History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Late English 18th
- 1 Richard Brinsley Sheridan
- 2 Oliver Goldsmith
- 3 John O'Keeffe
- 4 Thomas Holcroft
- 5 George Colman the Elder
- 6 Hannah Cowley
- 7 Thomas Morton
Richard Brinsley Sheridan
One of the major figures of late 18th century British comedy is Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816). Best loved comedies of Sheridan include "The rivals" (1775) and "The school for scandal" (1777).
Time: 1770s. Place: Bath, England.
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Lydia Languish is a novel-reader and as a consequence prefers a half-pay ensign than a baronet, which is why Jack, son and heir of Sir Anthony Absolute, courts her under the disguise of Ensign Beverley. Anthony and Mrs Malaprop, Lydia's aunt, wish her to marry Jack, which she, loving Beverley, refuses to do, to her aunt's outrage: "What business have you, miss, with preference and aversion? 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 is in reality 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-" Faulkland asks her neighbor, Bob Acres, about the condition of Julia's mind since last seeing her, 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 his despair, exclaiming: "Fool! fool that I am! to fix all my happiness on such a trifler!" Later, Jack's servant discovers from Lydia's servant 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," he says. Faulkland confronts Julia with Bob's report. "I never can be happy in your absence," she assures him. But, to her sorrow, he doubts her: "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 in tears, he standing all the more tormented. Meanwhile, Jack presents himself as his own person to 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 advises him she has intercepted one of her niece's love-letters addressed by a certain Beverley. To Lydia, Jack continues to present himself as Beverley, revealing that her aunt believes her to be Jack Absolute, to which she responds: "Ha! ha! ha! I can’t forbear laughing to think how her sagacity is overreached." But her aunt overhears her say: "Let her choice be Captain Absolute, but Beverley is mine," to which her aunt retorts: "I am astonished at her assurance!- to his face- this is to his face." She takes her abruptly away. 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 suggests a duel. Bob then asks Jack to carry his challenge to Beverley. At last, 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." 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. Lucius believes Faulkland to be Beverley and encourages him to fight with Bob, which neither wish to do. Lucius is disgusted at Bob, but, in any event, he turns to fight against 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"
Time: 1770s. Place: London, England.
Lady Sneerwell confers with her confidante, Snake, about a plan to attract Charles Surface. She receives a group of persons whose only intention appears to speak ill of acquaintances, family, and friends. Sir Peter Teazle is unhappy about his marriage, blaming their difference in age. He complains of her 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 comfort at Lady Sneerwell's house, where as usual the occupants tear apart many a reputation while playing cards. Lady Teazle surprises Joseph Surface, a man she has designs on for herself, on his knees before the woman he attempts to seduce, 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, an uncle who has often in the past been generous towards 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 reported, he notes many signs of profligacy in his nephew, but yet the rake refuses to sell a picture he owns of his dear uncle, which makes amends for all the rest. Lady Teazle visits Joseph at his house, but, surprised by the arrival of her husband, 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," which the worried Joseph denies in turn 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 own 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 he arrives to them 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 or Stanley, until they discover he is the true Sir Oliver. When Lady Sneerwell is cheated of her designs on Charles by the treacherous Snake, no obstacle remains for Charles to marry Maria.
Another major figure of late 18th century British comedy is 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"
Time: 1770s. Place: England.
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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, they take little notice of the surprised host 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: "Damn your pig, I say," thunders George, "And damn your prune sauce, say I," thunders Charles, or the rest of the meal, then 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: "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 towards her, his usual timidity before the opposite sex. He starts bravely but when George and Constance leave, he falters 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." Tony retorts: "Yes, but curb her never so little, she kicks up, and you're flung in a ditch." Despite such words, George swears: "If you but assist me, I'll engage to whip her off to France, and you shall never hear more of her," which he enthusiastically approves of, seizing her jewels kept in his mother's bureau to facilitate their elopement. Meanwhile, Hardcastle and Kate do not agree 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, so that he suddenly becomes much bolder. They are interrupted by Hardcastle, astounded to find such a man perceived as modest. Meanwhile, George gives Charles the casket of jewels, who in turn hands it over to the person he takes as the landlady for safe keeping, but is 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." The irritated Hardcastle orders him out of his house. Charles is about to when at last Kate informs him where he stands, in his potential father-in-law's house. He is immediately smitten with her, but yet cannot forgo 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 their 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 he 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"
Time: 1760s. Place: England.
