The Bourgeois Gentleman was written by Molière, in 1670. This five act play is the best known of Molière’s Court Plays. These plays were dramatic entertainments with music and dancing written to be performed for King Louis XIV. The Bourgeois Gentleman was written with greater haste than what Molière usually wrote with. The King had just received a state visit from the Turkish ambassador. He was dismayed to find that the Turk had better finery than he himself had, and he ordered Molière to create a satire on an oriental theme. So on short notice he created this play. It was to be performed before King Louis and his court at the royal hunting lodge of Chambord.
In order to keep the King’s timetable, Molière combined two plays he had already been working on. The cut-and-paste construction is easy to see in the finished product. There is virtually no plot and no character development. With the exception of the Gentleman himself, the principal charters are not even introduced until the third act. This play was the sort of grab-bag spectacle one might expect at a country hunting lodge and it is believed that neither the author nor his company expected it to serve any purpose other than as an evening’s diversion for the king and his friends.
What was astonishing, however, was the endurance of this hastily written comedy-ballet. The king absolutely loved it. The public applauded wildly at later public presentations and it was a hit in London under the title of The Citizen Turned Gentleman. It is now a repertory staple in theatres all around the world. The success of the play is that is simply one of the funniest plays ever written. The theme, social pretension, is one that has no temporal or geographical boundaries.
The fact that the author was poking fun at his own social class also contributed to the play’s success. Everyone in the original audience knew that Molière was a bourgeois himself. Other targets for the deft satirical jabs in this play included ones that made the audience thing of King Louis. This play is universal but not abstract. Due to the fact that the people satirized in this play included the royal patron and the author, and the audience knew whom and what he was talking about, the play has a special bitterness today.
The play is set in the home of Monsieur Jourdain. The Bourgeois Gentlemen opens with a musical overture. As the overture proceeds, candles in the onstage candelabra are lit and slowly hoisted to positions above and to the sides of the action. A table and chair are in the middle of the stage, with the music student at work there. When the overture ends, two groups the musicians and the dancers emerge from the wings.
The first scene is classic comic fun in the spirit of a theatrical tradition that goes back as far as Aristophanes. It has funny clothes, funny manners, and funny speeches. Common special pretensions can be taken to outlandish extremes with that combination. The first two acts of this play provide a series of variations on the opening scene. The first two acts are virtually plot less. They area series of lessons around a theme with frivolous tomfoolery that is contrived of verbal wit, visual gags, costume and prop humor, and traditional and novel whimsicality.
The Third Act introduces a whole new set of characters to surround Jourdain. The intrigue of Act II is traditional. Jourdain seeks to woo Dorimene, to marry Lucile to a marquise, and to deceive his wife. This is not how things work out though.
Throughout the entire play everything is calculated to entertain. This was Molière last great success.
The cast of characters:
Originally written for Theatre 101, freshman year of college.