Even during his final decade, when he was producing comedies as complex and thought provoking as Tartuffe, Molière sometimes wrote works that were much more like French farce in their simplicity and lightheartedness. The Would-Be Gentleman is such a play.
The gull in this comedy-ballet is M. Jourdain, a commoner who has inherited some money and now wishes to become something that he is not, a gentleman. Like so many of Molière’s obsessed characters, Jourdain defines what a person is in terms of externals. In contrast, his practical wife, Madame Jourdain, sees clearly what he is, what she is, and where they belong in society. Perhaps because this play takes place among the bourgeoisie, not among the gentry, there is no honnête homme in it to serve as the voice of reason. Instead, the function of the raisonneur is filled by Madame Jourdain herself, who, along with the servant Nicole, points out the merits of moderation.
As far as structure is concerned, The Would-Be Gentleman consists of a series of episodes, each one act long, which are brightened by songs and separated by interludes of dance. In each episode, tricksters take advantage of M. Jourdain’s social ambitions. In the first act, a musician and a dancing master are instructing him; in the second, they are joined by a fencing teacher, and finally by a master of philosophy, who astonishes M. Jourdain by convincing him that he has been...
(The entire section is 588 words.)