The Would-Be Gentleman Summary



(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 939 words.)