The B o n T o n
A C O M E D Y I N O N E A C T
BASED ON MOLIÈRE’S PLAY LES PRÉCIEUSES RIDICULES
D R A M A T I S P E R S O N A E
La Grange, a gentleman and rebuffed wooer.
Du Crosby, a gentleman and rebuffed wooer.
Gorgibus, a respectable bourgeois.
Magdelon, his daughter, a precious maiden.
Cathos, his niece, another precious maiden.
Marotte, the maidens’ maidservant.
Almanzor, Their lackey.
Marquess de Mascarille, valet to La Grange.
Vicomte de Jodelet, valet to Du Crosby.
Two sedan porters; Lucile and other neighbors; violinists
The scene, Gorbibus’ house, OUTSIDE PARIS, 1660.
* * *
La Grange —
I’m not amused.
I swear we’ve been abused.
You mean —
This very place?
Was our reception a showcase?
I will concede, it seemed threadbare.
Perhaps lacking some savoir-faire?
I cannot say I’m satisfied.
Nor I; it rather hurt my pride.
I’ll tell you true, I am appalled;
such callow girls, bon ton so-called,
and with such airs, such ripe conceits
from provincials in country seats.
I rather doubt, men of the world, such
as we are, rank a poor touch
as we just had. The raw contempt!
Why, all decorum was exempt.
These girls were far too debonair
to even offer us a chair;
and all the whisperings among
themselves, and yawnings rudely flung;
‘how late it is’ they made a note
with eye contact wan and remote;
whatever topic we’d submit,
a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ was our tidbit;
I’ve never before engaged in
such ennui made conversation.
I ask you, Du Crosby, my friend,
did not these two lasses intend
to behave fey, and take us for
rank common men without valor?
Agreed, they were most untoward
but let us not go overboard;
these lasses do assume the trend
of preciousness; so what, my friend?
I have not begun yet respond
to such insults from the ‘haut monde’
mentality, this precious stance
infecting Paris in advance
and now the country provinces
which good men receive with winces.
Unappetizing, I insist,
this preciousness so artificed
which makes young maidens act refined
as if make-up makes a fine mind.
I think I know what sort of man
would impress them; I’ve got a plan
to show these faux-courtly ladies
the emptiness of fopperies.
My valet, Mascarille,
who thinks himself, with overkill,
a man of wit with manners swank,
a gentleman of the first rank;
indeed, there’s nothing easier
to imitate, the low poseur,
than gentlemen in these fey days
where substance is colifichets;
this fop of a valet affects
to write verse, dance and pay respects
to the apex of town salon,
as if he outlines the bon ton.
Oh sure, he’s quite a popinjay
although he serves you for his pay;
but what of him, what’s your riposte?
I’ll tell you soon; but first, our host.
Gentlemen, you’ve seen my niece
and daughter. Pray do speak your piece;
are they not fit to make a spouse?
How was your visit to my house?
You best ask them, for we don’t know;
they spoke not two words in a row.
Thanks for your kindness we receive;
we are your servants, by your leave.
THEY BOW, AND EXIT.
I say, their mien was somewhat curt;
did something happen malapert?
I’ll find out what transpired here.
Do make appear
the two young ladies; where are they?
In their boudoir.
This time of day?
What are they doing?
their hair and feminine places.
Good grief! The idle vanity!
Tell them to come here, instantly!
These jades and all their fripperies
would bankrupt two or three countries;
it’s nothing but potions and creams
and plumes and satins bought in reams;
it’s pomade, perfumes and feathers
and gad-knows-what for their nethers;
I swear, four servants ain’t enough
to slap on, peel off all the stuff
concocted in a powder puff
to glow ‘em when they’re in a huff;
who knows what sort of damsels these
be underneath their recipes?
MAGDELON AND CATHOS ENTER.
Ah, there you are, under a mask
of pampered fashion! I now ask
what did you say to those fine gents
who left with such cold sentiments?
Did not I order you receive
them as husbands? Why then such peeve?
But, father, they were impolite!
No decent girl could brook their sight!
And what do you think made ‘em bad?
They treated us like wives, dear dad!
And would you rather their designs
were treating you like concubines?
I think they acted most upright —
they called for marriage, not moonlight;
they’re looking for wives, not mere flings —
sincerity is wedding rings;
they treat proposals as solemn,
not revelry; what’s the problem?
Oh, father, you are so bourgeois
and so are they; that is the flaw!
You ought to learn gentility
and so should they, in all précis.
What is this hoity-toity talk?
These are fine men you rail and knock;
why, marriage is both simple and
sacred, something that should be planned.
