Jean Baptiste Poquelin Moliėre
13 January 2024
This a key and crucial question: how to stage classical texts today. Are we to adapt them? Modernize them? Update them? Change the elevated language into a dialect? Is it possible to read a classical masterpiece in a new way? Easy to say, ‘a new reading’, but we must bear in mind that the plays of the world canon have a solid structure and a persistent memory. A play remembers all its productions, most of all the flopped ones, and therefore takes its own preventive defensive measures to safeguard its inner order and understanding of the world. Molière lived a complicated, dramatic and very passionate life, constantly antagonized by conservative circles and tormented by the broken promises of the court. And such are his plays and his characters, no matter which genre they belong to.
LʼAvare has a simple and straightforward title. It is a comedy about a miser who is tricked at the end. He would take everything but give nothing. His identity is money, wealth, gold. That is who he is and that is why he sees himself as the best for the times in which he lives. It is as if Molière were saying: the old are ruthless, greedy, mean, because they think only of their wealth and their needs, and the young are victims, because they possess the life force but no capital. It does not matter whether they are the children of the oppressor or their potential partners.
Since the opening night of this comedy on 9 September 1668, many things have changed and we know different types of rich men now. Misers? Billionaires, elderly and middle-aged, and quite a few very young ones. In many places, the young have freed themselves, gained power and wealth to spend it on luxury, various donations, and foundations, generating new needs and a new logic of capital.
The young have become as dangerous as the old, if not more so. Molière did not confine himself to old age, but dealt with traits, character, diseases of character and behaviour. For Harpagon, the only proof of one’s importance, worth, ability is one’s money, one’s wealth. If and when it is gone, a person becomes a nobody and has to learn new types of behaviour and attitudes that he may no longer be capable of.
Just as The Misantrophe which I staged at the Drama in 2000 was a boisterous melancholic comedy, I believe that The Miser could be an elegiacally awkward ballet comedy with singing, a comedy about love, poverty and, above all vanity which undermines the point of existence and diminishes the respectability of the established values of human existence.