History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/American Romantic

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Comedies are the key-note of early 19th century theatre in the USA, including "Fashion" (1845) by Anna Cora Mowatt and "Self" (1856) by Sidney Frances Bateman (1823-1881). Both comedies are social satires, the first one on the blind adherence to foreign manners and the second on the blind adherence to one's interest. Though appearing later in the century, the historic drama "Beau Brummell" (1890) by Clyde Fitch (1865-1909) reproduces a Romantic-type atmosphere more typical of its early part. The play is based on a noted friend of the prince regent, later King George IV (1762-1830, reign: 1820-1830). The story reproduces some key aspects of Beau Brummell's life (1778-1840), though diverging at the end, since the prince never forgave Beau, who died in poverty.

Anna Cora Mowatt showed that following fashions has its ridiculous sides. Engraving by an unknown artist, 1853

"Fashion"[edit]

"Fashion". Time: 1840s. Place: USA.

"Fashion" text at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Fashion

Once a milliner, now a gentlewoman, Mrs Tiffany, intent on being in fashion, receives all her visits on a single day of the week. Twinkle, a poet, recites his verses. However, a second guest, Augustus Fogg, seems uninterested in anything. Mrs Tiffany and her daughter, Seraphina, wish especially to impress Count Jolimaître. They also welcome her husband's wealthy and honest friend, Trueman, amused at seeing such a load of pretentious behaviors and her finery. "I see you make it a point to carry half your husband's shop upon your back!" he remarks to his hostess. Her servant girl, Millinette, is startled to discover the count in the house. Both pretend not to recognize each other. Trueman remarks that, though richer, Mr Tiffany seems unhappier. Moreover, he does not like the look of Snobson, his confidential clerk. Although it is thought that Seraphina will marry Jolimaître, he flirts with her friend and house-guest, Gertrude, in so crude a manner that Trueman hits him with a stick, which causes Mrs Tiffany to be "abimé with terror". From another friend of the family, Prudence, Trueman receives the false news that Seraphina favors Twinkle, but is well informed that Gertrude favors Colonel Howard. From Prudence's behavior, he guesses accurately that she herself has her eye on his own person. Despite her husband's financial difficulties, Mrs Tiffany goes forward with her grand ball. Mr Tiffany agrees but, to her irritation, insists on inviting Snobson, he being "in the power of this man" and a convenient match for Seraphina, an idea his wife considers a "fow pas (faux pas, "bad move"). When Snobson enters, she formally wishes him "Bung jure ("bonjour") and asks: "Comment vow porth, Monsur Snobson? (bad French for "How do you do?)" She removes him out of the way so that her daughter can speak alone with the count, who proposes marriage, to which Seraphina consents, though startled to learn it must be kept secret for the moment. When alone together, Millinette confronts Jolimaître. "Ah! trompeur! Vat for you fly from Paris?" she asks. "Vat for you leave me- and I love you so much? Ven you sick- you almost die- did I not stay by you- take care of you- and you have no else friend?" Their conversation is overheard by Gertrude, who agrees in keeping silent on the matter. During the ball, Mrs Tiffany is offended to see Gertrude dance with the count. To keep Millinette away from him, Gertrude proposes that she station herself with bouquets for the female guests, which the lady of the house considers a "recherchi idea", likely to be "all the rage in the bow-monde!" Fogg is also here, not indifferent to suppers. Prudence surveys Gertrude, to her eyes acting suspiciously, and tells Trueman what she has noticed. In the darkness of a corner, Gertrude imitates Millinette's voice, by which her suspicions in regard to the count are confirmed. Trueman and Howard are downhearted at Gertrude's apparent frivolity and Mrs Tiffany, highly scandalized, orders her out of the house. Yet, the next day, reflecting a moment and glancing at Gertrude's letter of explanation as to her behavior, Trueman becomes convinced that her only intent was to expose the count as a fraud, a conclusion the colonel also tardily arrives at. Prudence is distraught at having to inform Mrs Tiffany that Seraphina has eloped with Jolimaître, to Mr Tiffany's despair but his wife's content. Now that Howard is found worthy of Gertrude, a match sure to have been made without the involvement of money, Trueman reveals she is his grand-daughter and a rich heiress. But Mrs Tiffany's confidence is shaken by Millinette's revelation of the count's true identity. On hearing of the elopement, Hobson drunkenly interrupts to expose Mr Tiffany as a forger. To the surprise of all, Seraphina reappears, not quite married. "The clergyman wasn't at home- I came back for my jewels- the count said nobility couldn't get on without them," she explains. Elated, Tiffany begs her to marry Snobson instead and then begs Trueman to give him the money needed to cover his forgeries. Trueman is ashamed of him. He wakes the drunk Snobson to inform him he is an accessory to the forgeries, at which he quickly disappears. The count is forced to admit he is an imposter. He agrees to marry Millinette and is hired by Trueman according to his true vocation: a cook.

"Self"[edit]

"Self". Time: 1850s. Place: USA.

"Self" text at ?

