Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The Would-Be Gentleman by Moliére.

1886 edition of Le Bourgeois gentilhomme.
The Would-Be Gentleman (Le Bourgeois gentilhomme) is quite a short comédie-ballet by Moliére first performed in 1670. It's an excellent play about social climbing in an age where gentlemen were born gentlemen: there were no would-be gentlemen in the aristocracy: simply they either were or they weren't and really there was no changing that.

But that didn't stop Monsieur Jourdain from giving it a go. He is a middle class man who has inherited a small fortune: he is, in short, nouveau riche. His goal is to rise above his middle class status and become accepted among the aristocracy. He must first look the part, which he attempts to achieve with new clothes, and then, most importantly, he must be able to act the part, and this is where the fun begins. He learns music and dance, philosophy, fencing, and even how to enunciate properly (which he attempts to teach his maid). Madame Jourdain is unimpressed and wishes that Jourdain would drop all the pretence but he is very taken in by Dorante, who in turn is very taken by Jourdain's money and so flatters him no end and encourages his schemes. He even wishes to be married to a noblewoman, Dorimene (despite the fact he is married already) and is horrified when his daughter Lucille falls in love with the middle class Cléonte.

Illustration from the 1909 edition.
Cléonte, mercifully, has a plan however: with the help of Madame Jourdain and his valet Covielle he tricks Jourdain into thinking he is the son of a Turkish sultan. Naturally Jourdain is thrilled that this 'sultan' wishes to marry his daughter, and is even more excited to discover he will also be considered a noble after the ceremony. Unaware he is being duped, the ceremony goes ahead, and we can only imagine how he reacted when he realised he had been fooled.

It is enormously good fun however mean-spirited the play may seem to be. It also has a strong element of farce and Jourdain is mercilessly mocked not only by his peers but those beneath and above him. This is only the second Moliére play I've read (the first was his earlier play The Misanthrope) but I can see he's going to become a favourite of mine, much in the same way as Wilde or Austen. This was an excellent play to start the year with.

And it was my first title for the Deal Me In Challenge of 2018. Next week: The Blessed Damozel by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

4 comments:

  1. this sounds fascinating; i've never considered reading Moliere before; i'll have to remedy that... tx....

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  2. Almost 350 years ago... the struggle for "upward mobility" doesn't seem to have changed much!

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    Replies
    1. No, afraid not. Though they did seem more honest about it back in the day!

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