Le Bourgeois gentilhomme aims at the set ways of the rich middle class, which yearns for nobility, but has not been born or bred for it. The play is in prose except for the ballet openings.
The play takes place at Mr. Jourdain's house in Paris. Mr. Jourdain is a rich "bourgeois" whose father was a merchant who made money. He would like to be a nobleman (which by definition and by birth is impossible), and to this aim, he hires all kinds of people to dress him, to teach him talk, fence, dance like a nobleman. In the process, he makes himself ridiculous, who is obvious to many around him. This also reflects the view that for him (and he certainly was not unique) mimicking behavior meant the real thing.
Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme was acted before the King for the first time at Chambord, on October 14, 1670, and on November 28 at the Palais Royal. After the second representation, Louis XIV. said to Molière, "You have never written anything which amused me more, and your play is excellent." But it obtained a still greater success in Paris, where the bourgeois willingly and good-humouredly laughed at what they deemed their neighbours' weaknesses. Molière acted the part of the Bourgeois.
Many of Mr. Jourdain's ordeals have a place in the collective French consciousness, and here is an often paraphrased or quoted passage by Mr. Jourdain, upon hearing the definition of prose:
"Par ma foi! il y a plus de quarante ans que je dis de la prose sans que j'en susse rien, et je vous suis le plus obligé du monde de m'avoir appris cela. "
"Upon my word, I have been speaking prose these forty years without being aware of it; and I am under the greatest obligation to you for informing me of it."