History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Late English 18th

Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Richard Sheridan wrote two of the comic masterworks of the late 18th century. Portrait of the author by Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)

One of the major figures of late 18th century British comedy is Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816) for "The rivals" (1775) and "The school for scandal" (1777).

"The rivals" “still depends upon the stock characters of Latin and French comedy: the irate parent, the rebellious and enamoured son, the servants who minister to their master's and mistress's intrigues, but he does not pit them against each other in the old way. He starts them working for the same end by counter-means, and lets the audience watch them unwittingly frustrate their own plans and betray their own self-conceit and affectation till the dénouement satisfies their cross-purposes and restores them to their normal state of self-possession” (Routh, 1955 p 376). "A large part of our satisfaction comes from the successful resolution of relationships among characters we've become concerned about. Our pleasure in that resolution springs also from the satisfying if mild comic punishment dealt to characters who deserve to be tricked or exposed, not only for their foibles and idiosyncrasies, but also because they have stood in the way of characters with whom we sympathize. But it is clear simply from an examination of the text of The Rivals that local exposures of characters' foibles and idiosyncrasies in themselves, and not just through their influence on the course of the action, constitute the major sources of our pleasures. What we most enjoy is Bob Acres unwittingly discomfiting Faulkland, then just as unwittingly displaying his own affectations; Mrs Malaprop discussing 'orthodoxy' while Sir Anthony advises confinement and starvation for Lydia; Jack manipulating his father, Faulkland, Bob, Mrs Malaprop, and Lydia, then being exposed himself; Sir Lucius advising Bob on challenges and duels; Bob feeling his valor rising, then oozing away at the palms of his hands; even Faulkland displaying his tortured self-doubts: these in themselves, and not just in the way they come together to form the action, give us the most satisfaction" (Auburn, 1975, p 257). What an admirable play is The Rivals! It is as simple as one of Farquhar's, yet there is a sufficiency of complication and an unbroken succession of humorous incidents. It is naturally and gradually developed; for Sheridan, fortunately for himself, was not tied down to the two or three set scenes which hamper the efforts of modern playwrights, and could introduce a conversation between Sir Lucius and Lucy without being obliged to drag the pair together, in defiance of probability, into Mrs Malaprop's drawing-room or Bob Acres' lodgings. The only instance of abruptness is the introduction of the quarrel between Captain Absolute and Sir Lucius O’Trigger. It is led up to by a single remark in the scene in which Sir Lucius helps Acres to compose his challenge, and we are left in the dark as to the means by which Sir Lucius became aware that Captain Absolute, qua Absolute, was a suitor for the hand of Lydia Languish...The blemish is indeed microscopic, and carries little weight in the critical balance when opposed to the ingenuity of the truly delightful scene (3:3) between Mrs Malaprop, Captain Absolute, and Lydia Languish. Therein the captain is twice on the brink of exposure, and is saved on the first occasion by his own ready tongue, on the second by Lydia's unwitting use of ambiguous phrases, which are yet so easily introduced that the dialogue does not strike you as being in any degree forced. It has been said, with some truth, that the loves of Faulkland and Julia have little to do with the main development of the plot. But two pairs of lovers were the regulation number, and until they get together Faulkland and Julia are both quite tolerable. Indeed, in the scenes with Captain Absolute the morbid and suspicious character of Faulkland makes an excellent foil to the easy going and cocksure disposition of the captain...Sir Anthony is an altogether delightful personage, superior by an immense altitude to the ordinary choleric father of comedy. Excellent is the ’damn me if ever I call and you Jack again’ touch, still better his delight when he imagines that Captain Absolute has been too free with Lydia Languish: ‘come, no excuses, Jack; why, your father, you rogue, was so before you- the blood of the Absolutes was always impatient" (Sanders, 1890 pp 34-41). “Faulkland and Julia are the characters that really give one pause. Here, surely, Sheridan touched a really live wire. Faulkland's doubts and fears and moroseness are very annoying, and one wonders why Julia has not sent him to the right about long ago. But deep down in her heart she loves him, and that love probably tells her that his doubts are not altogether unworthy, or unreasonable, that he is desperately anxious to have nothing but the genuine article and that the fact of her being under an obligation to him is the thorn in his side. After all he is only anxious to assure himself that he is loved for himself alone, or perhaps it would be better to say in spite of himself” (Armstrong, 1913 p 154). "Faulkland is the more difficult part. He is customarily dismissed as a tiresome satire of Byronic self-torturing romantic egoism, but his basis is psychologically real enough (he is not without modern prototypes in his complexities) and Sheridan bites quite shrewdly into the distress caused to others by such obsessions. The portrait could be disturbing, and it needs an actor of quality to keep it on the level of high comedy which the author perhaps a little ironically intended" (Williamson, 1956 p 156). "Mrs Malaprop, whatever may be said of her predecessors, abides the queen of solecism and undethroned by time. Her pedigree is long, and the family runs, with many side-branches, from Shakespeare's Dogberry and Verges and a word or so of Bottom's, to Lady Plyant in Congreve's The Double Dealer" (Sichel, 1909 vol 1 p 491). Mrs Malaprop “has foolish ideas of her own importance and of her own attractiveness and is very susceptible to flattery. Her desire for a lover is ludicrous; she sends letters to Sir Lucius and signs herself Delia, believing firmly that she is an attractive personality. She shows her lack of discernment in another way too; she feels quite sure that Lucy is a "simpleton" (I. ii), and she takes a long time to see in ‘the new light’ that Captain Absolute must have written the rude remarks about her that she has already made him read (IV. ii). Still, she is without malice; she forgives Absolute (IV. ii) and she obviously will never fall in with Sir Anthony's suggestion that Lydia should be clapped ‘under lock and key’ (I. ii). She is very worried when she hears of the prospect of a duel. ‘Have they drawn poor little dear Sir Lucius into the scrape?’ she asks (V. i), and is ready at once to rush to save the situation…Jack Absolute is a warm-hearted young man who loves a good joke and a bit of intrigue. He is evidently a good master; Fag seems devoted to him and models his conduct on that of the captain. He is not without worldly wisdom; he wishes to gain Lydia, indeed, but not without her fortune in full...Bob Acres is a stock stage character, the country bumpkin come to town. Lydia could never abide his country dress, but in Bath he is revelling in his freedom from the control of his mother…He fancies his town clothes…learns the latest dances...Bob is a simple soul, without a mind of his own. He is very open to suggestion, first by Sir Lucius O'Trigger to fight and then by David to the dangers if he does…[Faulkland’s] jealous nature makes him feel annoyed that Julia is on holiday enjoying herself, and he is upset when she appears to be unhappy, so that he is troubled both ways. He blames women in general for his trouble, not himself for his peevish suspicions...Jack Absolute's censure of his maudlin doubts is very sound” (Evans, 1936 pp 20-24). “I cannot conceive a more humorous scene than that in The Rivals where Acres is waiting with a pistol in each hand for the man he has challenged; the author's dialogue between the challenger and his second possesses an exquisite humour, but it is doubly enlivened by the consummate bye-play of [the actor,] Bannister, who, as the hour of combat approaches, begins to show personal symptoms of terror, gradually loses the affected boldness of his voice, and trembles first in his hands and knees and then in his whole body. No description of mine could represent the ludicrous woe of his countenance, when he is coolly asked by his second whether, in case of a mischance, he would choose a snug grave in the neighbouring church, or be pickled and sent home to the country; nor can any action be more humorously imagined than his impotent endeavours to pick up his hat which he pushes about with his quivering fingers” (Hunt, 1894 pp 31-32). “It is a mistake to present Bob Acres as a country bumpkin smelling of the stableyard. Acres drives his own horses, has a place within a mile of Sir Anthony’s, and is 'very intimate' with that circle. He is a country gentleman, and though stupid is not a clown. He should be a credible, rational person, though with a limited amount of reasoning power. His preoccupation with his honour is not wholly farcical, and in the duelling scene he should be something better than a figure of fun we may say that in the early part of the play he should be a cut above Tony Lumpkin and at the end not quite Aguecheek” (Agate, 1934 p 190). “The scene with [Sir Anthony]'s son, Captain Absolute, in the Rivals where he insists on the latter's marriage is for this reason the masterpiece of extravagant anger. But then, when his son has won upon his feelings or suddenly complies with his demand, who at the same time can drop with such a fall of nature from the height of passion to the most soft emotions and the most social pleasantry? His expression of satisfaction with another, his grateful shake of the hand, and his hurried thanks breaking through the intervals of overpowering joy, exhibit the perfection of social enjoyment” (Hunt, 1894 p 63).

