers with more regard for their daughter's happiness than any sum of money they might have to part with; who would not sacrifice them for profit, but seek to find in a marriage, more than anything else, that loving unity which forever garners respect, contentment, and joy, that -
HARPAGON: No dowry.
VALERE: Too true. No further discussion need be entered into. There is simply no debating ìNo dowryî, is there?
(HARPAGON looks in the direction of the garden.)
HARPAGON: (Aside) Oh oh. I think I hear a dog barking. Is someone after my money? (To VALERE) Do not move. I'll be back shortly.
ELISE: You're not serious, are you, Valere? Saying what you said?
VALERE: I am humouring him in order to win him round. To clash head-on will only serve to ruin everything. Certain souls necessitate an indirect approach, for the combative, innately recalcitrant temper, which rears at the sight of truth and steels itself against common sense, cannot be led but only turned gently in the direction you desire it to go. Compliance with its demands must be feigned, so better to achieve the desired end.
ELISE: The wedding, Valere?
VALERE: We will seek a loophole with which to break it off.
ELISE: Will we find this loophole before tonight?
VALERE: You will come down with an illness. And request a postponement.
ELISE: I'll be found out when they call the doctor.
VALERE: You jest, surely. What do they know about anything? Go on, have an illness, have any illness you like, and they will come up with an explanation for how you came down with it.
(HARPAGON, ELISE, VALERE)
HARPAGON: (to himself) A false alarm, thank the Lord.
VALERE: Our last resort must be to elope, my beautiful ELISE, if your love for me is strong enough to ñ
(He notices HARPAGON.)
VALERE: Yes, it is the duty of a daughter to obey her father. She need not concern herself with her husband's appearance, and upon entering a situation where there is ìno dowry requiredî, must be prepared to accept whatever is on offer.
HARPAGON: Marvellous. Very well put.
VALERE: Excuse me, Master, for allowing myself to be carried away a little, and taking the liberty of speaking my mind to her.
HARPAGON: What? I am delighted and want to give you a free hand with her. (to ELISE) Do not dream of running away. I grant him the same authority over you that Our Lord in Heaven has granted me. I know you will do whatever he says.
VALERE: (to ELISE) Now do you resist my instruction?
(HARPAGON, VALERE, ELISE)
VALERE: (to HARPAGON) I will follow her and continue the lesson, Master.
HARPAGON: Do so. I am most obliged to you.
VALERE: She needs keeping on a tight rein.
HARPAGON: Very true. She does.
VALERE: Do not worry. I know how to handle her.
HARPAGON: Do. Do. I am going to take a short stroll into town. I will be back directly.
VALERE: (Exiting. To ELISE, off) Money is the most precious thing in the world, and you should give thanks to God for giving you such a decent man for a father. He knows what life is about. When a man offers to accept a girl without a dowry, why then, one need look no further. Nothing else is of any consequence, as a dowry forgone takes precedence over beauty, youth, breeding, honour, wisdom, and integrity.
HARPAGON: Ah! Good lad! Spoken like an oracle. How lucky am I to have a man like that in my service?
(CLEANTE, LA FLECHE)
CLEANTE: Aha! It's you, you wretch. Where did you get to? Didn't I give you an order?
LA FLECHE: Yes, Master, and I was obeying it, I was right here, resolutely waiting for you, but the Master, your father ñ he's the most cantankerous old - he chased me out, under protest, and I came that close to a thrashing.
CLEANTE: How is our little negotiation progressing? The situation becomes more urgent than ever. Since I last saw you, I have learned I have a rival in love: my father.
LA FLECHE: Your father? In love?
CLEANTE: Yes. I find it extremely difficult to conceal the distress this causes me.
LA FLECHE: Him? Him? Getting mixed up with love? What demon jammed that notion in his skull? He's pulling our legs, must be. Has the love been made for people constructed like him?
CLEANTE: It is to punish me for my sins, that passion has been made to enter his head.
LA FLECHE: So why keep your love a secret from him?
