Last Updated September 5, 2023.
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.
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."