Some Victorian critics were offended by the allusions in "The school for scandal": "a play the whole of which no woman could read to any but her husband, or some other near relative, without giving ground for a presumption of impurity; and there are in it many sentences which no gentleman could use, even among men, without incurring the charge of lewdness in his talk” (Buckley, 1883 p 584). But in post-Victorian times, it is considered as “a delightful piece kept sparkingly alive by the tart prickle of its prose and its gracious humanity” (Clurman, 1966 p 175). “Original genius though he was, even Sheridan in The School for Scandal could not break entirely away from the eighteenth-century comedy tradition. In the survey of this in the previous pages precedents will be found for several of its chief figures. Charles Surface is the prodigal but warm-hearted libertine. Maria is the heiress who loves him and is won by him, but who has to defy the advances of suitors preferred by her guardian. Joseph Surface is the contemporary man of sentiment, with an admixture of the Restoration rake. Sir Oliver Surface is the wealthy relative who conceals his identity so that he may be a better judge of character. Rowley is the typical devoted family retainer. It was Sheridan’s triumph that onto this conventional framework he grafted novel developments and additions which resulted in a masterpiece of stage-craft. Comedy has always been a vehicle for slanderous tongues, but seldom in such concentrated fashion as in that ‘scandalous college’ of which Lady Sneerwell is president, and which includes Mrs. Candour hiding her malice under an affectation of good nature; the scurrilous Mr. Crabtree with his poetaster nephew. Sir Benjamin Backbite, who specializes in satires and lampoons on particular people; and for a time Lady Teazle, till she hands back her diploma for killing characters. It may be doubted, however, whether much has been gained by making Lady Sneerwell secretly in love with Charles, and therefore making trouble between him and Maria by bribing Snake to forge love-letters from Lady Teazle to Charles and answering them herself, till Snake finally confesses“ (Boas, 1953 p 354). "The School for Scandal is one of the best comedies in our language...The wit is inferior to Congreve's, and the allusions much coarser. Its great excellence is in the invention of comic situations and the lucky contrast of different characters. The satirical conversation at Lady Sneerwell's is an indifferent imitation of The Way of the World, and Sir Benjamin Backbite a foolish superfluity from the older comedy" (Hazlitt, 1895 p 68). "The principal merit of the play lies neither in the rather slender plot nor in any sympathy we have for the characters, but rather in the strikingly natural situations, the skillful handling of the piece, the constantly brilliant wit, the animation, the sense of the ridiculous and the finish given to the whole. The comedy is a triumph of art, and its merit is only exceeded by its popularity" (Golden 1890 pp 192-193). “Joseph Surface presents himself as a good man, employing the language of sensibility as a cover for his selfish schemes, whereas Charles conceals his inward goodness under the outward appearance of a philandering wastrel” (Thomson, 2006 p 145). “We laugh at the notion of such a character as Charles' doing any harm. Sheridan's wit is not of a seductive nature. He makes us dislike a good many things, perhaps more than he looked for. We laugh heartily with his satirical personages all round, at all their butts; and then at the satirists in their turn; but nobody will come away from one or Sheridan's plays, loving anything the better, good or bad. Hypocrites, perhaps, will resolve to take care how they get into scrapes; but we do not love even the heartier side of Charles' character, except in his refusal to sell his uncle's picture. He seems rather to defy economy than to enjoy pleasure. We cannot help thinking that there are marks of an uneasy turn of mind in all Sheridan's productions. There is almost always some real pain going on amongst his characters. They are always perplexing, mortifying, or distressing one another; snatching their jokes out of some misery, as if they were playing at snap-dragon. They do not revel in wit for its own sake, like those of Congreve; nor wear a hey-day impudence, for the pleasure of the thing, as in Vanbrugh; nor cultivate an eternal round of airiness and satisfaction, as in good-natured Farquhar. Sheridan's comedy is all-stinging satire. His bees want honey” (Hunt, 1894 pp 164-165). "The School for Scandal has persisted from generation to generation, not because of its story, not because of its reflection of eighteenth century habits and customs, not because of its idea, which is hardly noteworthy, but because of its humanity underlying the superficial, a humanity which is eternal, whether in powder and patches, in hoop skirts, or in the fashions of the present. There is a spontaneous flow of humor in this drama, dependent upon character, rather than upon situation or local reference. In fact, an over-abundance of local reference would take the sympathetic appeal away from a comedy after the age had passed" (Moses, 1917 p 179). "Sheridan's primary arrangement of his characters into the 'good' and the 'bad' holds throughout the play, as it must do in an atmosphere which satire is dominant. On the one hand we have the 'villains', the various gossips with their special abilities, and Joseph Surface, the hypocrite. We can easily see to what extent Sheridan has used exaggeration, which is a regular part of the technique of satire in his presentation of these people. On the other hand we have Maria, the honest, decent person who sees through the gossips; Lady Teazle, who, at first deceived by the gossips, later is enlightened and helps satirize them; Sir Peter, whose role is approximately that of innocent bystander; and Charles, who is directly contrasted with Joseph. The other characters are essentially outside the main conflict, which they serve to comment or to judge. The management of the 'good' people and the commentators sheds further light upon the technique of satire. One notices that all the 'good' characters are in one way or other, at one time or another, victims of the 'bad' characters; this is a standard satirical device, since our sympathy with the victims always strengthens our detestation of the victimizers. As for the observers or commentators, they also serve to heighten the point the author is making...Sheridan is appealing less to the audience's sense of the laughable, less to their good sense, we might say, or, as the eighteenth century would have said, to their 'judgment', than to their feelings, to an unconsidered emotional relish of kindness and good-heartedness" (Brooks and Hellman, 1945 pp 244-250). Bernbaum (1915) pointed out its sentimental elements. "Those passages of Sheridan’s play which are...devoted to an attack upon detraction and hypocrisy, are composed in a wholly comic manner: the Scandal Club is excoriated; and Joseph Surface, the pharisaical man of sentiment, hoist by his own petard, is made an object of aversion. But Sheridan did not maintain an attitude of mockery or scorn towards other and equally important characters. Charles Surface and his uncle, as well as Sir Peter and Lady Teazle, however amusing the scenes in which they figure, are designed to be amiable. 'Lady Teazle,' a contemporary complains,'is more likely to excite imitation than disgust.' In his conception of these characters, Sheridan resembles mid-eighteenth-century playwrights like Hoadly, with their amusing but lovable personages, rather than Congreve or Molière...The fact was that as long as the general spirit of the time was so kindly disposed towards human nature, as long as there was so little support for the sterner ethical point of view, true comedy of character must remain an occasional tour de force and could not flourish abundantly. Sheridan kept within the bounds to which sensibility had confined the Comic Muse. A spirited satirist of manners, he is, as a satirist of morals, hesitant and superficial...It is because the prodigal Charles Surface is charitable to the distressed, and affectionately grateful to 'the old fellow who had been very good to him' that he wins the hand of Maria and gains his uncle’s forgiveness for his extravagances. What cures Lady Teazle of her mightiness is her overhearing that Sir Peter, despite the vexations she has caused him, still loves her so deeply that he intends to provide most generously for her future comfort” (pp 257-258). "It is possible to feel a sense of genuine satisfaction, when Sir Peter escapes cuckoldry, without caring, whether his indignation is at all adequate to the occasion. From the moralist's point of view a husband who in a similar situation thinks only of the ridicule which will fall upon himself is a somewhat contemptible person and Sir Peter's reconciliation with his wife would be set down as dictated by uxoriousness rather than magnanimity. But somehow it is impossible to conceive Sir Peter Teazle as other than a thoroughly estimable and simple-minded old gentleman. In real life how terrible must have been his discomfiture on the fall of the screen, and how heartless would the speech of Charles have sounded!" (Sanders, 1890 p 74). For the characters, their “destinies touch each other throughout the action, and unite in the climax of the celebrated screen scene, a situation all the more dramatic because the audience realizes its significance more fully than the characters can” (Routh, 1955 pp 376-377). “As conversation was a fine art in a community of drawing room idlers, Sheridan endowed his personages with a flow of picturesque epigram, of which the studied felicity surpasses all other dialogues, including that of his own previous works. Besides this, he perceived that the intellectually unemployed turn social intercourse into a competitive struggle and, when he came to portray the underlying stratum of jealousy and intrigue, he brought to his task a touch of modern sentimentality from which few Georgians could escape. Behind his view of London art and artifice, there lurked the popular ideal of simple manners, and, thanks to this background of thought, he was able to show how the vices of the polite world overgrow natural instincts. Since ideas which are to succeed on the stage must be concrete, he made extravagance and scandal examples of decadence, and then worked out a crisis in the lives of characters brought under their influence. Charles Surface is the centre of a circle demoralised by extravagance till a chance episode reveals the generosity of its nature. Lady Sneerwell typifies the irreclaimable scandalmonger; she finds so many opportunities of retaliating on the world which first slandered her that habit is now second nature. Joseph Surface, at heart, is no worse than the character whose desire for respectability exceeds his powers of compassing it; he, too, is gradually fascinated by a brilliant and corrupt society, till an unexpected event shows that he has sinned beyond forgiveness. Sir Peter is the Cato of the piece, good at heart, if self-centred, but soured by contact with many backbiters and rendered ridiculous by the vagaries of his young wife, herself Sheridan's best creation, an example of how youth and inexperience may be blinded to the follies of fashionable life till the eyes are reopened by a sudden crisis” (Routh, 1932 p 270). “Sir Peter Teazle is the traditional stage old husband (a teazle is a plant with a large prickly head formerly used in dressing cloth). He teases himself continually by worrying about one thing and another, and is quite unable to understand the light-hearted kind of teasing employed by his wife and by Charles. It is for this as much as for their extravagance that he finds fault with both of them...Much of his trouble, though, certainly comes from his own belief that he is always right. His attitude towards many people was similar to that adopted towards his wards...His honest, though dogmatic character, is entirely opposed to that of the scandal-mongering acquaintances of his wife...Lady Teazle, young and feather-headed, is an example of the way in which an unsophisticated country girl can become involved in excesses of various kinds when plunged into the world of fashion. Her remarks are just as scandalous and pointed as those of her friends...Maria has a firm and dignified character...She speaks her mind to the women who delight in scandal...Her sensitive nature is hurt by their words and she finally has to plead illness in order to hasten away from their suggestive remarks. She estimates character better than many of the people in the play; she is not misled by Joseph's apparent morality, she abhors Sir Benjamin Backbite's attentions and realises the genuine qualities of Charles. She is not afraid of Sir Peter's truculence, though she bows to his authority as a guardian...Joseph Surface is from first to last a sly hypocrite, all things to all men…He is ingratiating even to people of weak character...Charles Surface is a stock character in fiction, the heedless, extravagant young man whose heart is golden...The sincerity of his gratitude to Sir Oliver is evinced by his refusal to sell the picture of the ‘ill-looking little fellow over the settee’, even though he is offered ‘as much for that as for all the rest’. When he is to be married to Maria and he declares that he will make no promises about reforming, we feel with him that we can take that as a proof that he ‘intends to set about it’, though his logic is not clear” (Evans, 1936 pp 39-43). "The School for Scandal is Sheridan's use of a series of disguise images beginning in Sneerwell's veiled love of Charles Surface and concluding with Snake's plea in Act V that his one good deed remain hidden...In the comedy there are two groups of characters: those who mask themselves and those who do not. The first group is divided into those who mask with malevolent intent (Snake, Lady Sneerwell and the scandalmongers, and Joseph) and those who mask without malevolence though not always with noble intent (Lady Teazle, Sir Peter Teazle, and Sir Oliver Surface). The second group consists of Rowley, Maria, and Charles Surface...Unwisely, Lady Sneerwell showed her 'weakness' to Snake and real view, to Joseph (I,i); her reward in Act V, scene iii, is unmasking by both...Snake- whose movements 'should not go unobserved'- is more devious than Lady Sneerwell...His mask is constant, while the face behind it is sold to the highest bidder, ultimately Sir Oliver...Joseph is perhaps the best masked character in the play. The elder brother Surface, he is a master of deceit, and it is no surprise that when he occasionally lapses into metaphor, the figure of speech should sound the note of disguise. After peremptorily dismissing Sir Oliver- disguised as Stanley- Joseph remarks: 'The silver ore of pure charity is an expensive article in the catalogue of a man's good qualities, whereas the sentimental French plate I used instead of it, makes just as good a show and pays no tax' (V,i)" (Leff, 1970 pp 350-353). "What Joseph really worships is reputation. He worships it more than the pleasure which it veils, and he worships it so much that he loses sight of character altogether; indeed, he regrets that his character is so good that he doubts he will be exposed at last. To be thought good is his ideal, but he is unable to be so, and so his spurious respectability goes to pieces through the only bit of unmixed nature about him, his real infatuation for Lady Teazle. It is this which dupes him into remaining Lady Sneerwell's unwitting tool, though he hoodwinks even her regarding Lady Teazle, and Lady Teazle, in the matter of Maria. He sets out to win Maria's fortune, meets with the other on the road, and ends by a self-betrayal..“Sir Peter is a gentleman, every inch of him, and his first thought when he emerges from his hiding-place is to exculpate Joseph. His fondness is not that of a dotard, nor is he the mere flouted citizen of ancient comedy. He is fifty the equivalent of sixty now but though old enough to be her father, he is not bewitched by beauty alone. She tantalizes him into admiration...Their battledore and shuttlecock interchange- point on point as was Sheridan's habit- is not limited to repartee; the picture of her country life a picture that smells of lavender is shared between them" (Sichel, 1909 vol 1 pp 555-160). "No scene in The School for Scandal is so extravagantly prepared as the one in which Sir Oliver, disguised as Premium the moneylender, confronts his nephew, Charles. Much of Act III scene i is spent schooling Sir Oliver in his role as usurer, instructing him what clothes to wear, what in interest to charge, how to justify unconscionable terms by claiming to be a helpless middle man, a mere agent for some vicious scalper...But all this elaborate scaffolding immediately collapses in Act III scene iii when Charles meets Premium...Sheridan designs much of Act III to emphasize Charles' characteristic spontaneity and directness. He then proceeds in the opening scene of Act IV to confirm Charles' identity as an authentic man of benevolence" (Durant, 1972 pp 49-50). "The plot situation in The Country Wife (1675) is so nearly parallel to The School for Scandal that a comparison is worthwhile. In both cases a middle aged man marries a young country girl and brings her to London; in both cases a young wife becomes enamored of the gay, wicked ways of the town. Here the similarities cease. Mr Pinchwife is actually cuckolded; nevertheless he is in no way a sympathetic character. He is made ludicrous by the fact that he is himself a former rake and a notorious cuckolder...Not so Teazle...As for his more sprightly helpmeet, she gives herself away even when she would be at her most wicked...One of the most typical conceits of the Restoration goes overboard, namely the notion that love and marriage are incompatible. Moreover, the intent of the Charles Surface-Maria affair is not seduction but marriage...There is no bawdry in the dialogue, and none of the intended evil in the action is ever accomplished" (Schiller, 1956 pp 700-704).

