The Misanthrope and Other Plays (Signet classics)

The Misanthrope and Other Plays - Molière, Donald M. Frame Moliere has long been on my to-read list because his comedies were on a list of "100 Significant Books" I was determined to read through. The introduction in one of the books of his plays says that of his "thirty-two comedies... a good third are among the comic masterpieces of world literature." The plays are surprisingly accessible and amusing, even if by and large they strike me as frothy and light compared to comedies by Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Wilde, Shaw and Rostand. But I may be at a disadvantage. I'm a native New Yorker, and looking back it's amazing how many classic plays I've seen on stage, plenty I've seen in filmed adaptation and many I've studied in school. Yet I've never encountered Moliere before this. Several productions of Shakespeare live and filmed are definitely responsible for me love of his plays. Reading a play is really no substitute for seeing it--the text is only scaffolding. So that might be why I don't rate these plays higher. I admit I also found Wilbur's much recommended translation off-putting at first. The format of rhyming couplets seemed sing-song and trite, as if I was reading the lyrics to a musical rather than a play. As I read more I did get used to that form, but I do suspect these are the kinds of works that play much better on stage than on the page. Misanthrope - this was the first Moliere play I ever read, and arguably the most famous of all his plays. The introduction in what might seem an oxymoron calls it a comic King Lear, and I can see that side of it. As comic as this might read, it is basically a tragedy about the young man Alceste, the "misanthrope" of the play, who makes such a fetish of always being honest he alienates everyone around him. The character I enjoyed the most was definitely the malicious Arsinoe who plays the prude. The catty scenes between her and Alceste's love Celimene is particularly hilarious. The Doctor in Spite of Himself - involves a trick played by a wife on her husband Sgaranelle that causes him to be mistaken for a doctor who then undertakes to continue the impersonation. As with almost all the other plays by Moliere I read this then involves tricking tyrannical parents into letting young love take its course. This strikes me even on the page as pretty slapstick and I think would do better in performance than it reads. Even on the pages it's often amusing and I can understand why this is Moliere's second most staged play after Tartuffe. The Miser - by now after reading almost a dozen plays by Moliere, I can see the formula. A foolish tyrannical parent develops a mania that causes him to endanger his family's welfare, bring himself to the brink of ruin and involves him in trying to arrange marriages for his offspring they very much oppose. In this case Harpagon's mania is for money--which he values far above his own family. His monologue about his money-box is memorable and funny, and the play has some wonderful comic characters--Frosine was a particular favorite. I wasn't fond of the denouement with its piled up coincidences, but it might be one of those things that plays better than it reads. The Would-be Gentleman - in this play the mania displayed by Monseiur Jourdain is to become the social equal of the nobility. He's determined to marry off his daughter to one, to make one his mistress, and "dying to be learned" he's hired teachers in music, dancing, fencing and a philosopher. From whom he famously learns that he's been "talking prose for over forty years without knowing it." It's a very witty and amusing play. The Mischievous Machinations of Scapin - Scapin is described in the listing of characters as a "trickster." He's a servant but a master manipulator and schemer in the tradition of Figaro. Otherwise the play is very much along the usual lines with Moliere, with tyrannical parents determined to make their children marry against their wishes. And, well, as one of the characters, Hyacinthe, notes: O Heavens! What a lot of extraordinary coincidences. The Learned Ladies - On the surface this play that pokes fun at women with scholarly aspirations and pretensions to authority may seem misogynistic. But given my reading of other plays by Moliere, I think it just plays against the very idea of pretensions and deceptions--both of self and those of swindlers who target the gullible--and in defense of common sense over pedantry. In that sense it plays as the distaff version of Tartuffe, where its the male parent who is bamboozled and almost forces a daughter to wed a charlatan. And the daughter in Learned Ladies, Henriette, is among the more witty Moliere heroines. The Imaginary Invalid - this was Moliere's last play--he died of the all-too real malady of tuberculosis within hours of performing the title character of the hypochondriac. That reminds me a bit of Jane Austen--whose last unfinished novel written while she was dying centered on hypochondriacs and quack cures. And I think that says a lot about the sense of humor of both writers. Argan is a great comic character--such a hopeless hypochondriac he tries to force his daughter to marry a doctor just to have one on call.