Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 302

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The Affected Young Ladies (a.k.a The Pretensions Young Ladies; French: Les Précieuses ridicules) is a 1659 one-act satire written by famed French playwright and poet Jean Baptiste Poquelin, widely known as Molière. It is written in prose, and tells the story of two young and pretentious women, Magdelon and Cathos, who came to Paris from the French provinces in order to find love. Gorbious, a kind, rich and well respected aristocrat, father of Magdelon and uncle of Cathos, wishes the best for his daughter and his niece, and decides that they should marry two young and refined men of his choosing. Thus, he presents La Grange and Du Croisy.

However, the précieuses think that the men are unworthy of their love and sophistication, and proceed to mock them. The two suitors then vow to have their revenge. They tell their valets to pretend to be bourgeoisies and woo the two ladies. The valets present themselves as Marquis de Mascarille and Vicomte de Jodelet. Magdelon falls in love with the “Marquis” and Jodelet falls in love with the “Vicomte.” When the valets reveal their true identities, which is, essentially, the resolution of the plot, the two ladies, who took pride in their wit and their intelligence, feel ashamed and ridiculed for being so naive.

With The Pretensions Young Ladies Molière wanted to portray the way men and women of the French society acted and behaved, especially those who belonged to the bourgeoisie. Thus, the play is a comedy of manners, and it was widely praised for its entertaining and humorous narrative. It premiered in Paris on 18 November 1659 at the Théâtre du Petit-Bourbon, and attracted the Parisian upper class and aristocracy, and even King Louis XIV and his patronage. The play is still successfully produced to this day.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 271

*Paris

*Paris. Capital of France and fashion capital of Western Europe. To pinpoint the place represented in his play, Molière deliberately wrote the name of Paris into his dialogue many times. For example, when Mascarille asks several young ladies what they think of Paris, one of them replies that Paris is the “great bureau of marvels, the center of good taste, wit, and gallantry.” It is the sophisticated manners of the great city at the zenith of France’s ancien régime that are satirized as much as the naïve young women who are victims of a practical joke.

Stage settings in Molière’s plays were always minimalistic, partly because he never knew where his plays would be performed. Often the plays were taken from town to town over muddy roads and performed in tennis courts, in private homes, or even outdoors. The primitive travel conditions made it impossible to transport elaborate scenery and furniture. In The Affected Young Ladies the stage is so barren that characters must call for chairs to be brought for their visitors. However, the elaborate gowns worn by the young ladies and the extravagant costumes worn by the Marquis de Mascarille and Viscount Jodelet would establish that the scene represented was a mansion in the capital city.

It was important to Molière to make it clear to audiences that his comedy was taking place in a specific location, a city where fantastic fashions appeared and disappeared with remarkable swiftness. His provincial young ladies are made ridiculous because their affectations have been superseded by new affectations which can only be learned at court.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 220

Backer, Dorothy. Precious Women. New York: Basic Books, 1974. A historical study that shows that preciousness (préciosité) was an early feminist literary movement. Explains that Molière made fun only of the pretentious and not truly creative precious writers who were his contemporaries.

Lawrence, Francis L. Molière: The Comedy of Unreason. New Orleans: Tulane University Press, 1968. Explores conflicts between rational and irrational characters in Molière’s comedies, and examines parody and comic representations of love in The Affected Young Ladies.

Wadsworth. Philip A. Molière and the Italian Theatrical Tradition. 2d ed. Birmingham, Ala.: Summa Publications, 1987. Analyzes the profound influence on Molière of Italian actors and playwrights. Discusses the importance of nonverbal gestures and wordplay in The Affected Young Ladies.

Walker, Hallam. Molière. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1990. Contains an excellent introduction to Molière’s comedies and an annotated bibliography of important critical studies on the playwright. Also examines the role of parody and social satire in The Affected Young Ladies.

Yarrow, P. J. A Literary History of France. Vol. 2 in The Seventeenth Century: 1600-1715. London: Ernest Benn, 1967. A general history of seventeenth century French literature that includes one chapter with a very clear introduction to Molière’s plays. Yarrow discusses role reversal and the conflict between illusion and reality in The Affected Young Ladies.

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