The Would-Be Gentleman

by Moliere
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Summary

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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 683

The Would-Be Gentleman by Molière is a five-act play about a man who has received an inheritance and decides he wants to become a gentleman. According to the eNotes study guide on The Would Be Gentleman, each act is its own episode. The play included songs, and each act is separated from the next by a dance.

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The play opens with two masters—one of music and one of dance—reflecting on rich patrons who pay them for their services but do not appreciate the arts; they agree that the money is worth dealing with those people. Monsieur Jourdain, a bourgeois man who has received an inheritance, arrives and asks the masters to look at the nice clothing he has purchased. Both men convince Jourdain to purchase lessons from them. 

Jourdain tries to stop an argument between a dancing master, a fencing master, and a philosophy master. Each man believes his discipline is the most important. The philosophy master then helps Jourdain write an insipid line of poetry for a noblewoman he is hoping to impress. When he leaves, Jourdain tries on the new clothes the tailor has made for him. Though they are not fitted or made correctly, the man convinces Jourdain that they are and that they represent what the upper class wears.

Jourdain's wife and a female servant named Nicole tell him that his clothing is ridiculous. He does not believe them. In an effort to impress the ladies with his lessons, he fences the servant—and loses. Jourdain and his wife then argue over a loan he made to Count Dorante. Jourdain meets Count Dorante, and the two men discuss and create a plan for Jourdain to meet the noblewoman he is so enamored with. The servant, however, overhears him. Dorante is using his position to impress Jourdain, so he can take money from him to pay his debts. 

The servant and Madame Jourdain talk about the woman's desire for her daughter, Lucile, to marry a man named Cléonte. Nicole wants to marry Covielle. Cléonte and Covielle, his servant, arrive. When Cléonte asks Jourdain for his permission to marry Lucile, he rejects him because Cléonte is not a noble. 

Not giving up, Covielle and Cléonte make a plan to convince Jourdain to give his permission. 

When Dorante arrives with the noblewoman, Dorimène, it is clear Dorante has been using Jourdain's money and gifts to impress Dorimene on his own behalf. She is concerned about his expenditures and cautions him against going into debt. However, she likes him. 

The characters gather to eat and listen to music. Madame Jourdain is upset at the gathering, but Dorante takes credit for the party. Nonetheless, Dorimène exits as Madame Jourdain rails at them.

Covielle disguises himself and presents himself to Jourdain, convincing him that he knew Jourdain's father and that a Turkish noble has arrived to marry Lucile. Cléonte appears as the nobleman, convincing Jourdain that Jourdain will be raised to noble status before the wedding. They stage a farcical ceremony to make Jourdain a noble officially.

Madame Jourdain arrives after it is over and thinks her husband has gone crazy. Meanwhile, Dorimène agrees to marry Dorante; both of whom are willing to help Cléonte and Lucile marry. When Madame Jourdain thinks Lucile is marrying someone she does not know, she gets angry. Covielle tells her the following:

For an hour, Madame, we've been signaling to you. Don't you see that all this is done only to accommodate ourselves to the fantasies of your husband, that we are fooling him under this disguise and that it is Cléonte himself who is the son of the Grand Turk?

She then goes along with the scheme. 

Lucile argues until she realizes that the Turkish noble is Cléonte in disguise. At this point she then happily agrees. They call for a notary to come and seal the union. Both couples are married. Covielle ends the final act by saying, "if one can find a greater fool, I'll go to Rome to tell it." 

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 939

Monsieur Jourdain is a tradesman who aspires to be a gentleman. Thinking, like many of his kind, that superficial manners, accomplishments, and speech are the marks of a gentleman, he engages a dancing master, a music master, a fencing master, a philosophy teacher, and other assorted tutors who are as vain and ignorant as he. They constantly quarrel among themselves as to which art is the most important, and each tries to persuade Jourdain to favor him above the others.

From the dancing master he learns to approach a lady: to bow, to step backward, and to walk toward her bowing three times and ending at her knees. From the philosopher he learns that all speech is either poetry or prose. Jourdain is delighted to learn that he was speaking prose all his life. He also learns that he speaks with vowels and consonants. He believes that this knowledge sets him apart from ordinary citizens and makes him a gentleman.