"The rivals"

Lydia Languish's sentimental feelings are rewarded at the end, as played by Elsie Leslie (1881-1966) in 1899

Time: 1770s. Place: Bath, England.

Text at http://www.bibliomania.com/0/6/284/2000/frameset.html https://archive.org/details/britishdramaaco03unkngoog https://archive.org/details/britishtheatreo33inchgoog https://archive.org/details/schoolschoolmast00pottiala

Lydia Languish is a novel-reader and as a consequence prefers a half-pay ensign than a baronet, which is why Jack Absolute, son and heir of Sir Anthony, courts her under the false name of Ensign Beverley. Instead, Sir Anthony and Mrs Malaprop, Lydia's aunt, wish her to marry Jack, unaware that the two men are the same. Loving Beverley, Lydia refuses to accept Jack. Her aunt is outraged at such boldness. "What business have you, miss, with preference and aversion?" she asks Lydia. "They don’t become a young woman; and you ought to know, that as both always wear off, ’tis safest in matrimony to begin with a little aversion." None of the three know Jack Absolute as Beverley, while he, unaware that his father intends to marry him to Lydia, refuses to submit himself to his choice, presuming another woman is intended. Despite her troubles, Lydia finds time to commiserate with her friend, Julia, "a slave to the caprice, the whim, the jealousy of this ungrateful Faulkland, who will ever delay assuming the right of a husband..." After being away for a while, Faulkland asks her neighbor, Bob Acres, about the condition of Julia's state mind in his absence, expecting her to mope or grieve, but instead Bob heard her singing: "My heart’s my own, my will is free," to a jolly tune, to Faulkland despair. "Fool! fool that I am! to fix all my happiness on such a trifler!" he exclaims. Jack's servant discovers from Lydia's servant that his master's father wishes him to marry none other than his love, Lydia. On learning this, Jack pretends to accept his father's choice out of obedience to his will, without even troubling about what she looks like. "I own I should rather choose a wife of mine to have the usual number of limbs, and a limited quantity of back: and though one eye may be very agreeable, yet as the prejudice has always run in favour of two, I would not wish to affect a singularity in that article," Jack says to his astounded father. Faulkland confronts Julia with Bob's report. "I never can be happy in your absence," she assures him. But, to her sorrow, he continues to doubt her sincerity. "Women are not used to weigh and separate the motives of their affections: the cold dictates of prudence, gratitude, or filial duty, may sometimes be mistaken for the pleadings of the heart," he asserts. She leaves him in tears, he standing all the more tormented. Meanwhile, Jack presents himself as his own person to the mispronouncing Mrs Malaprop, pretending to be glad to know a woman of her intellect, to which she gladly responds. "Ah! few gentlemen, now-a-days, know how to value the ineffectual qualities in a woman," she declares, and advises him she has intercepted one of her niece's love-letters addressed by a man named Beverley. In view of Lydia's romantic ideals, Jack continues to present himself to her as Ensign Beverley, revealing that her aunt believes her to be Jack Absolute. "Ha! ha! ha! I can’t forbear laughing to think how her sagacity is overreached," she declares amused. When the spying aunt overhears her say: "Let her choice be Captain Absolute, but Beverley is mine," she exclaims: "I am astonished at her assurance!- to his face- this is to his face." She takes Lydia abruptly away from him. Meanwhile, Bob tells his firebrand friend, Sir Lucius O’Trigger, that he was unjustly supplanted from Lydia's love by a man named Beverley, unaware that the man in question is his friend, Jack. Lucius proposes that a duel should settle the matter. As a result, Bob asks Jack to carry his challenge to Beverley. At last, Sir Anthony takes his son with him to settle the marriage prospect with Mrs Malaprop and Lydia, at which time all three discover the truth, Lydia bitterly disappointed that there will be no romantic elopement, exclaiming to her aunt: "Ma’am, you once commanded me never to think of Beverley again- there is the man- I now obey you: for, from this moment, I renounce him for ever." Smarting from this blow, Jack is in such bad humor that he and Lucius quarrel, which for the latter necessarily means that a duel must settle their difference, Jack accepting the challenge in King’s-Mead-Fields with Faulkland as his second. At last, Julia, to Faulkland's grief, despairing at ever assuring him of her love, declares that they must part. Julia's discussion with Lydia of their unhappy love affairs is interrupted by Mrs Malaprop, who, receiving news of Jack's upcoming duel from his servant, cries out when asked what is the matter: "Why, murder’s the matter! slaughter’s the matter! killing’s the matter!- but he can tell you the perpendiculars." Lucius, whom Mrs Malaprop considers a possible love-match for herself, arrives in King’s-Mead-Fields and inadvertently frightens Bob almost out of his wits with talk of blood and death, at which point Jack arrives with Faulkland, the latter with two duels on his slate, because Lucius believes Faulkland to be Beverley and encourages him to fight with Bob, which neither wish to do. Lucius is disgusted at Bob's attitude, but, in any event, he turns to fight Jack, both drawing their swords until interrupted by the alarmed trio of Anthony, Lydia, and Julia. Bob yields his pretensions towards Lydia to Jack, as does Lucius on learning that the love-letters sent to him were not written by Lydia but by Mrs Malaprop, while Julia finally accepts the tormented Faulkland. "Our happiness is now as unalloyed as general," Lydia concludes.

"The school for scandal"

Like so many people, Lady Teazle, played by Ada Rehan (1859-1916) in 1893, is fond of backbiting

Time: 1770s. Place: London, England.

Text at http://www.bibliomania.com/0/6/284/2001/frameset.html https://archive.org/details/schoolschoolmast00pottiala

Lady Sneerwell confers with her confidante, Snake, about a plan to attract Charles Surface as a husband of hers. She receives a group of persons whose only purpose is to speak ill of everyone else. Sir Peter Teazle is unhappy about his marriage, blaming their difference in age. He complains of his wife's resistance to his authority, to which she retorts: "If your wanted authority over me, you should have adopted me, and not married me: I am sure you were old enough." He obtains no better comfort at Lady Sneerwell's house, where as usual the occupants tear apart many a reputation while playing cards. Lady Teazle surprises Joseph Surface, Charles' brother, a man she has designs on for amorous relations, on his knees before a woman he attempts to seduce by the name of Maria. Joseph defends himself by saying: "Maria has somehow suspected the tender concern I have for her happiness, and threatened to acquaint Sir Peter with her suspicions," when actually he is after both women. Meanwhile, an old friend of Peter has returned from the Indies, Sir Oliver Surface, the uncle who often in the past has been generous to his nephews, Joseph and Charles. Peter speaks well of the secretly profligate Joseph but ill of the openly profligate Charles. He also speaks ill of Maria, but finds resistance in his intent to marry her to Joseph. To test Charles who has never seen him, Oliver pretends to be a money lender named Premium. As Peter reported, Oliver notes many signs of profligacy in his nephew, but yet the rake refuses to sell a picture of himself, which makes amends for all the rest. When Lady Teazle visits Joseph at his house, she is disagreeably surprised by the arrival of her husband and hides behind a screen. Peter informs Joseph of his discovery of who his wife's lover is: no other than Charles, then begins to speak of his own hopes for Maria, which Joseph, knowing Lady Teazle within earshot, attempts to interrupt. When they hear Charles outside intent on speaking to his brother, Peter wants to overhear their conversation so that he may know for sure whether the rumors concerning his wife are true. He hides inside a closet and, on the way, notes a figure hiding behind the screen and is told she is a milliner. "Sly rogue! Sly rogue!" laughs Peter. Joseph asks Charles about the rumors concerning Peter's wife, but he denies it. "I always understood you were her favorite," Charles says, which the worried Joseph denies and, to interrupt him, points towards the closet, from which Charles pulls out Peter, relieved about what he just heard. Peter whispers to Charles about the milliner. They laugh over it as Charles pulls down the screen, revealing not a milliner, to Peter's chagrin, but his wife. A mortified Joseph next receives the visit of a certain Mr Stanley, Sir Oliver in another disguise, to whom he says that what his uncle has done for him so far is a "mere nothing" and sends him rudely away. The school for scandal next hear rumors concerning a duel between Charles and Peter, a matter of contention being whether it was with swords or pistols and the extent of Peter's injuries, but Peter enters intact and orders the scandal-mongers out of his house. Hearing their uncle is about to arrive, Joseph and Charles push away the compromising Premium/Stanley, until they discover he is Sir Oliver. When Lady Sneerwell is cheated of her designs on Charles by the treacherous Snake, no obstacle remains for Charles to marry Maria.

Oliver Goldsmith

Oliver Goldsmith penned two comic masterworks of late 18th century theatre. Portrait of the author by an unknown artist

Another major figure of late 18th century British comedy was Irish playwright Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774). Goldsmith's laurel remains fresh with two comedies: "She stoops to conquer" (1773) and "The good-natured man" (1768).

