Places: The Would-Be Gentleman

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1671 as Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (English translation, 1675)

First produced: 1670

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Comedy of manners

Time of work: Seventeenth century

Places DiscussedJourdain mansion

Jourdain Would-Be Gentleman, Themansion (zhohr-DAHN). Parisian home of Monsieur Jourdain, a rich tradesman. It is instructive to study the ingenuity with which France’s greatest comic genius uses a single bare setting to present a complicated story that even includes five interludes performed by musicians, singers, and dancers. Foolishly enamored with the beautiful Marchioness Dorimène, Jourdain tries desperately to become a gentleman in the shortest possible time and spares no expense to attain his goal. His impulsive haste makes it possible for Molière to adhere to the Aristotelian unity-of-action dictum by confining all the events, including the subplot of the love affair between Cléonte and Lucile Jourdain, within a time frame of only a few hours. The bourgeois gentleman’s foolishly impractical ambitions provide an excuse for the entrance of a variety of visitors in appropriate costumes, escalating to the hilarious climactic Fourth Interlude, in which the mufti, four dervishes, six Turkish dancers, six Turkish musicians, and other instrumentalists disguised as Turks perform a ceremony that transforms Jourdain into a Mamamouchi.

This ridiculous but likable tradesman’s home is crucial to the drama because it is the only possible place in which such an extravagant assortment of characters could appear and such a strange–but logically ordered–progression of scenes could occur. Jourdain’s house in Paris provides the mandatory Aristotelian unity of place because it is a magnet for all the characters who want to take advantage of the money that is pouring out of this would-be gentleman’s pockets during the brief period of infatuation preceding his inevitable disillusionment.

BibliographyAbraham, Claude. On the Structure of Molière’s Comédies-Ballets. Paris: Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature, 1984. An original study, which explores the relationship between Molière’s text and the music composed by the court composer Jean-Baptiste Lully for the intermezzos in The Would-Be Gentleman. Argues persuasively that Lully’s music forms an integral part of this ballet comedy.Howarth, W. D. Molière: A Playwright and His Audience. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Examines Molière’s creative use of theatrical conventions both in his spoken comedies and his ballet comedies. Excellent description of the comic richness of Monsieur Jourdain, a role first played by Molière himself.Hubert, Judd D. Molière and the Comedy of Intellect. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962. Examines social satire, comic uses of language, and the importance of the intermezzos in The Would-Be Gentleman. Stresses the importance of theatricality in Molière’s plays.Moore, Will G. Molière: A New Criticism. 1949. Rev. ed. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1968. Remains an influential work, which points out that Molière was not just a playwright but also an actor and a manager of his own theatrical troupe. Explains very clearly the importance of mime and comic gestures in Molière’s comedies.Walker, Hallam. Molière. 1971. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1990. An excellent general introduction to Molière’s plays including an annotated bibliography of important critical studies on Molière. Describes the connection between artificiality and self-deception in The Would-Be Gentleman.
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