Would-Be Gentleman (The)

By William Shakespeare
June 1 1997
directed by Roger Hendricks Simon

Monsieur Jourdain, a wealthy merchant who made a for-tune in the drapery business, longs to become a member of nobility. In order to succeed in his social aspirations, Jourdain hires numerous instructors to teach him how to behave as a proper gentleman should. While Jourdain's house is being overrun with instructors of music, dancing, fencing and philosophy, as well as servants, tailors, singers and dancers, Madame Jourdain attempts to persuade her foolish husband to take a keener interest in their daughter's marriage prospects. Madame Jourdain would like to see their lovely daughter Lucille married to Cleonte, the man of her choice. Jourdain, however, rejects the honorable and forthright Cleonte, claiming that Lucille must many a member of the nobility. While members of Jourdain's household attempt to persuade him to allow Lucille and Cleonte to marry, Jourdain pursues his own romantic inclinations behind his wife's back. He employs his parasitic and impoverished friend, Count Dorante, to help him win the beautiful widow Countess Dorimene to be his mistress. Dorante and Jourdain prepare an elaborate evening of music, gifts, food and entertainment in order to impress the countess. However, just as they are preparing to entertain Dorimene, Cleonte and his scheming servant Covielle make plans of their own. Together, the two prepare an outlandish and fantastic strategy designed to trick Jourdain into allowing the young lovers to marry.

Date Time
Sunday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

A unique blend of realism, fantasy, music and comedy, Moliére's The Would-Be Gentleman depicts the chaos caused by Monsieur Jourdain's desire to become a nobleman at all costs. The Would-Be Gentleman was commissioned by King Louis XIV, whose request that it contain a Turkish ceremony reflected the period's fascination with cultures that appeared to be different and thus somehow exotic.

Monsieur Jourdain, a wealthy merchant who made a for-tune in the drapery business, longs to become a member of nobility. In order to succeed in his social aspirations, Jourdain hires numerous instructors to teach him how to behave as a proper gentleman should. While Jourdain's house is being overrun with instructors of music, dancing, fencing and philosophy, as well as servants, tailors, singers and dancers, Madame Jourdain attempts to persuade her foolish husband to take a keener interest in their daughter's marriage prospects. Madame Jourdain would like to see their lovely daughter Lucille married to Cleonte, the man of her choice. Jourdain, however, rejects the honorable and forthright Cleonte, claiming that Lucille must many a member of the nobility. While members of Jourdain's household attempt to persuade him to allow Lucille and Cleonte to marry, Jourdain pursues his own romantic inclinations behind his wife's back. He employs his parasitic and impoverished friend, Count Dorante, to help him win the beautiful widow Countess Dorimene to be his mistress. Dorante and Jourdain prepare an elaborate evening of music, gifts, food and entertainment in order to impress the countess. However, just as they are preparing to entertain Dorimene, Cleonte and his scheming servant Covielle make plans of their own. Together, the two prepare an outlandish and fantastic strategy designed to trick Jourdain into allowing the young lovers to marry.

A Comedy of Social Ascension First performed in 1670, Moliére's play has since gained the distinction of being a primary example of the genre known as the comedy-ballet. This particular theatrical genre was created by Moliere himself in collaboration with court composer Jean Baptiste Lully, and it consists of a blend of music, song, dance, spectacle, fantasy and comedy organized to illustrate a unified dramatic idea. In The Would-Be Gentleman, Moliere uses all these elements to explore the humorous consequences that can occur when Jourdain's irrational desire is taken to its most unexpected extremes. The title of The Would-Be Gentleman, however, suggests an impossibility. In 17th-century France, members of the nobility were traditionally considered to be socially, economically and morally superior to all other classes. By the middle of the century, however, the majority of French wealth was in the hands of the growing middle class, and the aristocracy had become virtually impoverished. This situation allowed for a considerable degree of social mobility where previously there had been none. Accordingly, Jourdain longs to ascend the social ladder, despite the fact that it is impossible for him to ever attain the title "gentleman," which was confer-red only upon those who were born into a noble family. Jourdain is blind to the impossibility of achieving his desire because he is overwhelmingly attracted to his ideal of what the aristocracy should be. For him, the nobility represents beauty, quality, refinement, elegance, dignity and romance-all things he cannot experience in his own home, where his wife nags at him for his foolish behavior and his servants laugh at him to his face. Throughout the play, however, Moliere constantly challenges his audiences to question whether or not Jourdain's idealistic view of the aristocracy coincides with reality, and whether or not these values can be purchased. In The Would-Be Gentleman we can recognize many elements that characterize our own society today, such as voracious consumerism and the potential and promise of social mobility. Monsieur Jourdain is convinced if he can acquire all the things a man of good taste would have in his possession, he'll instantly obtain the status of gentleman. While Jourdain is clearly the primary target of laughter in this comedy, truly no one is spared. Ultimately, through his characters' desires for social approbation, Moliére pokes fun at both the middle class, who dream of social ascendancy at all costs, and the impoverished nobility, whose outward appearance of dignity thinly conceals a core of dishonesty, desperation and manipulation.