"She stoops to conquer", "endowed with an atmosphere at once natural and romantic, is full of that geniality and warmth which are continually such pleasing qualities in Goldsmith’s work. The characterization is strong and unmistakable, but within well-defined types an element of the original, has been introduced. The whole combines to make a comedy, never pretentious, never over-subtle, but arising so solidly from what is fundamental in human nature that audiences in succeeding generations have always recognized its quality” (Evans, 1950 p 110). "Incident is the soul of comedy and She Stoops to Conquer is crowded with incident. And if incident is its soul, assuredly situation is its backbone, and on this assumption Goldsmith’s play is fully vertebrate. There is an unusual ,but very effective situation developed, or in course of development, in every scene; and, best of all, the imagination of an audience is stimulated in every scene to anticipate what is coming; and. yet what does come, comes with such a series of little surprises that one’s attention, which is grasped it the outset, is never allowed to be diverted from the main course of the play. The comedy marches ahead from the first: it never marks time. The dialogue is ever to the point. Every phrase but adds to the impression one gains of the naturalness of the characters...For genuine stagecraft nothing could surpass the management of the scene where, after Tony has taken the jewels, he suggests to his mother that she should pretend to Constance that she has mislaid them and call him as a witness, and then she discovers that what she meant to be a fiction is a fact. The moment she leaves the room to fetch her garnets we begin to laugh. To show a trickster tricked is the height of diversion. But the author goes further, and shows the tricksters of the trickster defeated by the simplest misunderstanding, and that not once but twice. The game of cross-purposes is maintained by a succession of the liveliest incidents, every one linked on to the other and not one in the least degree strained or unnatural" (Moore, 1890 pp 408-410). "Unlike The Good-Natured Man, the spirit of merriment is never extinguished. Even when Marlow, carried away by his admiration and love, proposes marriage to Miss Hardcastle, whom he still thinks a servant, her beguiling manner, and the perplexity of the eavesdroppers, keep the situation comic. The characterization of Miss Hardcastle, to speak of only one of the well-known personages, is a notable departure from that of the contemporary sentimental heroines, including Miss Richland of The Good-Natured Man. Her frank delight on being told that her prospective lover is handsome; her chagrin because he is shy and reserved; her failure to be shocked by his scandalous reputation, or even by the innuendoes which he addresses to her in ignorance of her identity; her ennui in the 'sober, sentimental interview' with him; and the zest with which she deceives him: all these traits of mischievous girlhood were as uncommon as vivacious. Nobody is idealized, reformed, or wept over. Nearly everyone is amused by the actions of the others; and all, without exception, are amusing to the audience. On the other hand, no character in the play is satirically lashed after the manner of the comic dramatists of the Restoration. The power of sentimentalism stayed the hand of its antagonist. Instead of deriding faults, Goldsmith smiles at foibles. He laughs with Tony Lumpkin, not at him. The only approach he makes to the kind of motif that Wycherley, Congreve, and Vanbrugh founded their comedies upon may be seen in the circumstance that the mother-wit of Tony upsets the plans of those who look upon him as their intellectual inferior; and this point Goldsmith does not emphasize. He is even less inclined to a sarcastic criticism of life than his master, Farquhar...He thinks to destroy sentimental comedy without offending the kindly attitude towards human nature which is the basis of its existence” (Bernbaum, 1915 pp 244-246). "It came, that triumph, and to a rare son of genius; one, who showed that drollery was compatible with decency, and that high comedy could exist without scoundrelly fine gentlemen to support it" (Doran, 1888 pp 297-298). “It is funny and always will be funny to know that one person is speaking on assumptions that are not shared by the person to whom he is talking...Young Marlow and his friend Hastings are on their way to see Mr Hardcastle, a friend of Marlow’s father. The purpose for the visit is so that Marlow can meet Hardcastle’s daughter, Kate, and the hope is that the two young people will agree to marry one another, as their fathers design...The mistakes begin even before the two are introduced, however, due to the fact that Marlow and Hastings are misled by Kate’s step-brother, the oaf Tony Lumpkin, to believe that they have come to an inn rather than to the Hardcastle estate. They treat Mr Hardcastle as an innkeeper rather than as a host” (Kraft, 2022 p 18). “Tony, Marlow and Hastings represent three possible ways in which a young man might behave: Tony is a wild roaring prankster out of parental control and ruined by his lack of education; Hastings is a sentimental and conventional lover; Marlow, ruined by his education in a different way to Tony, oscillates wildly between the two extremes” (Griffiths, 2022 p 94). The play "is certainly free from the faint suggestion of sentiment which emerges now and then in The Good-natured Man, and few things in comedy are more diverting than the consequences of the mistake on which the plot hinges. Mr Hardcastle's portrait is perhaps the finest in Goldsmith's dramatic gallery. Tony Lumpkin's may carry more votes yet it seems to want the finer strokes which are to be detected in the other" (Millar, 1902 p 254). “Mr Hardcastle, who maintains a high standard of behaviour despite immense provocation, is the positive representative of good breeding, whilst his wife, ridiculed for affecting the manners of the town, is the butt of Goldsmith's satire. The title of the play, which could as well apply to the heroine of Cibber's Love's Last Shift, yet again draws attention to a surprisingly modern sexual dilemma; but though sensitive in his treatment of young love Qoldsmith is interested not in the psychological but the comic potential of Young Marlowe's embarrassment in the company of sophisticated girls. Comedy of situation is fundamental to this play, and both the Marlowe-Kate love scenes and the vindication of the superior manners of Hardcastle are subordinated to this. Just as any complex examination of both sexual and social issues is avoided, so too the subject of money is not treated very seriously” (Hirst, 2018 p 46). "The play is a charming idyl, in which the rough edges of the world are ground smooth, in which faults turn out to be virtues, and mistakes to be blessings. At times the stage-land copies the actual world with fidelity, as in the scene at the Three Pigeons and in the simple country life in Hardcastle’s home. Tony Lumpkin is a genuine child of the soil" (Moody and Lovett, 1930 p 255). "The chief truths of character are those which are most historical. I will give you an illustration from Goldsmith which I daresay will be fresh in your memories. You remember old Hardcastle drilling his household in anticipation of visitors. He particularly cautions them against laughing when he tells any of his stock tales to his guests, whereupon Diggory exclaims, 'We must laugh, master, if you tell that tale about grouse and the gun-room we've laughed at that any time this last twenty years.' Whereupon old Hardcastle, highly flattered, says, 'Well, that is a good tale, Diggory; you may laugh at that.' Observe the painting of present character in these two speeches, the genial weakness of old Hardcastle, so lovable, so truthful, so illustrating in the kindest and tenderest way the everlasting truth that human nature is always ready to be turned from its purpose by a little adroit flattery. But observe also that these two speeches open up a vista that practically shows you all that is worth knowing of old Hardcastle's life for the past twenty years, and also foreshadows what his life will be for the next twenty years, if he should live as long. The more you dwell upon them the more they suggest. But the next time you see She Stoops to Conquer, mark the effect of these speeches upon a general audience- they will not awaken any great roar of laughter, such as is caused in a modern piece by a stupid distortion of words, a verbal quibble, or a meaningless mistake of pronunciation. By the greater part of the audience their full purport will be quite missed; they will scarcely strike home at all. They will count for nothing in the question of the success of the piece with a general audience" (Jones, 1895 pp 184-185). "That delightful comedy, She Stoops to Conquer, would indeed deserve a volume, and is the best specimen of what an English comedy should be. It illustrates excellently what has been said as to the necessity of the plot depending on the characters, rather than the characters depending on the plot, as the fashion is at present...[Goldsmith] had this slight shred of a plot to start with; but it was conceived at the same moment with the character of Marlow— the delicacy and art of which conception is beyond description. It was the character of all others to bring out the farce and humour of the situation, viz a character with its two sides— one that was forward and impudent with persons of the class he believed his hosts to belong to, but liable at any crisis, on the discovery of the mistake, to be reduced to an almost pitiable state of shyness and confusion. It is the consciousness that this change is in petto at any moment, that the cool town man may be hoisted in a second on this petard, that makes all so piquant for the spectator. To make Mariow a mere exquisite would have furnished a conventional dramatic contrast: but the addition of bashfulness— and of bashfulness after this artistic view— more than doubled the dramatic force. A further strengthening was the letting his friend into the secret; so that this delightfully self-sufficient creature is the only one of all concerned— including the audience— who is unaware of his situation. In the hands of an actor of genius this character would be a treat indeed, but would require the most airy and elegant gifts. He is a gentleman, and a pleasant creature with all his dandyism is interesting, and has our sympathy" (Fitzgerald, 1870 pp 91-93). “There is much farcical confusion, yet Goldsmith makes the individuals seem not mere robots in farce, but human beings trying to understand and acting understandably...Kate is Goldsmith’s masterpiece, bringing Marlow along superficially by a barmaid’s easy flirtatiousness but more deeply by good temper, irony, sense of the ridiculous” (Heilman, 1978b pp 171-172). “Young Marlow belongs to genuine high comedy as anything in Farquhar or Vanbrugh...The high comic intention is never lost in the merely ludicrous situation. In the transition from stammering modesty with Miss Hardcastle to easy familiarity with the supposed barmaid, the character does not lose its identity; for the over-assumption of ease, and the ridiculous want of it, are perceived to have exactly the same origin. The nervous effort is the same in the excess of bashfulness as when it tries to rattle itself off by an excess of impudence. It is not simply one disguise flung aside for another; the constitutional timidity is kept always ludicrously prominent, but by fine and delicate touches. ln like manner, Mr Hardcastle and his wife have the same degree of what may be called comic dignity. The jovial old squire, with his love for everything that's old, ‘old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine’, not forgetting his own interminable old stories, is just the man to have his house mistaken for an inn! and the man to resent it too, with something festive and enjoying in the very robustness of his rage. There is altogether, let me add, an exuberant heartiness and breadth of genial humour in the comedy, which seems of right to overflow in Tony Lumpkin. He may be farcical, as such lumpish, roaring, uncouth animal spirits have a right to be: but who would abate a bit of Cousin Tony, stupid and cunning as he is, impudent yet sheepish, with his loutish love of low company, and his young-squire sense of his ‘fortin’. There is never any misgiving about Goldsmith's fun and enjoyment” (Forster, 1890 pp 410-411).