CLEANTE: To arouse less suspicion and be better positioned to derail the marriage. Have you had a response?
LA FLECHE: Well, Master. A borrower's in an unfortunate position, and has to put up with some..peculiar things when he's reduced to delivering himself into the hands of money lenders. As you are.
CLEANTE: We are not making progress?
LA FLECHE: I didn't say that. Maitre Simon, he's our go-between ñ a very keen, hard-working fellow ñ he says he's done the impossible for you. He assures me he's become quite attached to your particular predicament.
CLEANTE: I will get the fifteen thousand?
LA FLECHE: Yes. There are a few fiddley little conditions you'll have to go along with to seal the deal.
CLEANTE: Has he introduced you to the lender?
LA FLECHE: Ah. That's not how it's done. He wants to keep his identity quiet even more than you do. These things are more complicated than you think. They won't give his name, but they've organized for you to meet him today, in a purpose-rented house, so he can get the details of your assets and your family from the horse's mouth. I'm sure you'll only have to mention your father's name and everything will go fine.
CLEANTE: Especially as Mother is dead and no-one can stop me inheriting her money.
LA FLECHE: Here are the conditions he himself dictated to our intermediary, as he wants you to look them over before proceeding. ìProvided: that The Lender is satisfied as to the securities; and that The Borrower is of age, of a family of sufficient means, secure, fully insured, and free and clear of all and any encumbrance; a proper and precise instrument shall be executed before a notary of utmost integrity, who, to this end, shall be nominated by The Lender, in acknowledgement that he holds the superior interest in the contract being duly enacted.î
CLEANTE: I have nothing to add.
LA FLECHE: The Lender, insofar as his conscience may be seen
to be beyond question, offers to lend his money at a rate of interest of 5.5% per annum.
CLEANTE: 5.5%? Yes! I agree! That seems fair. I can't complain about that.
LA FLECHE: True. ìBut insofar as Said Lender does not himself hold the Agreed Amount, and in order to service The Borrower is thus constrained to borrow Said Agreed Amount from a Third Party at the rate of 20%, it falls upon the Aforesaid Borrower to agree to pay Said Interest of 20%, without prejudice to the Aforesaid Rate Of Interest of 5.5%, insofar as it is in consideration of his obligation to the Aforesaid Borrower that the Aforesaid Lender is obliged to undertake to borrow the Aforesaid Agreed Amount.î
CLEANTE: Hell's bells! What sort of shark, what sort of shyster, are we dealing with here? That's more than 25%!
LA FLECHE: Exactly. That's what I said. You better think it over.
CLEANTE: What is there to think over? I need the money. I must agree to everything.
LA FLECHE: That's what I told him.
CLEANTE: Is there more?
LA FLECHE: One small condition. ìOf the fifteen thousand requested, The Lender is only able to dispense twelve thousand in cash; in respect of the remaining three thousand, The Borrower agrees to accept such clothing, furniture, and jewellery as listed in the Attached Inventory, and set by Aforesaid Lender, in good faith, at the most modest price possible.
CLEANTE: What am I meant to say?
LA FLECHE: Listen to the Inventory. ìItem the first: one child's four-poster bed, complete with hangings of Hungarian lace, elegantly embroidered on an olive backing, plus six matching chairs and bedspread, the whole in good condition, and lined with alternating red and blue lightweight taffeta. Plus: one canopy for a bed, of fine serge díAumale - that's a small village in Normandy - in a ìfaded roseî colour, with tapestry border and silk fringing.î
CLEANTE: What am I supposed to do with all that?
LA FLECHE: Hold on. ìPlus: one tapestry curtain depicting the amorous adventures of Gombaut and MacÈe. Plus: one large walnut table with twelve columnar or turned pillar legs ñ that's in the Louis XIII style ñ with extendable leaves at both ends, the whole complete with six stools which fit underneath.î
CLEANTE: What have I got myself into? Gadzooks! Merde!
LA FLECHE: Patience. ìPlus: three large muskets, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, plus three assorted rests. Plus: one brick furnace with twin retorts and triple intakes, most useful for those having an interest in distillery.î
CLEANTE: I'm becoming very angry.
