Analysis of Moliere’s Would-Be Gentleman
The idea of social status is one that assumes a pivotal role in Middle Age European culture. Social status was, in essence, a tool used by society to differentiate and label the population into their appropriate classes. Therefore, the elite would mingle with other members of their class, and the poor would associate themselves with other poor people. Social status had almost a sacred aura surrounding it. Obtainable only by rite of birth, it was not given out nor obtained overnight. Everyone respected the caste system and one’s position in it, and because of the respect for social status, the nobles received the respect of other noblemen, middle class merchants, peasants, and anyone else below them on the social ladder. Social status was a glue that held society together because it was an established hierarchy that people accepted as the social norm, preventing civil unrest. It was a social taboo to not pay homage to those higher up on the social ladder, and anyone who violated this social caste system would be severely punished. Therefore, a peasant could never disrespect someone with a higher social status than them, lest they suffer unfavorable consequences. In Moliere’s Would-Be Gentleman, social status assumes a prominent role in how society behaves. Monsieur Jourdain uses social status as a driving force that motivates him to better himself and move up the social ladder. In the case of Madame Jourdain, however, social status is a deterring force that turns her away from bettering herself socially, and instead encourages her to accept her place in society. Monsieur Jourdain yearns to be recognized and accepted as a member of the elite class. Although he possesses wealth, his family was a member of the middle class, and, therefore, Monsieur Jourdain was born into the middle class. In an effort to be accepted as a member of the aristocracy, Monsieur Jourdain undertakes endeavors that society deems as gentleman like. Monsieur Jourdain takes up dancing, music, fencing, and philosophy for the sole reason of becoming “a man of learning” (Moliere 198). Prior to his obsession with becoming a member of the elite class, Monsieur Jourdain had very little interests in these studies; else he would have mastered these studies when he was an adolescent. Now that social status is motivating him to join the ranks of the elite class, however, Monsieur Jourdain brushes aside his own personal preferences for the sake of achieving his goal. The idea of social status has completely reset Monsieur Jourdain’s way of thinking, as he now thinks in terms of the question “Is this what the quality do?” (193). Members of the aristocracy are proficient in the arts, so Monsieur Jourdain believes that he too must also become capable in the arts if he ever wants to move up the social ladder. Notice how Monsieur does not take up practices such as shoe making or tailoring. Trades that require manual labor are considered to be practices for the bottom half of the social ladder. Knowing how to work with your hands is probably a good skill to have, probably more important to have than dancing or singing, but with it comes a social stigma that would severely hamper Monsieur Jourdain’s quest to becoming an aristocrat. Monsieur Jourdain’s emphasis on social status causes him to pursue useless tasks, while refusing to learn skills that might actually be of benefit. In addition to his own goals, Monsieur Jourdain imposes his aspirations on his daughter, Lucile. With the knowledge that social status is obtained by rite of birth, Monsieur Jourdain intends to break the cycle of middle class meddling that he and his family have been affiliated with by having Lucile marry a nobleman. If Monsieur Jourdain ever hopes to break out of the middle class, he cannot have his daughter marry a commoner. Therefore, Lucile is forbidden to marry Cléonte on the basis that he is not of “noble birth” (225)....
Bibliography: Moliere, Jean-Baptiste. The Misanthrope and Other Plays (Penguin Classics). New York: Penguin Classics, 2000.
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