Exposition (Initial Situation)
As the play opens, we learn that the siblings Élise and Cléante both want to marry people they love. Not a situation that's hard to sympathize with, right? The only thing standing in their way is their miserly old father, Harpagon (boo! hiss!) whose stinginess and overall jerk-tastic attitude is making it pretty much impossible for either child to get married. Élise worries that he won't let her marry her lover Valère because he's a mere servant, while Cléante finds out that Harpagon intends to marry the woman he loves, named Mariane.
Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)
Fooling the Old Man
Conflict and complication? Where do we even begin? Okay. Deep breath. Here we go:
To help Mariane out of her difficult money situation, Cléante tries to take out a loan for 15,000 francs from an unknown lender. The loan comes with a truly ridiculously high interest rate. He eventually finds out that the lender, though, is his own father. Extra proof that Harpagon is a d-bag.
When Harpagon finds out that his son wants a loan, he rails at Cléante for being so undisciplined in his spending habits. Then he gets truly ticked off when he finds out that his son intends to marry Mariane. Harpagon insists that he will be the one to marry Mariane.
Then, if old Harpagon wasn’t elevating his old-man blood pressure to seriously unsafe levels already, he flips out when he finds out that Élise wants to marry his servant Valère. The nerve of Élise! Harpagon has already made arrangements for Élise to marry a wealthy old dude, who will bring a lot of money into the family. Oh yeah, and he also wants Valère arrested and hanged for stealing a box of money that has mysteriously gone missing.
Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)
We are Fa-mil-y
When Seigneur Anselme—the dude Harpagon wants to marry Élise—shows up at the house, it is revealed that he is actually a well-off Italian Don. He's also a nice guy, who doesn't want to marry Élise unless she's totally overjoyed to marry him. Not only that, but it's also revealed that Anselme is the long-lost father of both Valère and Mariane. Anselme had thought that his kiddos Valère and Mariane were dead. He also thought that his wife, who has been living with Mariane this whole time, was dead n' gone. Whoa, Nelly. This is not just a turning point; it's when the lives of most of the characters flip 180 degrees. It's a joyful family reunion, and Seigneur Anselme can't wait to go see his long-lost wife.
M. Anselme wants his children to be happy. So, he gets Harpagon to agree to the two marriages by footing the bill for everything wedding-related (including a new suit of clothes for Harpagon). Harpagon, with dollar signs popping out of his eyeballs, says hecky yeah. He still wants to know where his stolen cash box went, but Cléante assures him he'll get it back.
Anselme and the children head offstage to plan the weddings. We assume there will be tons of flowers, a big brass band, and maybe some fireworks: Anselme is a generous dude. Harpagon follows, but can only think about getting his moneybox back. Now that he doesn't control his kids anymore, he'll be left old and alone with nothing but his money. That's actually a-ok with him: he loves his moolah more than he loves his kiddos anyhow.