36 pages 1 hour read


Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1670

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Summary and Study Guide


Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, otherwise known as Molière, premiered his five-act comedy, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, in 1670 for the court of King Louis XIV at the Château of Chambord. The title, often translated as The Middle-Class Gentleman, is a contradiction in terms, since the word “gentleman” refers to a man who was born into nobility. Therefore, a bourgeois gentleman could not exist. Molière is one of the most well-known writers of French literature, and translations of his works have appeared in every active language. Although the king and his court delighted in Molière’s work, his plays often incited controversy with the Catholic Church, and one of his most famous plays, Tartuffe (1664) was censored for its criticism of Catholic hypocrisy. His plays were largely consumed by the French upper class. His theatre, the Comédie-Française, still exists, and performs Molière’s works more than any other playwright.

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme offers a commentary on social-climbing, as Monsieur Jourdain, a foolish, nouveau-riche Frenchman from a humble background tries desperately to become a genuine member of the nobility. Jourdain hires tutors who take advantage of his ignorance and uncultured understanding of art and science. He procures a noble friend, Count Duranté, who endlessly borrows his money. And although he has a wife (also from a humble background), he attempts to romantically pursue a marchioness for the sake of her social status. M. Jourdain’s daughter, Lucile, loves a man named Clèonte, but he will not permit the marriage because Clèonte, who disdains social ambition, does not consider himself to be a gentleman. With the help of his valet, several elaborate costumes, and a ridiculous ruse, Clèonte tricks M. Jourdain into allowing him to marry Lucile. At the end of the play, M. Jourdain still does not understand that he has been fooled.

Like the rest of Molière’s body of work, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme employed slapstick comedy and farcical sight gags, as Molière was heavily influenced by the Italian Renaissance theatre movement of Commedia dell’arte. Although the version used for this guide, which was translated by Philip Dwight Jones and is available royalty-free from Project Gutenberg, uses prose, Molière famously wrote in witty verse that does not translate easily into English. The play incorporates music and ballet interludes, which are integrated into the plot, as M. Jourdain endlessly commissions performances from musicians and dancers. Although Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme mocks a man who is not actual nobility, Molière’s plays frequently ridicule those who are, much to the entertainment of his upper-class audiences.