LA FLECHE: Easy. ìPlus: one Bolognaise lute, complete with strings, or near enough to. Plus: one set of bowls, one draughts board, and one game of Mother Goose modeled on the Greek, the whole most suitable for passing time when one has nothing else to do. In addition: one lizard skin - possibly crocodile - three and one half feet long, stuffed with hay, an attractive feature for suspension from the ceiling of a bedroom. The Aforementioned Lot, valued in good faith at more than four thousand five hundred Louisí, is at the discretion of The Lender reduced to three thousand.î
CLEANTE: I hope the parasite chokes on his discretion! What a bloodsucker! Have you ever heard of extortion like this? And this leech is not satisfied with charging exorbitant interest, oh no, he also expects me to buy his collection of old junk! For three thousand! I won't get two hundred for the lot! And I have no choice but to consent to whatever the tick wants, for he has me over the barrel, with a knife at my throat.
LA FLECHE: Not to upset you, Master, but it looks to me like you're on the same road to ruin as Panurge: taking cash advances; buying dear, selling cheap; and eating corn before it's ripe.
CLEANTE: What do you want me to do? So is youth brought low by the damnable greed of the fathers! No wonder the sons want them dead!
LA FLECHE: You won't get any argument from me: your Papa would get up a saint's nose. Now I'm not interested in getting myself strung up, praise God, and when I see my colleagues mixing in certain types of dealings, I know to back off and unmix myself from practices which have a whiff of the stepladder about them, but, truth be told, with the way he goes on, he'd give me every temptation to rob him blind, and think I deserved a medal for doing it.
CLEANTE: Give me another look at the inventory.
(MAITRE SIMON, HARPAGON, CLEANTE, LA FLECHE)
(MAITRE SIMON and HARPAGON enter, upstage)
MAITRE SIMON: Oh yes, sir, the young man needs money, urgently. He's under pressure, and will agree to any conditions you care to impose.
HARPAGON: You are absolutely certain there is no risk, Maitre Simon? You know the name, the financial position, the family of the party you act for?
MAITRE SIMON: No, I'm not really able to brief you in depth, as he was only directed to me by chance. But he'll clarify everything for you himself. His representative assures me you'll be satisfied once you meet him. What I can tell you is that the family is very wealthy, the mother already dead, and the father guaranteed to die within eight months, if you so require.
HARPAGON: That seems acceptable. It is our charitable duty to please others whenever we are able, Maitre Simon.
MAITRE SIMON: Of course.
LA FLECHE: (whispers, to CLEANTE) What's this all about? Our Maitre Simon speaking to your father.
CLEANTE: (whispers to LA FLECHE) Someone has told him who I am. Betray me, would you?
(The four meet.)
MAITRE SIMON: Ah! Ah! You are keen! Who told you the meeting was here? (to HARPAGON) It wasn't me who gave them your name and address, sir. Still, no harm done, I think. We're all persons of discretion. You can discuss the arrangement between you here.
MAITRE SIMON: Sir is the party of whom I spoke, sir, who wishes to borrow the fifteen thousand Louisí from you.
HARPAGON: You, you worm!? You would sink this low, would you?
CLEANTE: You, Father!? You would stoop to this shameful transaction, would you?
(MAITRE SIMON exits. LA FLECHE hides.)
(HARPAGON, CLEANTE, LA FLECHE)
HARPAGON: So you are the one who wants to ruin himself with such reprehensible borrowing?
CLEANTE: So you are the one who seeks to enrich himself by criminal usury?
HARPAGON: How will you dare to face me after this†?
CLEANTE: How will you dare face anyone at all?
HARPAGON: Are you not ashamed to fall into this debauchery? To plunge into such appalling expense? To disgracefully squander the fortune your parents worked so hard to make for you?
CLEANTE: Surely you blush to besmirch your good name with commerce like this? To sacrifice respect and reputation to the insatiable lust for gold? To eclipse the most heinous interest rate ever devised by the most infamous of usurers?
