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The true “punching bag” behind Molière’s The Middle-Class Nobleman

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Demetrios E. Lekkas
Demetrios E. Lekkas


Summary In 1670, the new ballet comedy The middle-class gentleman (Le bourgeois
gentilhomme) premiered at the theatre of the French palace before “the
Sun King” Louis XIV, on a text by Molière with music by Lully, his
permanent collaborator. Both were acting on stage. Since then, no one has
raised the question who is the real punching bag of the play’s aggression.
The present author decided to research towards understanding it, in order
to compose new music responsibly for a performance at the Municipal
Regional Theatre of Crete, an island paradoxically connected directly with
the initial impetus behind the play’s composition. By studying historical
sources, events, linking the circumstances and analyzing in depth the text
from a fresh viewpoint with emphasis on certain scenes, he concluded
that the target of the playwright’s merciless hard satire was the original
composer of the music for the play, because the two of them had entered
a period of deep clash for personal, financial and legal differences. The
research, with its conclusions regarding the Molièresque attack on Lully,
moves on the axes of his humble Italian origins, his greed, the forgery of
his family history through the construction of a fake past of nobility, as well
as his widely conspicuous effeminacy and open homosexuality, by probing
into detailed historical, linguistic, etymological, political and sociological
references. The compound historical study of events that took place in the
palace and motivated the writing of this play is combined with a social
study of the palatine conditions and habits, with juicy references to the
customs and etiquette of the wider royal family and the Court, enhanced
with anecdotal facts and spicy commentary. The general attempt of this
novel multifaceted theatrological viewing is the documentation through
a narrative rich in authentic facts about the play, the author, the associate
creators and the era, largely unknown to the general public.


Louis XIV; Molière; Jean-Baptiste de Lully; Philippe d’Orléans; Anne of Austria; Mazarin; Süleyman; Cretan war; Siege of Candia; sabir (Mediterranean lingua franca); Reformation; Le bourgeois gentilhomme; comédie-ballet; commedia dell’arte; Jourdain; Turk

Full Text:



• Beaussant Philippe Lully ou le musicien du soleil; 1992 Paris, Éditions Gallimard

• Erlanger Philippe Louis XIV; translated from the French by Stephen Cox; 1970

New York, Praeger Publishers

• Falk Eugene H. “Molière the indignant satirist: ‘Le bourgeois gentilhomme’”;

The Tulane Drama Review Vol. 5, No. 1 (Sep., 1960): 73-88, MIT Press. Information

at: https://bit.ly/2ETErwp

• Gaines James F. Social structures in Molière’s theater; 1984 The Ohio State University

Press. See also at: https://bit.ly/2KBb2uJ

• Gaines James F. (ed.) The Molière encyclopedia; 2002 Westport Connecticut /

London, Greenwood Press, anything relevant

• de la Gorce Jerôme Jean-Baptiste Lully; 2002 Fayard, Paris, Bibliothèque des

Grands Musiciens.

• Gosford Desmond Le vice italien: Philippe d’Orleans and constructing the sodomite

in seventeenth-century France; Diss. City U. of New York, 2013; n.p. 2013

ProQuest Dissertations.

• Heyer John Hajdu (ed.) Lully studies (Cambridge Composer Studies); Preface:

James R. Anthony; 2000 Cambridge University Press, see more especially Ch.

(Jerôme de la Gorce: “Lully’s Tuscan family”: 1 onwards), 2 (Patricia Ranum:

“Lully plays deaf: rereading the evidence on his privilege”: 15 onwards), 11

(Manuel Couvreur: “Jules Ecorcheville’s genealogical study of the Lully family

and its influence on Marcel Proust”: 272 onwards)

The Middle-Class Nobleman (Molière)  Demetrios E. Lekkas

• Landweber Julia “Celebrating identity: charting the history of Turkish masquerade

in early modern France”, Romance Studies 23 (3), November 2005,

e.g. at: https://bit.ly/2wMUbgp

• Mitford Nancy The Sun King; 1966 London, Penguin Publishing

• Powell John S. Music and theatre in France, 1600-1680; 2000 Oxford University

Press, more especially Α.18: 398 onwards. Also see e.g. at:





• Powell John S. “Le Bourgeois gentilhomme: Molière and music” at: Bradby

David, Calder Andrew (ed.) The Cambridge companion to Molière; 2006

Cambridge University Press, Ch. 9: 121 onwards.

Also see e.g. at: https://books.google.gr/books?id=PcAHdxfNnKgC&pg=PA121&lpg=





• Seifert Lewis C. “Masculinity and satires of ‘Sodomites’ in France, 1660-1715”

at: Merrick Jeffrey, Sibalis Michael (ed.) Homosexuality in French history and

culture; 2012 Routledge.

