How to Become a Mamamouchi

Next up in my French reading is Molière's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. It is in the same Dover volume as Le Tartuffe and has the same translator. Therefore, my comments on the actual edition remain the same as in my last post. I would only note that because this play is largely in prose rather than verse, it is much easier to read. As a result, the shoddy English translation is far less essential.

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is not a play in the typical sense. Instead, it is classified as a comédie-ballet, a short-lived genre ofthe 17th and 18th centuries. A comédie-ballet is something like a hybrid of an opera and a play. Some elements are staged like a play and others like an opera. Molière wrote the play-like portions. Jean-Baptiste Lully did the music. And the dances were choreographed by Pierre Beauchamp. In the context of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, the main narrative is in the play-like portion. The operatic elements exist within the context of the story itself. That is to say, the music and dancing are logically called for by the story and are not merely secondary mode of story telling. For example, when the title character, Monsieur Jourdain, wishes to entertain some dinner guests, he has music played and dances performed for them. During that sequence, the operatic style takes over. It should be obvious that simply reading the play would be different from watching a live performance to an even greater degree than normal. Fortunately, a French group called Le Poème Harmonique performed and recorded this play in 2005 complete with music, dance, and 17th century staging practices (including costumes, gestures, and makeup). You canfind the DVD on Amazon. It is quite the sensory experience.

As for the play itself, I found it much better than Le Tartuffe. Infact, it is hard to believe that these plays were written by the same man. While Le Tartuffe was full of rather base humor, the jokes in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme are of a much more elevated nature. The first act in particular has some great exchanges between Monsieur Jourdain and the various tutors he has hired. The philosophy tutor in particular was great. I believe the difference in perceived quality may just be down to Molière writing for different audiences. Le Tartuffe seems written for a popular audience. Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, on the other hand, was first performed for King Louis XIV. The implicit joke of the whole play, that a mere merchant cannot easily become a gentleman, would likely be a source of anxiety rather than levity for a popular audience. I will be keeping this idea in mind when I read more Molière down the road.

Next up will likely be Denis Diderot's Le Neveau de Rameau. However, I am getting close to the end of the first part of Aquinas'Summa. I still have not decided how many posts the Summa will receive.