Study Guide

The Miser Respect and Reputation

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Respect and Reputation

"Yes, what did you say about misers and their miserly ways?" (1.3.35)

Harpagon might be the world's biggest miser. But that doesn't mean he's comfortable with the idea of people thinking he's a miser. The fact that he's blind to the way others see him is a testament to Harpagon's inability to put himself in another person's shoes.

"And on top of that I have to put up with hearing what people say about you all the time, because when all is said and done, I still have a soft spot for you sir." (3.1.72)

Jacques might be one of the worst sufferers of Harpagon's cheapness. But at the end of the day, the guy has a sense of loyalty to the old man that no one else in the play seems to have. That's why it's so hard for him to hear people saying such terrible things about Harpagon behind his back.

"Would you mind telling me Maître Jacques, what people say about me?" (3.1.73)

Harpagon might be too cheap to spend any money on people, but that doesn't mean he doesn't care about what people think of him. In this instance, he badly wants to know what Jacques has been hearing about him on the streets.

"Yes sir—if I was sure it wouldn't make you angry." (3.1.74)

Jacques says he'd gladly tell Harpagon what people say about him behind his back, except that he's worried that the truth will make Harpagon angry. Essentially, Jacques is worried that after he delivers the message to Harpagon, the old man will want to shoot the messenger.

"No you won't. On the contrary, you'd be doing me a good turn. I'd be happy to know what it is they say about me." (3.1.77)

Harpagon will not be swayed by Jacques' efforts to change the subject. He knows that Jacques is keeping something from him, and he desperately wants to know what people think of him.

"Since you will have it sir, I'll tell you straight—you're a laughingstock everywhere. We get bombarded on all sides with jokes about you." (3.1.78)

When pressed, Jacques finally tells Harpagon that he's the laughingstock of the neighborhood and that nobody respects him because of his stingy ways. As you can imagine, Harpagon doesn't take this news well.

"According to one chap, you once had the law on a neighbour's cat for eating up the leftovers from a leg of mutton." (3.1.78)

The stories about Harpagon border on the ridiculous: like the time the old man tried to get a cat arrested for eating some of his meat. But hey, Harpagon is ridiculous, and these stories might very well be true. They also just go to show how little respect people have for the guy.

"You're a figure of fun, a by-word for everybody and no one refers to you by your name: they all call you a miser, a cheap skate, a skinflint, a tight-fisted old shark." (3.1.78)

Harpagon has such a bad reputation and so little respect in people's eyes that his name has become a sort of shorthand for miserliness. In other words, if someone cheated you out of money, you'd be liable to say, "Aw shucks, I got totally Harpagoned on that one."

"I knew this would happen but you wouldn't believe me. I said you'd see red if I told you the truth." (3.1.80)

Even before he told Harpagon the truth about what people think of him, Jacques knew that he'd end up getting thrashed for his honesty. The sad thing is that he's the only person in this play who's actually looking out for Harpagon's reputation. But all he gets for his trouble is punishment.

"Listen, you're mighty self-important but you've only been steward here two minutes, so this is none of your business." (3.2.2)

Jacques doesn't like it when Valère makes fun of him for getting beaten by Harpagon. One of the main reasons he dislikes it so much is because Valère has only been Harpagon's servant for a short while, while Jacques has been around for years. As far as Jacques is concerned, Valère hasn't yet earned enough respect to talk to Jacques the way he does.

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