The main plot of "The good-natured man" is "humorous but not trenchantly satiric, tender but not strongly emotional [whereby the author] gave...a larger proportion of comic scenes than had been customary in sentimental comedies since 1762. Low characters such as had been as a rule excluded from them he admitted in the persons of two comical bailiffs whose vulgar impertinence in conversation with the heroine disgusted the public. His subplot, though it began with a situation like that in [Richard Steele’s] 'The conscious lovers' (1722) and [Edward Moore’s] 'The foundling' (1748) he conducted through a series of amusing misunderstandings. He enlivened his dialogue with unforced pleasantry and drew admirably ridiculous figures in Sir Thomas Lofty, a pretender to political influence, and in Mr Croaker, a lugubrious borrower of trouble“ (Bernbaum, 1915 pp 227-228). "Every line glows with a fine humanity; and [Goldsmith] attacks insincerity and affectation with a ridicule which even his victims could hardly take in bad part. Young Honeywood, it must be owned, like many another hero, is not the chief attraction of the play. But Miss Richland, in her own way, is at least the equal of Miss Hardcastle; Croaker and his wife are an admirably contrasted couple; while Lofty, the glory of the piece, is one of those types of character for delineating which Goldsmith had a peculiar aptitude" (Millar, 1902 p 253). “Honeywood tries to buy general favor; unfortunately, his campaign to please all by presents to all leaves him broke and hence impotent and ridiculous. Others try unsuccessfully to bring this home to him. Honeywood is not really touched until he is called contemptible to the world” (Heilman, 1978b p 43). “In Honeywood, who gives the comedy its title, we have occasional conscious glance, not to be mistaken, at the writer's own infirmities. Nor is there any disposition to make light of them. Perhaps the errors which arise from easiness of disposition, and tend to unintentional confusions of right and wrong, have never been touched with a happier severity. Splendid as they seem, and borrowing still the name from some neighbouring duty, they are shown for what they really are; and not all our liking for good-nature, nor all the mirth it gives us in this comedy, can prevent our seeing with its help that there is a charity which may be a great injustice, a sort of benevolence for which weakness would be the better name, and friendship that may be nothing but credulity. In Croaker we have the contrast and foil to this, and one of the best drawn characters of modern comedy. In the way of wit, Wycherley or Congreve has done few things better; and Farquhar himself could not have surpassed the heartiness of it, or thrown into the croaking a more unctuous enjoyment. We feel it to be a perfect satisfaction to be miserable with Croaker...No one had seen him on the stage before; yet every one had known, or been, his own Croaker...Who doe not feel that Mr Croaker is right after his fashion? ’There's the advantage of fretting away our misfortunes before-hand, we never feel them when they come.’ In excellent harmony with these imaginary misfortunes, too, are the ideal acquaintance of Lofty as new to the stage, and as commonly met with in the street” (Forster, 1890 pp 258-259). "With Croaker, Mrs Croaker, Lofty, and Timothy Twitch, the garrulous bailiff, actors should be able to do anything on the stage, and yet they strike one as being quite natural" (Moore, 1890 p 294).

"She stoops to conquer"

Charles, played by Kyrle Bellew (1850-1911), is able to present himself boldly to Kate, played by Eleanor Robson (1879-1979, provided he believes her to be a whore, 1905 production

Time: 1770s. Place: England.

Text at http://www.ourcivilisation.com/smartboard/shop/goldsmth/stoops/index.htm http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/She_Stoops_to_Conquer https://archive.org/details/britishdramaaco03unkngoog http://www.bartleby.com/18/3/ https://archive.org/details/britishtheatre_m09bell

Out of mischief, Tony Lumpkin, Mrs Hardcastle's son by her first husband, tricks Charles Marlow and George Hastings, intending to marry Kate Hardcastle and Constance Neville, respectively, into believing that Kate's father is the landlord of an inn. On entering Harcastle's house, the two men take little notice of the surprised host, which they take for a mere innkeeper, while continuing their discussion on apparel and interrupting him rudely whenever he speaks, then brusquely asking for warm punch. To Hardcastle's surprise, Charles calls to consult with the cook while George wants to see the bill of fare. They do not approve of the first course of the proposed meal. "Damn your pig, I say," George thunders, "And damn your prune sauce, say I," Charles thunders, then both wish to verify whether the beds are properly aired. Constance is as surprised to see George as he is to see her. She informs him that this must be one of Tony's tricks, whom Mrs Hardcastle, her aunt, wishes to have her marry, but she reassures her lover on that point. "You have nothing to fear from him, I assure you. You'd adore him if you knew how heartily he despises me." When Kate enters, Charles, still thinking he is inside an inn, becomes very uneasy and disconcerted, his usual timidity before the opposite sex. He starts bravely but when George and Constance leave, he falters again and barely looks at her face despite her encouragements. Mrs Hardcastle is fawned on by George, but she is displeased at Tony's lack of attention towards Constance. George sounds Tony about Constance's personality, saying: "But there is a meek modesty about her that charms me." "Yes, but curb her never so little, she kicks up, and you're flung in a ditch," Tony retorts. Despite such words, George swears he will be loyal to her. "If you but assist me, I'll engage to whip her off to France, and you shall never hear more of her," he says, which Tony enthusiastically approves of, robbing his mother's jewels to facilitate their elopement. Meanwhile, Hardcastle and Kate disagree on Charles' personality, the former considering him impudent, the latter excessively bashful. Mrs Hardcastle cries out in distress on discovering the loss of her jewels, at which Tony laughs, pretending she is joking, to her confusion and irritation. To help Charles out of his timidity, Kate stoops to disguise herself as a barmaid; he suddenly becomes much bolder. They are interrupted by Hardcastle, astounded to find such a man perceived as modest. Meanwhile, George hands over to Charles the casket of jewels, who in turn hands it over to the person he takes as the landlady for safe keeping, in reality Mrs Hardcastle. When next meeting Charles, Hardcastle complains of his servants' drinking, one of whom, Jeremy, seems to be quite drunk. Charles comments he was only following his orders. "I don't know what you'd have more, unless you'd have the poor devil soused in a beer-barrel," Charles says. The irritated Hardcastle orders him out of his house. Charles is about to when at last Kate informs him where they are, inside his potential father-in-law's house. He is immediately smitten with her, but yet cannot forego to consider their unequal conditions. Before Mrs Hardcastle, Constance and Tony pretend to exchange loving glances. Tony receives a letter from George about their imminent elopement, but he has a hard time reading it, so that Constance, to dull Mrs Hardcastle's suspicions, pretends she is reading about cockfighting and crumples it as being of no interest. On the contrary, the invention interests Tony so much that Mrs Hardcastle takes it away from her and thereby discovers her niece's intention to elope. She decides to take Constance away to another aunt of hers. Meanwhile, Charles' father arrives, laughing with Hardcastle at Charles' mistake, but both are surprised when after Hardcastle proposes marriage, Charles protests. "We had but one interview, and that was formal, modest, and uninteresting," he declares. When he leaves, Kate promises to resolve the enigma if they overhear the couple behind a screen. Meanwhile, Tony has been deliberately leading his mother and cousin round the house without their noticing it. While Tony speaks to his father as if he were a stranger, his mother runs off to hide behind a tree in fear of bandits until she can no longer hold, crying out to Tony's amusement: "O lud! he'll murder my poor boy, my darling! Here, good gentleman, whet your rage upon me. Take my money, my life, but spare that young gentleman, spare my child if you have any mercy." Observing Charles and Kate behind a screen, Marlow is amazed on hearing his son's unprecedented eloquence, after which Hardcastle emerges to reveal, to Charles' amazement, that Charles has been courting all this time not a barmaid but his daughter. When George and Constance present themselves before the Hardcastles, Charles is glad to see them claim their due.

"The good-natured man"

Embarrassed to reveal his financial troubles, Honeywood pretends to Miss Richland that the bailiffs are army officers. Painting by William Powell Frith (1819-1909)

Time: 1760s. Place: England.

Text at https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.46630 http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/The-good-naturd-man-She/book-LMpPxAPWFUaPH0qCQR3yvQ/page1.html

Sir William Honeywood worries that his nephew's good-natured personality too often leads him into depts. To test his nephew's friends, he announces to Jarvis, the nephew's servant, that he intends calling a bailiff to arrest him for debt. Honeywood (the nephew) loves Miss Richland, a wealthy ward to Croaker, who intends instead to have her wed his son, Leontine. But Leontine loves another woman, Olivia, whom he met in France while intending to take back his sister, living there since childhood with Croaker's sister. Unknown to Croaker, Leontine returned from France with Olivia, who pretends to be Leontine's sister. Despite his father's encouragements, Leontine courts with little enthusiasm Miss Richland, who, discovering his secret regarding Olivia, pretends to be interested in the proposal. Meanwhile, Croaker receives a letter from his sister, announcing that his daughter is engaged to be married to an English gentleman of large fortune. A second suitor to Miss Richland appears: Lofty, who, hearing about the rumor that she loves Honeywood, sends her to him "in his present doleful situation". Mistaking the person in the letter, Croaker gently scolds Olivia for being so secretive about her engagement, while she, thinking her secret discovered, is overjoyed at his apparent approval of her marriage with his son. When Leontine enters as happy as she, openly avowing his love, Croaker cannot believe his ears. "Marrying Olivia! Marrying his own sister! Sure, the boy is out of his senses," he certifies. The couple are forced to back-track their claim on each other, swearing to escape and marry in Scotland with Honeywood's "advice and assistance". As a result of his uncle's plot, Honeywood is distressed when two bailiffs enter to speak with him. To avoid embarrassment, he pays them to pretend to be military officers, but Miss Richland discovers this trick as well. She meets the disguised Sir William Honeywood, who informs her of his true identity and also of Lofty's false pretenses in the matter of obtaining her fortune from the treasury department of the government. Lofty unwittingly exposes himself by pretending to know Sir William before Sir William himself. Jarvis then informs him that, on his son's orders, he is to accompany Leontine and Olivia on their flight to Scotland. Thanks to his uncle's intervention, Honeywood is released from custody of the bailiffs. Discovering Honeywood's ignorance of his benefactor, Lofty insinuates that it is thanks to his own person. In return, he asks Honeywood to court Miss Richland for his sake, which the good-natured man reluctantly agrees to do. Meanwhile, Jarvis informs Olivia that Honeywood, contrary to his promises, is unable to provide financial support for her marriage with Leontine. She writes a violent letter to her lover, but it is accidently intercepted by Croaker, who entirely mistakes its purport, believing himself to be threatened by unknown persons, "singled out for gunpowder plots". When Miss Richland hears Honeywood speak on Lofty's behalf, she huffily declares: "Mr Honeywood, let me tell you that you wrong my sentiments and yourself. When I first applied to your friendship, I expected advice and assistance; but now, sir, I see that it is in vain to expect happiness from him who has been so bad an economist of his own and that I must disclaim his friendship who ceases to be a friend to himself." When Croaker reveals to Honeywood his fears at being attacked by unknown persons, he advises him thus: "This letter requires twenty guineas to be left at the bar of the Talbot Inn. If it be indeed an incendiary letter, what if you and I, sir, go there and when the writer comes to be paid his expected booty, seize him." But when Leontine discovers Honeywood's lack of funds and his father's presence at the inn seemingly led by him, he suspects treachery on the part of his friend and challenges him to a duel, interrupted by Croaker's outcries on mistaking the postboy for the incendiary. Olivia is at last forced to admit to Croaker she is not his daughter. At the same time, Miss Richland, knowing about Honeywood's presence at the inn, leads William to that place, where he informs Croaker of Olivia's true identity as the daughter of a knight and his friend, which reconciles Croaker to the marriage between his son and her. Honeywood then informs Miss Richland of his departure from England, leaving Lofty as master of the place he should have occupied, but yet Lofty again unwittingly reveals himself as a false pretender of her affairs, so that the way is clear at last for Honeywood to marry her.