The primary reason for his great desire to be a gentleman is his regard for Dorimène, a marchioness. He has himself fitted out in costumes so ridiculous that they appear to be masquerades, six tailors being required to dress him in his fantastic costumes. Monsieur Jourdain’s wife retains her common sense in spite of her husband’s wealth, and she constantly chides him about his foolishness. He considers her a bumpkin, however, and reviles her for her ignorance.

In addition to criticizing his dress and speech, his wife rebukes him for being taken in by Count Dorante, a nobleman who flatters Jourdain’s affected gentlemanly customs and at the same time borrows large sums of money from him. Jourdain begs Dorante to accept the money because he thinks it the mark of a gentleman to lend money to a nobleman. Jourdain, engaging Dorante to plead his case with Dorimène, provides money for serenades and ballets and a large diamond ring. Dorante promises to bring Dorimène to Jourdain’s house for dinner one evening when Jourdain makes arrangements to send his wife and his daughter away. Madame Jourdain, who suspects that her husband is up to some knavery, sends the maid, Nicole, to listen to the conversation between the two men. Nicole cannot hear all of it before being discovered by Jourdain, but she hears enough to convince Madame Jourdain that her husband needs watching.

Jourdain’s daughter Lucile loves and is loved by Cléonte, and the Jourdain servant, Nicole, loves Cléonte’s servant, Covielle. When Lucile and Nicole pass the two men on the street without nodding, the men swear to forget the faithless ladies and turn to new conquests. After learning, however, that Lucile’s aunt is the cause of their coldness—the old lady thinking it unseemly to speak to men—the four lovers are reconciled. Lucile and Cléonte need only Jourdain’s permission to marry, for Madame Jourdain approves of Cléonte and promises to intercede with her husband. Jourdain refuses to accept Cléonte as a son-in-law, however, because the young man is not a gentleman. Cléonte is honorable, and he possesses both wealth and a noble career, but he shuns hypocrisy and false living, conduct he considers unbecoming a gentleman. The lovers plead in vain. At last, Covielle suggests a deception to play on the foolish old man, and Cléonte agrees to the plan.

Dorante, meanwhile, uses Jourdain’s money in his own suit for Dorimène’s favors. Even the diamond ring is presented as a gift from himself. Dorante secretly thinks Jourdain a fool and enjoys making him a real one.

At the dinner in Jourdain’s home, Dorimène is somewhat confused by Jourdain’s ardent speeches to her, for she thinks it known that she is Dorante’s mistress. She is even more disturbed when Madame Jourdain bursts in and accuses her husband of infidelity. Convinced that she is being insulted by a madwoman, Dorimène leaves in tears.

Covielle, disguised, calls on Jourdain and informs him that he was a friend of Jourdain’s father, who was indeed a gentleman. He was not a tradesman but had merely bought fabrics and then gave them to his friends for money. Jourdain, delighted with the news, feels justified in his belief that he is a gentleman. Then Covielle tells Jourdain that the son of the Grand Turk desires to marry Lucile. Jourdain is flattered and promises to give the girl to the Grand Turk’s son, even though she vows she will marry no one but Cléonte. Jourdain, duped into accepting initiation into the Grand Turk’s religion, a ceremony performed with much silly gibberish, believes he is being honored above all men.

When Cléonte appears, disguised as the son of the Grand Turk, Lucile recognizes him and agrees to be his wife. Madame Jourdain chides her for infidelity to Cléonte until Covielle whispers to her that the Grand Turk’s son and Cléonte are one and the same; then she, too, gives her consent to the marriage. Jourdain sends for a notary. After convincing Jourdain that their plan is only in jest, Dorante and Dorimène say that they will be married at the same time. In great joy at his exalted position Jourdain blesses them all and in addition gives Nicole to Covielle, whom he thinks to be the interpreter of the Grand Turk’s son’s. Thinking that Dorimène loves him, Jourdain offers his wife to whoever wants her. She, knowing the whole plot, thanks him and proclaims him the greatest fool of all.

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