Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme
|Molière was given the commission only
two weeks before the performance date. He was to provide
some dramatic incident in support of a series of
elaborate dance sequences by Lully.
Instead, he turned the whole thing into a full-length play, perfectly integrating the dancing into the action throughout. It is a tribute to his genius that, 300 years later, the play is still performed, but the dance is incidental (and, indeed, often eliminated altogether.)
He used his habitual comic formula, which was to postulate an irrational attitude embodied in a character, then to explore the consequences of that attitude in friction with the real world. As a comédie-ballet, this play could be said supremely to fulfil his own paramount principle: "The great rule, above all other rules, is to entertain".
In Act 1 M. Jordan is exploited by professionals who are helping him fulfil his social aspirations. In Act 2 we see the comic consequences of his obsession when pitted against middle-class common-sense and aristocratic chicanery. His family and acquaintances decide that they must work with his obsession, thus allowing him to plunge ever deeper into the fantasy he has constructed.
Act 3 presents a burlesque consecration of M. Jordans new identity as a titled nobleman. The conspirators having bamboozled him into sanctioning a marriage he has already forbidden, the domestic comedy is resolved in the traditional way.
Music plays a vital and integral role in creating a graceful entertainment which charms the senses. It also contributes to the comic effects, as when we hear the plaintive serenade which the Pupil has composed, into which Lully, with gentle self-mockery, works some precious modulations in the fashionable manner of the day.