John O'Keeffe

John O'Keeffe showed how one may sow one's wild oats and achieve happiness. Portrait of the author by Thomas Lawranson (?-?) or his son, William Lawranson (1742-1783)

Also of comic interest is "Wild oats" (1791), written by yet another Irishman, John O'Keeffe (1747-1833).

"The play shows how young Harry Thunder, in a passing fit of recklessness, runs away from Portsmouth academy and joins a company of strolling players. We might have expected an interesting picture of the but the prejudices of the public confined the chief action to genteel society. Only the character of Rover, the irrepressible and impecunious comedian, is conceived in the true comic spirit" (Routh, 1932 pp 281-282). “Love plots of one kind or another involve almost all of the main characters: double lost and found child plots involve both Harry Thunder and Rover, the former only briefly lost and briefly misidentified, the latter, as it turns out lost for almost his whole life” (Forster, 2010 p 83).

"Wild oats"

Sir George Thunder intends his son to marry a rich widow and so encounters her father, Ephraim Smooth, played by John Henry (1738-1794) in an engraving by Cornelius Tiebout (1773-1832) in the 1793 edition of the play

Time: 1790s. Place: England.

Text at https://archive.org/details/wildoats00okee http://fadedpage.com/showbook.php?pid=20120303

Having paid to enlist three escaped sailors, Sir George Thunder is now looking for them. He also wants to see his son, Harry, and so sends his servant, John, to fetch him from the Naval Academy in Portsmouth. Sir George encounters Ephraim Smooth, a Quaker, together with his niece, Lady Amaranth, also a Quaker and a wealthy heiress and so a fine choice as a wife to his son. Harry left the academy to pursue a career in acting in the theater but now wants to return home and so says goodbye to his fellow actor and friend, Jack Rover. On his way to an engagement, Jack receives shelter in the rain from Banks, previously a clergyman but now without benefice and living in poverty with his sister, Amelia. Banks has no money to pay a debt to Gammon, a farmer who threatens him with jail until the former clergyman pays part of the sum, the rest being promised by Amaranth who seeks to make life easier for the poor in the village. Jack next reaches an inn, where he meets Gammon again, looking for the actors to whom he promised to lend his barn as a temporary playhouse. In preparation to his travels in a stage-coach, Jack gives to the landlord his family name: Thunder. When John reads the list of the passengers, he mistakes Jack for Harry. Jack pretends to be Sir George's son to follow John in Amaranth's carriage, having fallen in love with her. Since Jack promised the actors to play with them, Amaranth gives them permission to entertain her wealthy neighbors at her housewarming, the proceeds meant for charity. By chance, Sir George meets Harry at the same inn and informs him of his intention to marry him to Amaranth. To his surprise, Harry also finds Jack, who tells him he is pretending to be Harry to follow Amaranth, though without hope, his modest station making him unworthy of her. To continue the jest, Harry invents a tale whereby he has turned into an adventurer to obtain Amaranth's love with the help of George, an associate pretending to be his father. In addition, Harry introduces himself as an actor to Amaranth and warns her that George intends to disinherit his son and so pretends he is an impostor, all this carried to good effect when Jack encounters George. At her house, Amaranth learns that her steward has turned Banks and Amelia out of their cottage but promises to care for them. Amelia tells her that long ago she married a sea officer who abandoned her while thinking she had been hoodwinked by a false clergyman to perform the ceremony when actually the clergyman was her brother and in orders at the time. She also lost a son during times of distress. Meanwhile, George insults Jack, who challenges him to a duel as the three escaped sailors show up. Knowing he is out looking for them, one of them takes the pistol away from George and prepares to shoot him when Jack rescues him and pursues all three. However, he is arrested when the three ruffians convince the country people that he robbed them. George now prepares to rescue his rescuer when he encounters Amelia and is told by Banks that he is truly married to her. When he comes forth to examine two of Jack's accusers as a magistrate, they recognize him and take off. On questioning Jack further, he discovers to his joy that the man is his son long lost by Amelia.

Thomas Holcroft

Holcroft showed that gambling is the road to ruin. Portrait of the author by John Opie (1761–1807)

"The road to ruin" (1792) is another particularly successful comedy rendered by Thomas Holcroft (1745-1809).

"The action centers round domestic relations and business interests. Though this was not new either to English tragedy or comedy, it was new to Holcroft. And the circumstance that he, whose theory as well as earlier practice favored real comedy, should have been swept down the stream of sentimentalism and should have appealed directly to the middle class indicates the growing strength of the middle-class demands even on the theater. Sentimentalism is so pervading a feature of this comedy that all the action turns round the paternal impulses of Dornton and of the high-minded filial love of Harry. Each dilemma between business prudence and paternal love is resolved by the impulses of the heart (Stallbaumer, 1936 p 51).

"The road to ruin" "is entertaining as a well-made comedy of its period, with no classical pretensions to style...[and] justified its revival by its high spirits and acting parts: not all comedies are as lively as this one in these times, or so well-plotted" (Williamson, 1956 p 157). The play "opens with the elder Dornton, a prominent banker in London, discovering that his son Harry has once again stayed late at the horse races in Newmarket. When a newspaper report appears noting that 'the junior partner of a great banking house' has just lost 10,000 pounds at the races, the news of the loss threatens a run on Dornton's banking firm. At this point, the elder Dornton seems on the verge of losing his mind...Dornton swinging wildly from terror to amazement and compassion, horror and tearful resignation" (Karr, 2001 pp 344).

“The play shows how even businessmen, such as the banker Mr Dornton and his head clerk Mr Sulky, conceal human hearts beneath their dry exteriors, and that even spend-thrifts, such as Dornton’s son Harry, have a generous sense of duty despite their recklessness. When Harry’s extravagance, at last, causes a run on his father’s bank, the youth resolves to save the house by espousing the wealthy Mrs Warren, though really in love with her daughter. One half of the action takes place in the luxurious mansion of the odious widow, satirising her vicious circle, especially Goldfinch, the brainless man of fashion, with his endless tag ‘that’s your sort', who is eager for the widow’s wealth in order to defray his debts. In the end, the bank is saved by the staunch loyalty of Sulky. Harry, sobered by his experience, is free to marry the girl of his choice and Mrs Warren is disinherited by the discovery of a new will” (Routh, 1932 p 277).

“The key factor for the play’s popularity in the early years was Goldfinch. This was a new and original figure, not crucial to the development of the plot as such, but remarkable and memorable for the linguistic energy he brought to the stage, his staccato phrasings exhibiting the anxiety and edginess that accompany the effort of social mobility...The political topicality, the parallels with the royal family and the revolutionary resonances, were occluded by the hearty laughter generated by his stage presence” (Garnai, 2023 p 48).

"The road to ruin"

Unheeding his father's advice, Harry's gambling habits take him on the road to ruin. Etching from the play by Isaac Cruikshank (1764-1811)

Time: 1790s. Place: London, England.

Text at https://archive.org/details/roadtoruincomedy00holc https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.515512

Hearing from a newspaper article about the debts incurred by Harry, his son and junior partner of his business, Dornton worries about the credit of the firm. Harry arrives with his friend, Milford, the latter afraid that Dornton is about to arrest him. "He has threatened to strike my name out of the firm and disinherit me a thousand times," Harry casually affirms. But this time his father indeed strikes out his name and prevents him from entering the house. Milford learns from Sulky, an executor, that the long-lost will of his dead father has been discovered in France and sent over to Sulky but has not yet been received. The next day, Sulky visits the widow, Mrs Warren, to plead on behalf of Milford, though only the bastard son of her late husband. She refuses to help. When Harry arrives to the house, he encounters her daughter from a previous marriage, Sophia, with whom he flirts on the subject of valentines, telling her of secret ways they may be delivered such as inside a plum-cake. Another gamer, Goldfinch, arrives to see the widow. He and Harry flirt with the widow to get money from her, but, out of caprice, she refuses to see either. When Milford announces a tennis-match, all three rush out to place large bets on the game, but Milford is arrested there for debts. When he sends someone to convey the news to Harry, he refuses to come. Later, Goldfinch learns from a money-dealer, Silky, that Warren's will worth the considerable sum of 150,000 pounds was sent by mistake to him instead of Sulky, their names differing by only one letter. Silky proposes that they take advantage of the error by obtaining a written promise of marriage from the widow, at which Goldfinch agrees. After learning of Milford's arrest, Silky makes business arrangements to take advantage of that situation. Moreover, he informs Widow Warren that he possesses her late husband's will. "I have talked the matter over with my friend, Mr Goldfinch, and he thinks it but reasonable, that for a secret of so much importance, which would almost sweep the whole away, I should receive one-third," he declares. "You are a very shocking old miser, Mr Silky, a very repulsive sort of a person, what heart you had is turned to stone," she answers. "You are insensible of the power of a pair of fine eyes. But I have made a conquest that places me beyond your reach. I mean to marry Mr Dornton." When Goldfinch asks for her hand in marriage, she refuses without excluding any hope in the future. Meanwhile, Dornton is submerged by Harry's creditors. Incensed, he cries out to his son: "How dare you introduce this swarm of locusts?" "Despair, sir, is a dauntless hero," Harry retorts. But his nonchalant tone alters after understanding at last the consequences of his debts on his father's finances, and that they are on the road to ruin. On his way out, Dornton notices Harry's looks of wild grief. "Hear me, Harry. I am very happy," he pathetically cries out. But Harry rushes out to request a loan from Silky, who refuses him and then arranges to take advantage of Dornton's troubles. To help his father out, Harry now feels he has no choice but to propose marriage to the widow. Their conversation is interrupted by Sophia, who hands over a valentine to him in exchange for the one received in the plum-cake. Her mother rudely sends her away. To help Harry out in desperate straits for money, she loans him 6,000 pounds. But on learning of Milford's arrest, Harry uses the money to pay off Milford's debts instead of paying his own. When Dornton learns from Sulky that his son received the loan and proposed marriage to the widow, he goes over to pay her back. In his grey garments, the widow takes him for a parson and insults him. When Harry arrives, he informs his father that his business is saved thanks to Sulky, heir to a great fortune left by his uncle. Meanwhile, Goldfinch informs Milford that the widow is his provided he pay Silky 50,000 pounds. When Milford tells Sulky about this offer, he concludes that Silky must possess the will. They rush off to prevent the deal, but, in their attempt to spy on the cheaters, are locked inside a closet by the suspicious Silky, ready to burn the will once the widow signs her promise to marry Goldfinch. However, Sulky and Milford knock violently on the closet-door at the same moment that the Dorntons knock on the main door, causing Silky's scheme to fail.

