Monday, August 09, 2010

The Would-Be Gentleman by Molière (1670)

My next stop on the non-stop literature train that is Harold Bloom's Western Canon list is the French play "The Would-Be Gentleman" by Molière (1670).

Molière is known as one of the great masters of comedy and "The Would-Be Gentleman" is no exception. Here Molière pokes fun at the greatly expanding French middle-class, typified by Monsieur Jourdain, a nouveau riche merchant who has plenty of money to spend on learning how to be a "person of quality." To this end he hires music instructors, dancing instructors, and fencing instructors who all gladly take his money and put up with his gauche opinions while waiting for a commission from a real noble.

Jourdain has a very practical and witty wife, and a lovely daughter, Lucile, who is in love with Cléonte. Madame Jourdain would be very happy for her daughter to marry Cléonte, but her husband is bound and determined for his daughter to marry a nobleman. Through a series of disguises, and leaning heavily on the suggestibility of Monsieur Jourdain, the romance is brought to a suitable ending for a comedy.

I really enjoyed this play -- it is predictable, but in just the way you want a good comedy to be, and many of the jokes and gags are just as funny now as they were over 300 years ago. All plays are meant to be performed, of course, and not just read, and since this play also includes several music/dance numbers, it perhaps loses even more than most by being read on the page instead of watched on the screen. Still, Molière's sense of fun and the comedy of his characters comes through in this archetypal French comedy.

Luckily for me, I got my copy of "The Would-Be Gentleman" in a collection of Molière's plays that includes four other plays from Bloom's canon list, and which I have bookmarked to read later. Since there were just two plays in this collection that Bloom overlooked, I read them this time around.

The first: "The Doctor In Spite of Himself" (1666) is a very funny story of a poor man who gets mad at his wife and hits her (that's not the funny part) -- she gets her revenge by telling two men who are in search of a doctor to cure their rich master's daughter that her husband is the greatest doctor of all time, but he has the eccentricity of denying that he is a doctor unless you beat him senseless. After you do that, he will agree he is a doctor and cure your patient. As you might imagine, everything eventually works out, and along the way is a play that is so funny I can't figure out why it didn't make the big W.C. list.

The second is "The Mischievous Machinations of Scapin" (1671) which focuses on the entertainingly conniving valet Scapin who gets himself and his masters into plenty of trouble, but always manages to get them back out again. Some really nice gags in this one, which also features the familiar doomed love affairs that end up working out just perfectly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

it's all about 'the misanthrope' -am