Don’t be so gothic, I ask you;
if everyone thought that, then who
would read a novel, where the men
court their damsels ‘til volume ten!
What to-do! And what does this
concern you two? Be serious.
Exactly! I am serious!
Amours are not alacritous;
there’s chapters, volumes, sev’ral acts,
there’s ups and downs, triumphs, setbacks;
there’s courting nascent, shy at first,
then declarations made rehearsed;
there’s twists of plot, and ironies,
there’s subtexts and hyperboles;
there’s conflicts, mishaps and detours,
there’s parallels and metaphors;
there’s doppelgangers, twists of fate
and maid servants who love to prate;
there’s bed-tricks and cross-dressing, too,
and misplaced secret billet-doux;
there’s lulls made to increase suspense
and parents to add dissonance;
there’s turns of plot and exposés,
and sighs best left to paraphrase;
why, father, marriage, do abide,
is a saga, not some broadside!
What is this jargon and argot?
‘Tis high-style à la rococo!
There’s stages, forms and policies,
a million gallant niceties;
punctilios must be noted
and politesse sugar-coated;
there’s lots of minor courtesies
to be observed, styled Q’s and P’s;
‘tis called the ‘Map of the Lovescape’
with steps to show how love takes shape;
the missives, sonnets and small gifts
that accrue to help lovers’ shifts;
and then, there’s manner of raiment,
the ribbons, plumes and such ostent
that shows a wooer’s good intent
and how his heart is exigent;
these so-called swells that called on us
were far less than eximious;
their plain-dealing, straight-talking mien
should be censured with quarantine!
What is this gibberish so posh?
This flim-flam flummery’s hogwash!
I tell you, the gents that you spurned
have reputations highly earned;
their fam’lies are titled, ancient
and, better yet, proven solvent.
I tell you, ladies, they would make
upstanding husbands you should take;
reject them and sit on your buns
but if not soon wed, you’ll be nuns.
Your father is so primitive;
such boorishness I can’t forgive.
I am embarrassed; nay, aghast;
‘tween him and me, there’s such contrast
I wonder if not, at my birth,
I was switched from a house of worth
to some lowly intrigue as such
we read about so very much.
That would explain why I feel thus:
my life should be illustrious!
There is a man, outside the door,
who says his master asks if you’re
at home and would kindly permit
him to make a polite visit.
And, who’s this man who calls upon
Cathos and me? For our salon
shall not receive another set
of dullards we’d as soon forget.
‘Tis the Marquess de Mascarille
and, I swear, he be the real deal;
he’s got the hat, the plumes, the strut,
the boots, the cape, the right haircut.
You may permit him entrance, and
announce him daintily yet grand;
I swear you lack all elegance,
Marotte; you’ll be the ruin of France!
[TO CATHOS:] A marquess, dear! At last report
has noticed we’re the better sort!
Well, to the boudoir first to make
our faces charming with pan-cake —
And tousle our hair into bloom
with countermeasures of perfume.
MAROTTE, MAGDELON AND CATHOS HURRY OUT. MASCARILLE ENTERS IN A SEDAN CHAIR CARRIED BY TWO PORTERS.
Stop, porters; place me down right there!
These rogues, I swear, must think that we’re
in battle, trotting me so rough
they’ll brutalize my plumes and stuff.
What the hell, the door’s so thin;
you’d think you would have just walked in.
What? Expose my shoes to dirt
and let raw air rough up my shirt?
Begone, barbarians, and take
away this travelling backache!
We’re only waiting for our fee.
Excuse me, sirrah, what say thee?
Our payment —
Payment! Why, the cheek!
[CLOUTING HIM] Expecting funds from one so chic
as a Masquess! ‘Tis not endured!
You’ll be content to have labored!
FIRST PORTER [REMOVING ONE OF THE SEDAN POLE HANDLES]:
Politely, our funds, we entreat
or you will get politely beat.
MASCARILLE [PAYING HIM]:
I say, the rabble nowadays
deserves the opposite of praise;
well, here you go, since you’re so poor
you cannot help but be a boor.
I think I’d like a little tip
for that jeer, or I’ll bust your lip.
MASCARILLE [PAYING HIM]:
Indeed, someone should pass a law —
the menials should have éclat;;
should the canaille get any worse,
they’ll suffer my contempt in verse.
THE PORTERS GO OUT WITH THEIR SEDAN. ENTER MAROTTE.
Monsieur, the ladies will now see
you with their hospitality.
EXIT MAROTTE. MAGDELON AND CATHOS ENTER WITH ALMANZOR.
Dear ladies, no doubt you’re surprised
by such a visit I devised
but, since your reputation grows
outside Paris, expect fellows
of quality to seek you out;
consider me an early scout.