George Colman the Elder

George Colman the Elder pondered over the ravages brought about by female jealousy. Portrait of the author by Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)

"The jealous wife" (1761) by George Colman the Elder (1732-1794) also ranks high among the comedies of the period.

In "The jealous wife", "while Mrs. Oakly is the very type of the jealous wife ('all impetuosity and fire; a very magazine of touchwood and gunpowder'), Mr Oakly ('my love for her has made me such a fool, that I have never had the spirit to contradict her') is something more than merely The henpecked husband...He gets from Colman such sympathy as he would never have received from Jonson...There are two figures, however, who not only seem equally appropriate to a comedy of humors and a comedy of manners but are also presented precisely as Jonson and Congreve would have depicted them. These are the country squire, Henry Russet, and the bucolic baronet, Sir Harry Beagle. Each has his Jonsonian obsession, Russet his devotion to his daughter ('I will make her happy, if I break her heart for it') and Beagle his dedication to the sporting life ('the looby has not a single idea in his head, besides a hound, a hunter, a five-barred gate, and a horse-race')...Two other characters are plainly universal types, Charles Oakly (the youth with 'a wild disposition' who is sound at heart) and Major Oakly ('a debauched bachelor, a rattle-brained rioting fellow', who knows more than any husband about women as a result of picking up his notions in taverns and camps). In this respect perhaps the most interesting of all is O'Cutter ('a perfect sea-monster' who 'always looks and talks as if he was upon deck')...Finally, there is the one perfectly straight role, that of Harriot Russet, a girl without a humor or a manner in her make-up" (Lucas, 1951 pp 49-50).

“In Colman's The Jealous Wife appears that charming ruffian, Captain O'Cutter, RN, who, appointed a regulating captain through the influence of Lord Trinket, tries to return the favor by pressing some noisy grooms. Although the honest officer does not know it, the victims are the father and lover of Harriet, the heroine, whom his lordship is planning to kidnap while her natural protectors are on the tender. The captain interchanges two letters accidentally, and exposes the plot: ‘devil burn me, not I, I never rade at all.’ He is something of a swashbuckler: ‘Little Terence O'Cutter never fails, faith, when a troat is to be cut.’ He gives a vivid description of a press gang fight entirely in terms of a naval engagement, apparently admiring the courage of his opponents, although one of them wounds his ‘starboard eye’” (Watson, 1931 pp 188-189).

“Mrs Oakly serves to satirize the indiscriminate violence of the military and the ways in which they abuse their duty. The characters’ exaggeration of her threat and invective, in short, provides the pretense for military intervention...Mrs Oakly accuses her husband of numerous affairs...She continues to nurse these fantasies about her husband throughout the play despite his protestations; he seems indecisive, banal, and, other than his outbursts at the beginning of the play, largely irrelevant. Through the juxtaposition of Mr Oakly with his wife, Colman appears to draw attention to her vivacity. Moreover, Mrs Oakly creates lively versions of the figures who seem to be diminished by the military…Mr Oakly proves susceptible to fictions manufactured by men no matter how ridiculous. The angry letter from Harriet’s father reads like a sensational novel. Harriet has never disobeyed her father in her life and the idea of her eloping seems absurd. Yet Oakly never questions this narrative, even emphasizing the sensational words and omitting the context...The play, then, partly stages how, as the sentimental man emerges as a new identity in British culture, women seize on his susceptibilities to, if not exert power in the public sphere, strengthen her control at home and curtail men’s liberties elsewhere” (Van Renen, 2020 pp 55-59).

Coleman the Elder “is one of the more important of those later 18th century dramatists whose reputation has suffered in the past by the disproportionate exaltation of Goldsmith and Sheridan” (Budd, 1936 p 574).

"The jealous wife"

Mrs Oakley harasses her husband with jealousy as played by Julia Glover (1779-1850) from an 1818 portrait

Time: 1760s. Place: London, England.

Text at https://archive.org/details/britishtheatre20bell https://archive.org/details/jealouswifecomed00colm https://archive.org/details/wifecomed00colmjealousrich

Oakley’s jealous wife discovers a letter in which Henry Russet accuses her innocent husband of eloping with his daughter, Harriet, and harasses her husband for this. Before his brother, a major in the army, Oakley in turn accuses Charles, their nephew, for this, but he, too, is innocent. Charles discovers that Harriet escaped from her father’s house to avoid marrying Sir Harry Beagle and suspects that she is hiding at the house of her aunt, Lady Freelove. As he goes to find her, Oakley proposes that the young couple stay under their protection. “What, make me your convenient woman!” Mrs Oakley exclaims in another jealous rage, considering the suggestion as her husband’s excuse for obtaining a mistress’ favors. Lady Freelove indeed keeps Harriet inside her house, but yet, despite the girl’s aversion, she also intends to marry her off, not to Harry but to her friend: Lord Trinket. When the lady receives word of Harry’s arrival along with some town gossips, she deliberately leaves Harriet in the company of the aspiring Lord Trinket, who, angry at his unsuccessful courtship, struggles with her as Charles enters. Seeing the commotion, he draws his sword. They fight while the girl escapes. A distraught Lady Freelove reenters to separate them and orders her nephew out. Harry is disappointed that the stubborn girl has run away at the moment when she was found at last. To rid himself of Harriet’s father and suitor, Lord Trinket requests Captain O’Cutter to press them by force in her majesty’s service. He also requests him to deliver a challenge to Charles. The captain heartily agrees to both injunctions. For her part, Lady Freelove informs Mrs Oakley that Harriet is gone and insinuates that Oakley may be her secret lover. Having no other place to go, Harriet desperately requests Oakley for shelter, but he, worried about his wife’s jealous humors, feels forced to refuse. In her distress, she begs him to let her stay. “I am ruined forever,” she weeps, all which, overhearing their conversation, Mrs Oakley entirely misconstrues, harassing her husband all the more. When her father appears, Harriet swoons in distress. Oakley’s wife and Henry accuse Oakley of trying to seduce Harriet until interrupted by a drunk Charles. In view of his condition, a downcast Harriet follows her father instead of her unlucky suitor. In the presence of the major, O’Cutter delivers the challenge to Charles, but hands him the wrong letter, one from Lord Trinket to Lady Freelove revealing Harriet’s whereabouts at an inn, where Harry at last has his chance to ask her hand in marriage. She refuses. When Charles shows up, she refuses to follow him because of his drunken behavior. But when Lord Trinket shows up, she is forced to do so. To win Harriet’s father to the marriage, Lady Freelove proposes that Lord Trinket release him and Harry from their confinement by O’Cutter’s accomplices. Henry and Harry rejoin their daughter at Oakley’s house together with Lord Trinket. Henry becomes distraught on learning that Harry, discouraged by Harriet’s negative attitude, traded away the rights to her to Lord Trinket for a horse. Henry dismisses Lord Trinket when Charles shows him his letter to Lady Freelove delivered to his own person by mistake. And so Henry accepts Charles as Harriet’s husband. When Mrs Oakley learns of the intended marriage, she reconciles herself to her husband and promises to correct her jealous feelings.

Hannah Cowley

Hannah Cowley showed how a belle devises a successful plot by appearing timid and stupid

"The belle's stratagem" (1780), Hannah Cowley's (1743-1809) best comedy, echoes Farquhar's "The beaux' stratagem" (1707) but is rather based on "La fausse Agnès” (1759) by Philippe Néricault Destouches (1680-1754).

"The stratagem, which gives the play its title, is one of the many variations upon the theme of ‘She stoops to conquer’...Letitia Hardy's device is double: a marriage has been arranged between her and Doricourt, who goes through the legal preliminaries with indifference. She determines upon the romantic expedient of first disgusting him with herself, by pretending to be a gawky country bumpkin; and secondly, fascinating him as the Fair Unknown of a fashionable masquerade at the Pantheon...Doricourt, too, is a showy character; when he is duly disgusted by Letitia's raw uncouthness, he, like Valentine in 'Love for Love', pretends to be mad...Most of the situations are dramatic commonplaces of earlier authors, but the characters are of their own period" (Rhodes, 1929 pp 130-131).

“The idea which occasions the chief perplexities of the drama is, by some critics, alleged to have been taken from a somewhat similar device, employed by Maria, in The Citizen but, if the hint was borrowed from [Arthur] Murphy’s farce, the object is novel, and certainly quite original. Nothing can be more extravagant, more unnatural, and, it may be added, more disgusting than the means by which Letitia Hardy contrives to secure the affections of Doricourt, but successive audiences, delighted with the spirit displayed in these scenes, have overlooked their defects, and it is thus evident that nature may be outraged with impunity, upon the stage, by skillful pens. The charm of The Belle’s Stratagem consists in some very clever sketches of character, and the spirit, point, and elegance of the dialogue. The heroine herself, intended by the author as a specimen of the delicate reserve of a woman of superior understanding and quick sensibility, prevented by an amiable diffidence from displaying her accomplishments, is a perfect failure. No really diffident woman could have overstepped the bounds of modesty, and stooped to the coarse artifice which she employed; and Letitia Hardy must be ranked amid those heroines who belong wholly to the boards, and could have no existence beyond the lamp-fed atmosphere of the stage. This character is usually chosen by actresses who are desirous of an opportunity for the display of broad humour, but the more judicious prefer the part of Mrs Rackett, which is one of the most finished sketches of a woman of fashion that the entire range of the drama can boast; her description of a fine lady has been pronounced to be worthy of Cibber or Sheridan. Doricourt is also exceedingly well drawn, the difficulty of delineating a perfect gentleman, without falling into insipidity, being overcome. Flutter is a pleasant resuscitation of Marplot, and Old Hardy a stage father of more than ordinary merit. The character of Lady Frances is also very interesting, and recommends an underplot, otherwise objectionable, in consequence of its not having anything to do with the main subject of the play. Mrs Cowley’s dramatis personea are generally over-crowded with walking gentlemen and ladies; in the present instance, we have Saville, Courtall, and Sir George Touchwood, each in a small degree instrumental to the principal design, but not one of sufficient importance to be placed in the hands of superior actors, a circumstance always detrimental, and in many instances fatal to a play. Miss Ogle is one of those nobodies, continually before the audience, but having a very trifling share of the dialogue, and scarcely any business to perform, thus distinguished from the mere underling who has at least no opportunity of marring the scene” (Dunham, 1836 vol 3 pp 372-373).

