Moliere combined all the traditional elements of comedy - wit, slapstick, spectacle and satire - to create richly sophisticated and enduringly popular dramas.
The Miser is the story of Harpagon, a mean-spirited old man who becomes obsessed with making money out of the marriage of his children, while The Hypochondriac, another study in obsession, is a brilliant satire on the medical profession.
The School for Wives, in which an ageing domestic tyrant is foiled in his plans to marry his young ward, provoked such an outcry that Moliere followed it with The School for Wives Criticized - a witty retort to those who disapproved of the play's supposed immorality. And while Don Juan is the darkest and most tragic of all the plays in this collection, it still mocks the soullessness of the skinflint with scathing irony.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 336 pages, chronology, bibliography
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date: 27/01/2000
- Category: Plays, playscripts
- ISBN: 9780140447286
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Review by nosajeel
Moliere is like comfort food, although he has about the range of half a Shakespeare play, it is fun to return again and again to that range. These are the first plays of his I've read that were not translated by Richard Wilbur and, other than Don Juan, the only prose plays I have read. In this volume I read:<br/><br/>"The School for Wives Criticized": This short play is more of a philosophical/literary critical dialogue responding to critics of "The School of Wives." Essentially without plot, Moliere called it a "dissertation," it is a dialogue between dim-witted critics of "The School for Wives" and witter, smarter people defending it--and defending Moliere and his sense of comedy. It was originally performed with "The School for Wives."<br/><br/>"The Miser": I have seen this one before but it was a pleasure to read, it is about a miser who is in love with the same younger woman as his son. It features hilarious misunderstandings and coincidences, like the miser lending money at usurious interest rates to his son through an intermediary and unbeknownst to either of them. Of course with the help of clever servants it all works out in the end.<br/><br/>"The Hypochondriac": I have also seen this one before, although never performed with the "ballets" that act as a prologue, conclusion, and entr'acte in the original--and are truly quite funny and create an interesting juxtaposition with the play itself. Although Moliere's last play (he died coughing up blood in the role of the hypochondriac), it feels less sophisticated than many others, including The Miser, with Argan (the hypochondriac) considerably less multi-dimensional in his foibles than Harpagon (the Miser). The plot is similar, although in this case the selfish father is trying to steer his daughter towards marrying a doctor who could help treat him, while his daughter is in love with someone else. With the help once again of a clever servant and a ruse here Argan plays dead to learn what his family really thinks of him the story is, once again, resolved in a comic and happy manner.<br/><br/>(I skipped "School for Wives" because it was a prose translation and Wilbur has an excellent verse one, in fact I don't know why anyone would read prose translations of Moliere's verse plays. I also skipped "Don Juan" which I recently read in the Wilbur translation, as far as I know his only translation of a Moliere prose play.)