Surely you exaggerate —
Although we’re pleased with your mandate.
Modesty will never hold
because your famed éclat, all told,
has made the rounds in the bon ton
and such renown’s my Rubicon.
You flatter, sir, ‘tho I confess
the way you speak’s eximious.
We must have chairs; hie, Almanzor!
Excuse our dull servant, Monsieur.
Ah, yes, dull servants are the bane
of salon culture, in the main.
It must be better in Paris —
Where everything’s splendiferous.
Ah no, my dears, the upper crust
is everywhere vexed and nonplussed
by savage minions and valets
who cause the beau monde such malaise.
RE-ENTER ALMANZOR WITH CHAIRS, THEN EXIT.
Please seat yourself, and tell us of
the Paris smart set, which we love.
And how it might be possible
to join the beautiful people.
Ah, dear, but they have just joined you,
my visit will make more accrue;
it won’t be long, do be assured,
your dernier cri is quite secured.
Ah, monsieur, that would be grand!
Our small salon’s yours to command!
We seek the best society
of gallants, wits and gay esprit.
Indeed, I am embarrassed to
admit, until we received you,
the only company we’ve seen
were two dull men with très dull mien.
Ah yes, two clods, who thought proper
to woo us à la deal-shopper;
they came to wed us without one
punctilio of love begun.
Of Love’s Map they had not a clue;
I swear the books they’ve read are few;
although, in fine, they’re upper class,
their gaucheries taxed us en masse.
Who needs an upper crust to act
sincere, or talk matter-of-fact?;
it’s better, surely you agree,
to flaunt polished gentility.
And be a wit, with epigrams
as well as epical iambs;
plus, always wear the finest clothes,
especially if speaking prose.
Ah yes, ladies, you just have showed
you know about the avant mode;
you grasp the sensibilities
that promote chic refineries;
no wonder I have come to you,
for Paris needs a fresh purview;
the smart set’s in a dreadful rut
and badly needs new blood, that’s what;
why, just the other day, was I
inditing aphorisms wry,
when gentlemen of alleged style
asked if inditing was worthwhile;
the savagery that’s going ‘round
the literary clique, I’ve found
has started to proliferate
as common tastes receive a fête.
I swear, this damned democracy,
which once was a frivolity
among the haut monde and trendy
has gotten out of hand, bigly;
eccentric quirks deserve hoopla
but imitating the bourgeois
has gotten musty, if not stale —
fatiguing is the faux canaille.
Affecting poverty was swank
for a season, on the Left Bank,
but now that fad’s become humdrum
because good taste’s the rule of thumb;
and, so, ironic, it may be,
but I find good taste’s apogee
to lie outside Paris, in you —
en vogue, au fait, bon ton, brand new!
Acting low, like some bourgeois,
is, really, the height of faux pas.
The little people may be cute
but apery I must refute.
It’s proper to be exclusive;
equality is putative.
A pox on popularity;
good taste involves some snobbery.
I see you ladies have the smarts
to be masters of the fine arts;
it’s all about the inner group
with the rabble out of the loop.
By your leave, I shall install
in your salon the haut cabal;
we’ll have the bald effrontery
to limit it to the chichi;
and, dare I say, within a week
we’ll be the arbiters of chic.
Somebody with respects to pay.
MAGDELON [READS A VISITING CARD]:
Eh? The Vicomte de Jodelet.
He does attend.
Sir, you know him?
He’s my best friend!
Well, bring him in.
CATHOS [TO MAGDELON]:
What luck, my dear,
we’ve now a second chevalier;
it seems our fame is growing fast —
our dernier cri has been broadcast!
ENTER ALMANZOR WITH JODELET.
What a surprise!
THEY KISS EACH OTHER’S CHEEKS.
I see you’ve got good taste likewise!
Why, only now I’ve come upon
the new muses of the bon ton;
I should have guessed, your acumen
would lead you here, such is your ken.
Ladies, let me introduce
a gent whose merits are profuse.
I come to humbly submit my
devoirs to these ladies, hereby.
The honor is all ours, Vicomte;
your friendship is all we could want.
Refreshing is this social call;
we do esteem class, over all.
MAGDELON [TO ALMANZOR]:
Another chair, don’t be obtuse.
[TO CATHOS, MASCARILLE AND JODELET:]
These servants these days; what the deuce!
RE-ENTER ANMANZOR WITH CHAIR.
It’s not just Paris then, I see;
you’re plagued, too, with democracy.
The downwardly mobile, it’s true,
are up to no good, which I rue.
And more and more of Paris swanks
are populists —
I say, no thanks!