HARPAGON: Out of my sight, you profligate pup! Get out of my sight.
CLEANTE: Tell me who is more criminal? He who buys money he needs, or he who extorts money he doesn't?
HARPAGON: Go, I tell you, before my blood boils over!
HARPAGON: I am not sorry it has come to this. It is a warning to keep a sharp eye, sharper than ever, on what he is up to.
FROSINE: Monsieur -†?
HARPAGON: Wait on a moment. I'll be back to talk to you. (Aside.) I think a quick inspection of my cash is timely.
(LA FLECHE, FROSINE.)
(LA FLECHE enters. He does not see FROSINE.)
LA FLECHE: This is a complete joke. He must have a furniture warehouse hidden somewhere. We haven't found a single item from the inventory in the house.
FROSINE: Hey! You, poor old La FlËche! What're you up to round here?
LA FLECHE: Ah! Ah! Frosine. What're you up to yourself?
FROSINE: What I'm up to everywhere else: acting as a go-between, making myself useful to the populace, profiting as best I can from what small talents God has granted me. You live on your wits in this world, you know, when all that heaven allows a person like me is hard graft and rat cunning.
LA FLECHE: Doing some business with the lord and master, are you?
FROSINE: Smoothing a little transaction, on commission, I hope.
LA FLECHE: Ha! From him? Ha! You're a better man than me if you get something out of him. Money's very expensive in this house, let me tell you.
FROSINE: There are certain services which work wonders.
LA FLECHE: No offence, but you don't know my lord Harpagon. The lord Harpagon is, of all humans, the least human human, the most money-grubbing tight-fisted mortal of all the mortals that ever lived. The service hasn't been invented that'll make him grateful enough to open his purse. Compliment him, respect him, shower him with kindness, be as nice to him as you like, but money? Forget it. You're in his good books? He's your friend? Means nothing. He's so allergic to the word ìgiveî he won't give you a ìgood morningî, but he'll lend it to you.
FROSINE: Heavens above! I know how to handle men, I know how to pick the lock on the back door of their heart, how to tickle their fancies, find their soft spots.
LA FLECHE: Useless round here. Go on, you find a soft spot when it comes to his money, I defy you. Plus on top of that, he's as cruel as Caligula. He's more Caligula than Caligula. He wouldn't blink for you if you were on your death bed. Not to put too fine a point, he loves money more than reputation, honour, and integrity, and the sight of a collector at the door gives him a Grand Mal. It's a mortal wound, it's a stab to the heart, it's a ripping out of his gizzards, and so ñ he's back and I'm off.
(LA FLECHE exits.)
HARPAGON: (to himself) All is as it should be. (to FROSINE) Now then, what is it, Frosine?
FROSINE: Heavens above! Aren't you looking well! A veritable picture of health!
FROSINE: I've never seen you looking so young and frisky.
FROSINE: Truly. You never looked younger in your life. I know twenty five year olds who look older than you.
HARPAGON: Be that as it may, I am well past sixty, Frosine.
FROSINE: You're not! Well, what's wrong with sixty? Sixty's good! It's the flower of age, when a man comes into the prime of his life.
HARPAGON: That is undoubtedly true, but being twenty years younger wouldn't do me any harm.
FROSINE: You're not serious. Why would you want that? You've got the right stuff to live to a hundred.
HARPAGON: Do you think so?
FROSINE: Absolutely. You're showing all the signs. Hold still a moment. Oh! Look there. Between your eyes. The mark of long life.
HARPAGON: You are sure about that?
FROSINE: No doubt about it. Show me your hand. Heavens above! Look at the life line!
HARPAGON: What about it?
FROSINE: Can't you see where the line goes?
HARPAGON: Yes! I can! What does it mean?
FROSINE: My godfather. Did I say a hundred? You'll make a hundred and twenty!
HARPAGON: Is that possible?
FROSINE: They'll have to beat you to death, I tell you. You'll bury your children and your children's children.