Clemanthe Apex has been overspending and is unable to pay debts amounting to $12,000. When she asks her husband for money, he declares: "There, madam, that is the rock on which you split." He specifies he is on the brink of bankruptcy, an answer she considers only a pretext. Desperate to achieve her aim, she asks Mary, her stepdaughter, for the money, she having recently received $15,000 from a dead aunt. Mary refuses as well, knowing her father would not approve of the loan. Her father himself is truly in financial trouble and his pride does not permit him to ask a loan from his ex-partner, John Unit. "By a succession of unexpected circumstances, I am straitened for money," he tells Mary. She does not hesitate to give him a cheque for $15,000. More bad news arrive for Clemanthe as her son, Charles, loses $5,000 in a gambling debt which must soon be paid. Clemanthe says she cannot. "But, I tell you, you have brought me up badly, and the result will be disgrace to us both," he retorts. Clemanthe can only find one solution: forge his half-sister's $15,000 cheque. Charles nervously does so. Meanwhile, John hears about the $5,000 loss, but Mary begs him not to divulge it to her father. "An idle population, consuming and not producing, can never be made to pay!" exclaims John, but he reluctantly agrees. Though not needing it anymore, Apex discovers Mary's cheque has already been cashed and for safety asks her to give him the money. Suspecting that her signature has been forged by Charles, whom she chooses to protect, she declines. Incensed, Apex throws her out of the house, she forced to live in a cheap boarding-house with only one servant to attend her. On learning of Mary's troubles, John proposes she accuse Charles, but she refuses. Unwillingly, he lends her the money as an installment in advance of his will. On his 60th birthday, he discovers that he has made a "fatal mistake in the ledger of life". "The assets that benevolent actions towards our fellow beings leave in the shape of love, respect, and sympathy are the only ones worth having, the only things that pay," he concludes. On finding out his half-sister's disgraceful condition, Charles is stunned and, against his mother's wishes, reveals the forgery to his astonished father, but all is resolved when John arrives with the money.

Clyde Fitch showed dramatic flair in depicting the life of Beau Brummel

"Beau Brummell"[edit]

"Beau Brummell". Time: 1810s-1820s. Place: London, England and Calais, France.

"Beau Brummell" text at http://archive.org/stream/plays00fitcgoog/plays00fitcgoog_djvu.txt

Beau Brummell tried to have everything, including money and a high-profile social life, and lost it all. 19th century engraving from an original miniature

Because of an excessively stylish life-style, Beau Brummell is pursued by many creditors. To help his case, he orders his servant to write a letter to Oliver Vincent, a rich cloth merchant, concerning his daughter's hand in marriage. Beau's nephew, Reginald, enters to inform him that he loves a woman, but is interrupted before he can mention who. Beau next receives the visit of one of his most determined creditors, Abrahams, who finally desists after hearing that the prince regent is about to come over. Reginald has been pursuing Mariana, Oliver's daughter, with the help of a servant-intermediary, Kathleen, whom he is startled to find in his uncle's house. On his side, Beau has been conducting an amorous relation with Mrs. Horatia St. Aubyn. When Horatia asks him whether he received her last letter, he responds: "And your ambrosial lock of hair." But he did so to another woman, at which she is at first offended and then laughs it off. When the prince regent enters, he is eager to flirt with Horatia. After his guests leave, Beau receives the visit of Oliver, whom he confuses with his new tailor. He is distracted by his supposed tailor's gait: "Would you be so kind as not to wobble about in that way?" he asks with irritation. Oliver is unable to understand his host's attitude, so that he finally declares: "I came to accept your offer of marriage, but I've altered my intention." However, when he learns that the prince regent has invited Beau to supper, he looks pleadingly at him so that the two may dine together. "Send my polite regrets to his royal highness and say I dine tonight with Mr. Oliver Vincent," announces Beau to his servant. At Carlton House, residence of the prince regent, Beau discovers that Oliver's behavior is unbecoming to the prince. To secure the gratitude of his future father-in-law, he covers Oliver's retreat with self-possession and a look of humorous appeal towards the prince. When alone with Oliver, Beau seeks an immediate reward with ready cash and is immediately accepted. He is then accosted by Lord Manly, a drunken fop who has discovered that one of the guests is cheating at cards. What should he do? "Well, if he has cards up his sleeve, bet on him," answers Beau. When alone together, Horatia accuses Beau of presenting her to the prince as a pleasant way to be rid of her: "You have puffed the prince with the conceit that he is driving you out of my affections against your will. Suppose he were to know the truth?" Beau is unafraid. He is also quite cool at discovering Lord Manly drunkenly flirting with his intended, Mariana. He admits to her: "At first it was your fortune which allured me, but now it is yourself." A little later, Beau overhears a conversion between the prince and Horatia in a dark corner, in which she declares that there is too great a difference in their rank for the present relation to continue. Oliver confuses the pair with Beau and his daughter. The prince exclaims to her: "I swear I will marry you," at which Oliver rushes forward and declares: "And so you shall." Once more, Beau interposes to protect Oliver but this time he insults the prince. At the Mall, St. James Park, Beau's servant informs him that two bailiffs are set to arrest him for debts. "You must prevent them by telling them of my marriage to the daughter of Mr. Oliver Vincent," pleads Beau. Meanwhile, Oliver begs his daughter to accept Beau in view of the position he lost in defending him: "With the money your dowry will bring him, he can pay off his creditors and defy the prince. Without it, he can do neither and is utterly ruined," he says. In love with Reginald, Mariana turns her head away and bites her lip in frustration. Intent on obtaining Beau, Horatia proposes an agreement with Mariana: "If you will promise to relinquish Mr Brummel, I will make the prince promise not to cut him, as he has sworn to do publicly today," she says. Mariana is offended and refuses. When Beau asks for Mariana's hand in marriage, she accepts, out of gratitude for her father's sake. To get rid of the bailiffs and unconscious of Horatia's intentions, Beau declares to them: "The prince will be here presently, and I will speak to him." The prince cuts Beau, who is publicly disgraced. He nevertheless holds off the bailiffs with the announcement of his upcoming marriage. But when Reginald confronts Mariana, they discover that Kathleen, faithful to Beau's prospects, failed to deliver each other's letters. When Beau discovers their mutual love, he releases her from her promise. Although Reginald protests in view of the threat from the bailiffs, Beau remains adamant. He is forced to retreat to Calais, out of the world's eye, but is finally saved by the recently crowned king, who forgives him.