Other critics disagree with the opinion of Durham (1836) that the character of Letitia is a failure. “Letitia plays upon Doricourt's presumption that there is an essence behind every mask to produce herself both as an object of his desire and as an active agent in fulfilling her own desire. After having secured Doricourt's absolute contempt by playing the idiot at their second meeting, Letitia disguises herself with a mask and seduces him at the masquerade ball. To distract Doricourt when he desperately attempts to discover the identity of the figure beneath the mask, Letitia engages him in a witty repartee on the subject of matrimony...Doricourt's desperate attempt to seize Letitia's mask enacts this very conceit as it presumes to penetrate to the ‘thing itself’ that exists behind the mask, waiting only to be brought under his spectatorial control. Yet Letitia's successful resistance to such seizure indicates her elusiveness” (Freeman, 2002 p 181).

“Doricourt’s initially cool response to Letitia is shaped by his experiences with continental women…Although Letitia describes herself as “his slave,” the helpless victim of her passion (1.4.131), she nevertheless becomes an active agent in the reform plot that will tutor the hero in the appropriate desires of an Enlightened Englishman. In sum, Doricourt must be taught to see and appreciate the subtler charms of an English lady. As in so many comedies of this period that involve mistaken identity, a masquerade scene is central in The Belle’s Stratagem to plots of testing, discovery, and reformation even as the dangers of masquerade are an intradiegetic subject of debate and even a metaphor for the blurring of social identities...The ease by which age identities are obscured or feigned is an anxiety articulated by Sir George Touchwood… Letitia, however, uses theatricalized social performance as a model for her own personal comedy of identity...In this discovery scene Letitia reveals her little stratagem, which she claims was necessitated by a feminine modesty, a national and personal characteristic, that first obscured her to him” (Ladd, 2022 pp 103-106).

"Sir George distrusts to find his wife, Lady Frances, in female company, complaining that she 'is seen everywhere but in her own house'. Although her friend, Caroline, is liable to promote such bad habits as gambling, the entire matter of a woman amusing herself outside the home is presented in a rather positive way, promoting a kind of cosmopolitanism over-provincialism" (Wallace, 2001-02 pp 424-425).

"The belle's stratagem"

Letitia pretends to be timid as a stratagem to get her man, as played in 1894 by Julia Marlowe (1865-1950)

Time: 1780s. Place: England.

Text at https://archive.org/details/britishdramaaco03unkngoog https://archive.org/details/bellesstratagemc00cowlrich http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/47604 http://fadedpage.com/showbook.php?pid=20141207

After having recently met Letitia as his fiancée arranged by their parents, Doricourt is unimpressed, taking her for a typically dull English girl. His friend, Saville, is surprised at this point of view. "She should have spirit! Fire! L'air enjoué!" Doricourt cries out. "That something, that nothing, which everybody feels and which nobody can describe, in the resistless charmers of Italy and France." On her part, Letitia is equally frustrated. "A husband of fifteen months could not have examined me with more cutting indifference," she declares to her friend, Caroline Racket. To the surprise of her father, Mr Hardy, Letitia devises a stratagem to appear timid and stupid and thereby determine whether her lover can truly learn to love. Doricourt visits Sir George Touchwood, recently married to Lady Frances. But in a jealous fit, Sir George prevents his friend from seeing her. Caroline and her friend, Miss Ogle, invite Lady Frances to follow them for fun. "Come, you shall go with us to drop a few cards, then to an auction room, then we'll drive to Kensington; we shall be at home by five to dress and in the evening I'll attend you to the masquerade," Caroline suggests. But George is against such plans and becomes dispirited on seeing his hesitant wife go out with the two women. Exactly as planned, on next meeting her intended, Letitia appears timid and stupid to Doricourt's view, all the more discouraged but yet willing to attend Lady Brilliant's masquerade ball. Meanwhile, Saville's friend, Courtall, intends to flirt with Frances there. Having once considered her his love, Saville is disgusted at this plan. Courtall orders his servant to find out which costume George will wear so that he may don the same one, but Saville intercepts his servant, learns of the plan, and arranges for a whore to dress in the same costume as Frances. At the masquerade ball, Doricourt is struck by the appearance and wit of a masked woman, not knowing it is Letitia. Caroline decides the two should marry this very night. "Feign yourself seriously ill," she suggests to her father, "send for Doricourt, and tell him you cannot go out of the world in peace unless you first see the ceremony performed." Just as Courtall successfully sequesters whom he believes to be Frances and boasts of his conquest to his friends, he discovers she is a whore and is shamed into leaving the country. To get out of the marriage, Doricourt pretends to have turned insane, but this plan is discovered by Saville, who reveals it to Caroline and others. But when Doricourt is presented before Hardy's death-bed, he loses heart to repudiate his daughter. Instead, Hardy despondently prepares to meet his marriage doom until discovering Letitia as the masked woman he was so struck by, at which point he appears as healthy as ever to congratulate the couple on their forthcoming marriage.

Thomas Morton

Thomas Morton introduced the character of Mrs Grundy, the epitome of correct behavior. Portrait of of the author by John Raphael Smith (1752–1812)

A melodrama of note in the period includes "Speed the plow" (1798) by Thomas Morton (1764–1838).

Although Morton's "pieces were spoiled by the gloomy and lurid German tone which was then fashionable, he possessed a true spirit of humour, and showed a great variety in his many characters. Some of his plays still keep the stage, that is to say, are revived occasionally when a sacrifice is to be made- that is, a compliment is to be paid- to legitimacy. Their characters are all distinct from each other, well marked, borne forward by a singular vivacity, which redeems a great deal of exaggeration and helps on the piece. The 'Cure for the heartache', 'Speed the Plough', and the 'Heir-at-law' are really enjoyable pieces, and when fairly acted, leave a pleasant sense behind. Bob Handy and Sir Abel never flag; with Farmer Ashfield, and the countryman who there, for the first time, quotes the imperishable Mrs Grundy. Even the depressing Sir Philip Blandford- one of the earliest wicked baronets of the stage, who soothes his remorse by taking out a 'knife and bloody cloth' to look at evidences of his crime becomes a foil for the rattling gaiety of the rest" (Fitzgerald, 1870 pp 126-127).

"Dame Ashfield’s frequent allusions to Mrs Grundy have made that name proverbial" (Routh, 1932 p 281). “Dame Ashfield’s excessive fear of Mrs Grundy...gives a genuinely comic reflection of uncritical fear of the world as censor. On the other hand, the play contains an evil baronet and a belatedly good baronet (the world is bettered) and one line of action preaches the nobility of rustic labor. That is, along with amused observation there is an insistence on what won’t do and what men ought to do. This sense of mission- of wrongdoing to oppose, solutions to propose, lists to enter- that began in 18th century theater almost dominates that of the 19th” (Heilman, 1978b pp 101-102).

“In the character of Farmer Ashfield...inferior actors indulge their want of discrimination in representing every countryman as a lounging vulgar boor, for, as they catch externals only, they are obliged to exaggerate them in order to supply the deficiency of a more thorough imitation. Mr Emery understands all the gradations of rusticity: his Farmer Ashfield, though it occasionally raises our mirth by its familiarity and its want of town manners, is manly and attractive of respect: like the master of a family, he always appears attentive to the concerns of those about him, and never breaks out of his natural cares and employments to amuse the audience at the expense of forgetting his character” (Hunt, 1894 edition p 55).

"Speed the plow"

Mrs Grundy is the social conscience of the parish as imagined by an anonymous draftsperson

Time: 1790s. Place: England.

Text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/19407 http://archive.org/details/speedtheplough19407gut

After being absent for twenty years, Sir Philip Blandford returns to marry his only daughter, Emma, to Robert, son to Abel Handy, baronet. Abel has married Nelly, former servant in the house of farmer Thomas Ashfield and his wife. To impress Thomas, Robert purposes to show him how to cudgel, but the farmer knocks him down with one blow. Robert then learns that Thomas is the father of the woman he loves: Susan. When Lady Nelly Handy arrives, she draws back at the uncouth behaviors of the Ashfields and is offended on hearing Robert's overly familiar speech. As the Ashfields watch Susan weeping after reading a letter from Robert, they open her private box to read it, but then Thomas is ashamed of such furtive behavior and asks her about it instead, who reveals she was lead to believe he loved her but this is not so apparent now. Despite Abel's hopes of his new invention, a special plough, a ploughing contest is won not by Robert but by Henry, a bastard bred up at the Ashfield farm, who receives a medal from Emma and the opportunity to visit her father's castle. But when Philip beholds the victor, he recognizes by his features who his father is and orders him away at once. He explains to his daughter that before marrying, he had almost lost his entire fortune at the gambling table to a man named Morrington. The day after the marriage ceremony, his wife received by mail a large sum of money from an anonymous source. He also received help from a second source. "Abel Handy proposed to unite our families by marriage and in consideration of what he termed the honor of our alliance, agreed to pay off every encumbrance on my estates and settle them as a portion on you and his son," he explains further. Yet no claim was ever made on his property by Morrington and his agents. However, he does not reveal why he left the country for twenty years. "I will be all you wish," Emma promises. To push Henry farther away, Philip proposes to forget Thomas' monetary debt to him in exchange for turning the boy out, but he refuses. Meanwhile, to his surprise, Abel learns that Nelly was first married to a servant at the castle who went abroad and died. When Thomas reveals what Philip proposed, his wife offers to sell her silk gowns. "I'll go to church in a stuff one," she adds, "and let Mrs Grundy turn up her nose as much as she pleases," referring to her rival and the moral standard of the parish. Help arrives in the form of Morrington, who, on learning of Philip's threat, gives Henry Philip's bond that will discharge the farmer's debt and prevent his ruin. When Henry presents the bond to Philip, he tells him of Morrington's plea to refuse giving away his daughter to a man she dislikes. An angry Philip informs Henry that Morrington is a cheater, at which he tears up the bond. Oppressed with guilt, Philip reveals Henry's origin to Robert as the offspring of a woman he was about to marry and who died in childbirth after sleeping with his brother whom he murdered in a fit of jealousy. Though burdened by such secrets, Robert proposes to marry Susan, who accepts with her parents' consent. "I say, Tummas, what will Mrs Grundy say then?" Mrs Ashfield asks triumphantly. Abel is surprised on learning this development, which upsets his plans in regard to Philip. He is even more surprised but readily accepts a proposal from Morrington's agent, Gerald, to be rid of a wife he no longer loves in exchange for a large sum of money. When Nelly arrives, she is stunned on seeing her supposedly dead husband still alive, almost as elated as Abel is. Later, still intent on inventing, he accidently sets fire to a room in the castle, with Emma saved thanks to Henry's efforts, who discovers a knife with a bloody cloth. Still oppressed with guilt, Philip reveals he murdered his father. In mortal conflict, Henry hesitates about what to do at the moment Morrington discloses himself as Philip's brother, who did not die but, to atone for his betrayal, saved him from sharpers.