Seventeenth century French theatre isn’t usually at the top of anyone’s reading list, yet Molière’s L’Avare offers several good reasons why it should be. Firstly, it’s genuinely funny. There is an aspect of comedy to suit every taste, from crude smut to slapstick to some of the greatest (so simultaneously most terrible) groan inducing puns. Secondly, the characters are brilliantly crafted. They are ridiculous, yet relatable. With a plot that manages to just maintain believability, L’Avare offers an amped up family drama played out for entertainment. Molière’s play takes every vice, not just the titular avarice, and renders humanity’s darkest and worst emotions hilarious.
Furthermore, reading L’Avare today raises some challenging questions which even now have the most experienced translators and academics scratching their heads. How does humour transfer through time? And how can jokes still remain funny when they are moved not just from one language to another, but to another culture?
It’s also a great play because it ‘interacts’ so well other texts. L’Avare can be easily complimented and explored through further reading. If considered alongside any other Molière comedy, theatre’s role as a method of presenting the social tensions for reflection becomes abundantly clear. From ideas of inheritance to issues in education, Molière becomes quite a radical social commentator, clearly demonstrating why he fully deserves his status as ‘France’s Shakespeare.’ Or if perused while also leafing through a Racine tragedy, the stylistic contrasts become so strong it’s scarcely believable the plays are from the same era. How the same theme, whether it be family or power, can be manifested in such different ways is definitely worth a thought or two.
To put it bluntly, L’Avare is a thought provoking play. Molière’s language is not always easy, but it is always brilliant. “Vivre pour manger” – a classic line from a great play that should most definitely be devoured.