Also see at: https://books.google.gr/books?id=Qa3aAAAAQBAJ&pg=PA52&lpg=




Main personalities of the times mentioned in the text

Laurent d’Arvieux, Anne d’Autriche, Pierre Beauchamp, Armande Béjart, Robert

Cambert, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Pierre Corneille,

Tiberio Fiorilli, Antoine Furetière, Gaston d’Orléans, Marie de Guise, Roger de

Guise, André Hubert, Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Jean-Baptiste de Lully, Philippe Jules

Mancini, Jules Mazarin, Mehmet IV Avcı, Molière, Duchesse de Montpensier,

Philippe II d’Orléans, Süleyman ağa, Carlo Vigarani

Places, institutions and events mentioned in the text

Académie Royale de Musique, Anabaptism, maison de Bourbon, Candia, Château

de Chambord, Château de Versailles, Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye,

Conciergerie, Cretan war, Crete, droits d’auteur, Fronde, Istanbul, Mediterranean

lingua franca, operatic monopoly, Paris Opera, radical Reformation, sabir, siege of

Candia, Théâtre du Palais-Royal

Epistēmēs Metron Logos

Plays, typologies, authors etc. mentioned in the text

Aristophanes, baladin(s), Baroque, Baroque opera, bouffon, Le bourgeois gentilhomme,

chinoiserie, coffee (esp. history of coffee: France), comédie-ballet,

Comédie-Italienne, commedia dell’arte, Les fourberies de Scapin, French Baroque,

French Orientalism, Jourdain, Latin comedy, Le malade imaginaire, Le

mariage forcé, mascarade turque, Monsieur de Pourceaugnac, New Attic comedy,

opéra comique, paladin(s), Phormio, Renaissance, Le roi danse, Scaramouche, le

Tartuffe, Te Deum, Terentius, Théâtre-Italien, turquerie, le vice italien

Texts and scores

• Molière’s full text in modern edition at:

o http://www.site-moliere.com/pieces/bourgeoi.htm

o http://www.toutmoliere.net/le-bourgeois-gentilhomme,46.html

o http://www.youscribe.com/catalogue/livres/litterature/theatre/le-bourgeois-


• Molière’s full text in modern edition complete with Lully’s score at:

o http://www.youscribe.com/catalogue/partitions-et-tablatures/art-musique-



o https://musopen.org/sheetmusic/7484/jean-baptiste-lully/le-bourgeois-gentilhomme-


o http://nicolas.sceaux.free.fr/lully/LWφV43LeBourgeoisGentilhomme.pdf,

an original version of the text as it was in its time, without modernizations

in language or in spelling

General websites

http://sitelully.free.fr, especially for the references:


http://www.comedie-francaise.fr/histoire-et-patrimoine, see especially:




http://www.haendel.it/compositori/lully.htm Episode “Molière l’imposteur” from

Franck Ferrand’s television series L’ombre d’un doute of channel France 3, built

around the conspiracy (?) theory that at least some of Molière’s works have

actually been written by Corneille as a ghost writer. More on this controversy via

search on key words “Moliere Corneille ghost writer”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pq0knCV4Ncs built around the conspiracy

(?) theory that at least some of Molière’s works have actually been written by

Corneille as a ghost writer. See, also, the relevant episode “Molière l’imposteur”

from Franck Ferrand’s television series L’ombre d’un doute of channel France 3, at:


The Middle-Class Nobleman (Molière)  Demetrios E. Lekkas

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4xuIRPIrno: profound detailed radio analysis /

narrative on Molière (sound only), from series 2000 ans d’histoire of France Inter


sun-king/: a brief general instructive note by Aurora von Goeth

Performances, motion pictures

• The historical museum-type dramatic revival. Versailles 2004, company Le

poème harmonique. Directed by Benjamin Lazar, music by Jean-Baptiste de

Lully; Vincent Dumestre: conductor.

At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKuUqsR4WOY

• Molière, a film by Ariane Mnouchkine, 1978. Excerpts at:



• Le roi danse, a film by Gérard Corbiau, 2000. At: https://www.youtube.com/


Impressive in its sets, costumes and artful elaborate choreography by Béatrice

Massin, the film The king dances was released in 2000; it is a biographical cinematic

picture focused on Lully this time, based on his biography by Philippe

Beaussant, called Lully or the sun musician (Lully ou le musicien du soleil, see

above). A noteworthy and commendable element in this regard is the detailed

record of the conflict between Molière and Lully. In the film, one of the climaxes

is placed precisely on the scene of the Turkish masquerade during the performance

of The middle-class nobleman, where Lully appears to suddenly become

clearly and painfully aware of his relentless shaming.

A note with a summary and with special reference to the masquerade scene at:


More specifically, a scene of the clash between Molière and Lully during the

performance of the masquerade at:


• Lully l’incommode, a documentary on Lully, 2009.

At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cb7xHMbXScY

The historical original incidental music for the play – an indicative selection

• Jean-Baptiste de Lully Le bourgeois gentilhomme, LWV 43, suite.

o Performance by the grand Baroque ensemble L’orchestre du roi soleil. Jordi

Savall: conductor. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Od1ZbV9rutI

o A symphonic transcription. French orchestra Les siècles. François-Xavier

Roth: conductor. At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PKcNZYlH6k

o Performance by Baroque group Modo antiquo. Federico Maria Sardelli: conductor.

At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDςBWHs43IzE


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