Alas, now everybody’s hip,
it’s time the hip abandon ship;
we’ve got to stay in front of these
displays of vulgar vagaries;
who said the hoi polloi had taste?
I swear, they’re there just to lambaste;
appropriating their culture
does not inclusion e’er infer;
the rabble’s got a lot of cheek
to think they’re in on our mystique;
we take from them, that’s natural —
but parity? Oh, ridicule!;
if hipness is ubiquitous,
then being hip is meaningless;
we’ve got to have some standards, or
we won’t be worth a louis d’or;
as soon as some trend catches on,
‘fie!’ says the upper echelon;
whatever’s en vogue needs to be
approved first by strict polity.
You’ve got to have experts above
decide what commoners think of;
whatever, once the great unwashed
adopts it, then it should be quashed;
you’ve got to have a stern turnstile
to keep out all the rank and file;
if everybody’s hip, the hip
should scorn their former membership.
Vicomte, your wit is furious!
So dashing and spontaneous!
I say, between the four of us,
we’ll be the toast of all Paris!
Indeed, why don’t we celebrate
the good taste we shall cultivate?
Some violins for dancing here!
Oh, Marquess! You’re such a dear!
Now, curse my servants, where are they?
I swear, they take a break all day.
Go and tell
the Marquess’ men, in a nutshell,
raise up some fid’lers, and a few
locals attend our impromptu;
and, please, do try to find
locals that, at least, look refined.
I ask you, Jodelet, are not
these ladies, to the jot,
the apogee of all that’s femme —
the pinnacle crème de la crème?
I swear, ‘twill be a miracle
if our hearts stay available;
such taste, such poise, such good breeding —
soon, Paris will be stampeding.
LUCILE ENTERS WITH OTHER NEIGHBORS. BEHIND THEM, ALMANZOR AND VIOLINISTS.
Good neighbors, dance at our soirée.
Why, thank you, ma’am.
MASCARILLE [DANCING ALONE, AS A PRELUDE]:
And, not too rough, be elegant;
give us a mood that is clinquant.
CATHOS [TO MAGDELON]:
His steps are classy, so urbane.
MAGDELON [TO CATHOS]:
These gents are well-bred, I maintain.
MASCARILLE [SEIZING MAGDELON]:
Soon, we’ll throw a proper ball
to impress Paris, one and all;
now, hold the rhythm, blockhead band,
these philistines I reprimand.
JODELET [ALSO DANCING]:
I swear, these heathen scrapers can’t
keep tempo, or play to enchant;
it’s such a pity, nowadays,
music, like art, merely dismays.
DU CROSBY AND LA GRANGE ENTER.
Ah ha, you scoundrels, we’ve found you.
We ought to thrash you black and blue.
Ouchie, ouch; we didn’t hear
the part where you’d be so severe!
This you’ve earned for acting thus —
Two gentlemen as good as us!
EXIT LA GRANGE AND DU CROSBY.
Goodness gracious! What was that?
A little wager —
Pranks, down pat.
To let yourselves be treated so?
That really don’t become a beau!
Nonsense, my dear; I never let
myself get ruffled, nor upset.
A man of breeding and good taste
could never really be disgraced.
RE-ENTER LA GRANGE AND DU CROSBY.
The savoir-faire of dumb livestock!
What is the meaning of this, sir,
to come in here, making this stir?
What do you mean, you fine ladies,
to entertain our two lackeys?
You treated them better than us,
not knowing they were spurious.
The insolence of such a stunt!
They’ve courted you sporting our clothes
but now, if you would have these beaux,
you’ll have ‘em as they really are —
[TO MASCARILLE AND JODELET]
off with our duds and repertoire.
Farewell, my finery and pose!
Our status falls like dominos!
Well, ladies, we’ll now leave you to
your brummagem fops —
EXIT LA GRANGE AND DU CROSBY.
What’s going on?
Who will pay us?
You might try Monsieur Gorgibus.
What folly do I see right here?
MASCARILLE [TO JODELET]:
I think it’s time to disappear.
MASCARILLE AND JODELET EXIT IN THEIR UNDERWEAR.
Oh father, what a trick they’ve played!
And you’ve deserved it, silly jade!
Monsieur, our payment, if you please.
GORGIBUS [BEATING HIM]:
Here’s your payment, sir, with reprise!
EXIT VIOLINISTS, RUNNING.
And I should wallop you as well
with all your precious bagatelle.
This phony status-seeking, fie!
Leave such haut nonsense to Versailles;
not everybody’s born to be
a bon ton fop, and luckily,
for all these trillibubs of state
would make a person addlepate.