HARPAGON: All the better. How is our business progressing?
FROSINE: Must you ask? You know I don't start what I can't finish. And matchmaking just happens to be my most marvellous skill. Give me a little time, there aren't two people in the world I can't pair up, and I'm positive I could get the Grand Turk to marry the Venetian Republic if I put my mind to it, so there's nothing very difficult about your little job, that's for sure. I've contacted the women, I've talked to them about you, and I've told the mother how you felt intentions towards Mariane after seeing her in the street and at her window.
HARPAGON: What was her response?
FROSINE: She was delighted by your proposal. When I told her it was your fervent wish for her daughter to attend the signing of your own daughter's marriage contract this evening, she agreed immediately and made me her chaperone.
HARPAGON: I find myself in a situation where I am unable to avoid providing Seigneur Anselme a supper, so I am happy for her to join us.
FROSINE: Very sensible. She'll call on your daughter after dinner, go on after that to the fair ñ she's desperate to go - and be back after that for supper.
HARPAGON: Very well. I will lend my carriage so they can go together.
FROSINE: That'll suit her nicely.
HARPAGON: Now, Frosine. In your conversations with the mother, have you touched on the subject of the dowry? You have told her she must make some contribution, put in an effort, make sacrifices, on an occasion like this? To be blunt, no man marries a young girl unless she brings something with her.
FROSINE: Pardon me? This is a girl who'll bring in twelve thousand a year.
HARPAGON: Twelve thousand a year!
FROSINE: Yes. In the first place, she's been raised on a very strict diet: this is a girl accustomed to living on salad, milk, cheese, and apples, so she won't be expecting a hearty table, or fancy gourmet broths, or de-husked barley, or any of the other delicacies women usually demand. And that's no small thing: over time it could easily add up to three thousand Louisí at least. On top of that, her tastes in other areas are also modest; she doesn't like the fancy clothes or expensive jewellery or plush furniture that other girls her age get worked up about. That alone will be worth four thousand a year. And not only that: she absolutely detests gambling, very unusual in a woman today. I know of one right here in our quarter who lost twenty thousand playing cards. Just this year! Let's assume only a quarter of that. Five thousand on cards a year, plus four thousand on clothes and jewellery, makes nine thousand, plus another three thousand on food..comes to twelve thousand a year, doesn't it?
HARPAGON: Yes, and which does not sound too bad, except that these calculations are purely theoretical.
FROSINE: I beg your pardon. You're gaining a modest appetite, a passionate love of simple dress, and the money accruing from a hatred of cardplaying, in one single marriage. What's theoretical about that?
HARPAGON: It is a mockery to contrive a dowry out of expenses she will not incur. I do not give receipts for something I do not receive. I must have something I can hold in my hands.
FROSINE: Heavens above! You'll get your hands on plenty. And they also told me they've got a huge fortune stashed in another country, so you'll get that too.
HARPAGON: We will enquire about that. Now, there is another thing that concerns me, Frosine. The girl is young, as you know, and young people usually prefer, only want to be with, other young people. I fear she will not find a man my age attractive, leading to certain small unpleasantries, which would discomfort me.
FROSINE: Ah! Then you don't know her! Here is yet another feature I was going to tell you about. She has a terrible aversion to young men, and only fancies old fellows.
HARPAGON: Does she?
FROSINE: Does she. If only you could've heard what she said. She just can't stand the sight of a young man, yet nothing gives her more pleasure ñ that's what she said ñ than to see a handsome, mature gentleman with an impressive beard. The older he is, the more attractive, so my advice to you is, don't try to make yourself look younger than you are. She doesn't fancy anyone under sixty. Only four months ago she was about to be married but left her husband-to-be at the altar after he let slip he was only fifty six and didn't need spectacles to sign the contract.
HARPAGON: Just for that?
FROSINE: Yes. She says fifty six years is not enough to make her happy, and on top of that, she prefers the nose that wears spectacles.
HARPAGON: This is something completely new to me.
FROSINE: There's more to it than I care to say. She has some paintings and engravings in her bedroom. Of who, or what, díyou think? The young Adonis? Cephales? Paris? Apollo? No. Fine portraits of old Saturn, King Priam, the aged Nestor, and good old father Anchise being carried on the shoulders of his son.
HARPAGON: How marvellous! Who would have thought it? Not me, certainly, and I am delighted to learn she is so inclined. Although the fact is, were I a woman, I would not find young men attractive either.
FROSINE: I completely agree. What perfectly useless specimens young men are to fall in love with. It's beyond me how anyone could be attracted to these pretty snot-nosed dandies, these vain fresh-faced fops.
HARPAGON: I do not understand it myself. I do not know how some women fall for them.
FROSINE: They must be barking mad. To find young men desirable! Where's their common sense? These swish little blond-wigged popinjays aren't men. How can anyone fall for these creatures?
HARPAGON: I am forever saying that, what with their squeaky voices, their three little wispy whiskers curled up into a cat's moustache, their sallow girly wigs, their droopy pantaloons, their studiously sloppy shirts..
ROSINE: Ha! A stylish look, when compared to a man like you! Now here we have a real man. Here we have something worth looking at. Here's a man both built for, and dressed for, love.
HARPAGON: I am looking the part, am I?
FROSINE: I beg your pardon? You're a highly desirable man. Your face is a work of art. Turn round, please? It doesn't get any better. Let me see you walk. Here we have the well-proportioned figure, lithe and jaunty as you like, with not a sign of any disability.
HARPAGON: Nothing serious, thank God. A touch of bronchitis now and again, that is all.
FROSINE: That's nothing. Your bronchitis isn't at all offputting. There is a dignity in your cough.
HARPAGON: Tell me something. My Mariane, has she ever seen me? Perhaps noticed me in passing?
FROSINE: No. But we've discussed you in great detail. I've painted a fine picture of you, all the time stressing your good points and the advantages of marrying a man like you.
HARPAGON: You have done well, and I am grateful to you.
FROSINE: Sir, may I ask a small favour of you?
(HARPAGON becomes grim.)
FROSINE: I'm about to lose a lawsuit, all because I don't have a small sum of money. You could help me win the case, if you were to be so kindly disposed. You simply won't believe how excited she'll be to see you.
FROSINE: Oh, how delighted she's going to be! How profoundly moving she will find your Henry IV pleated ruff. How, above all, she'll be swept off her feet when she sees the way you hold up your pants by pinning them to your vest. It may be merely a funny little whim to you, but for her, a pinned-up lover will be a new and extraordinary experience.
HARPAGON: It overjoys me to hear you say that.
FROSINE: Truly, sir, this lawsuit has serious consequences for me.
(HARPAGON becomes grim.)
FROSINE: I'm ruined if I lose. All I need is a little help to get myself back on the rails. If you could only have witnessed her enchantment as she listened to me describe you.
FROSINE: Her eyes sparkled in rapture as I listed your many fine qualities, and in the end, I left her quite desperate to conclude the marriage.
HARPAGON: You have made me a very happy man, Frosine, and for that I am forever in your debt, I swear it.
FROSINE: Sir, please, will you give me the small assistance I ask?
(HARPAGON becomes grim.)
FROSINE: Just to get me back on my feet. I will be eternally grateful.
HARPAGON: Goodbye. I have urgent correspondence to attend to.
FROSINE: Sir, I promise I never needed your help more than I do now.
HARPAGON: I shall order my carriage prepared for transporting you to the fair.
FROSINE: I wouldn't trouble you if I could see any other way.
HARPAGON: I will ensure supper is served early so as not to upset your stomachs.
FROSINE: Please don't refuse me this favour. You have no idea how happy -
HARPAGON: I have to run. Someone is calling me. Until later.
FROSINE: Go choke on the plague, tightarse! You lousy stinking dog, go to hell! The old skinflint dodged all my best shots. But I'm not done yet. There's still the other lot, and they've guaranteed me a nice fat finder's fee.
Translation © TIM GOODING
11 June 2004