Sir William Honeywood is worried about his nephew's good-natured personality, often leading him into dept. 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) is amorous of Miss Richland, a wealthy ward to Croaker, who intends 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 with Olivia instead, who only pretends to be his sister. Despite his father's encouragements, Leontine courts with little enthusiasm Miss Richland, who, discovering the 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 Richland appears, Lofty, who, hearing 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 the marriage. 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." 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 by the visit of two bailiffs. To avoid embarrassment, he gives them money so that they can pretend to be military officers, but 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 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 their marriage. 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 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 of 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 supposed 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, 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 the father to the marriage. Honeywood then informs 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.
Also of interest is "Wild oats" (1791), a comedy by another Irishman, John O'Keeffe (1747-1833).
Time: 1790s. Place: England.
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. He encounters his niece, Amaranth, 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 theatre 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 Jack 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 he is his son long lost by Amelia.
"The road to ruin" (1792) is a particularly successful comedy rendered by Thomas Holcroft (1745-1809).
"The road to ruin"
Time: 1790s. Place: London, England.
Hearing about the debts incurred by his son and junior partner of his business, Harry, from a newspaper article, old Dornton worries about the credit of the firm. Harry arrives with his friend, Milford, the latter afraid that old 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. It has been sent over to Sulky but he has not yet received it. 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 of a previous marriage, Sophia, with whom he flirts on the subject of valentines, telling her of secret ways they may be delivered such as 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. Milford announces a tennis-match and all three rush out to watch it, placing large bets on the winner. At the match, Milford is arrested 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 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, Sulky 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 does not accept him but without excluding any hope. Meanwhile, old Dornton is submerged by Harry's creditors. Incensed he cries out to him: "How dare you introduce this swarm of locusts?" "Despair, sir, is a dauntless hero," Harry answers. But his nonchalant tone alters on understanding at last the consequences of his debts on his father's finances. On his way out, his father 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. 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 she received in the plum-cake. Her mother rudely sends her away. To help out Harry in desperate straits for money, she loans him 6,000 pounds. But on learning of Milford's arrest, he uses the money to pay off his debts. When Dornton learns from Sulky that his son received the loan and proposed marriage, 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 him 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 but that he must pay Silky 50,000 pounds. When Milford tells Sulky this, 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 time as knocking on the main door is heard on the part of the Dorntons, which causes Silky's scheme to fail.
George Colman the Elder
"The jealous wife" (1761) by George Colman the Elder (1732-1794) also ranks among the best comedies of the period.
"The jealous wife"
Time: 1760s. Place: London, England.
Oakley’s jealous wife discovers a letter in which Henry Russet accuses her innocent husband of eloping with his daughter, Harriet, and harasses him 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 thinks 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!” she 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 a Mrs Oakley that Harriet is gone and insinuates that Oakley may be her secret lover. Having no other place to go, Harriet desperately asks 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.
"The belle's stratagem" (1780) is the best comedy written by Hannah Cowley (1743-1809). It is based on ‘La fausse Agnès” (1759) by Destouches.
"The belle's stratagem"
Time: 1780s. Place: England.
After having just met Letitia prior to marrying her as arranged by their parents, Doricourt is not impressed, taking her for a typically dull English girl. His friend, Saville, is surprised at this view. "She should have spirit! Fire! L'air enjoué!" cries Doricourt. "That something, that nothing, which everybody feels and which nobody can describe, in the resistless charmers of Italy and France." On her side, 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, she 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. In a jealous fit, George prevents his friend from seeing her. Caroline and her friend, Miss Ogle, wish her to go along with them. "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," suggests Caroline. George is against such plans and becomes dispirited on seeing his hesitant wife go out with the two women. Exactly as planned, on next seeing her intended, Letitia appears timid and stupid. Doricourt is all the more discouraged, but yet intends to be present at Lady Brilliant's masquerade ball. Meanwhile, Saville's friend, Courtall, intends to woo 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 does not have the heart to repudiate his daughter. Instead, he despondently prepares to meet his marriage doom until he discovers that Letitia is the masked woman he was so struck by, at which point Hardy appears as healthy as ever to congratulate the couple to be married.
A melodrama of note is "Speed the plow" (1798) by Thomas Morton (1764–1838).
"Speed the plow"
Time: 1790s. Place: England.
After an absence of 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 lost almost 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 not to give away his daughter to a man she does not love. An angry Philip informs Henry that Morrington is a cheater, at which he tears up the bond. Oppressed with guilt, Philip reveals to Robert Henry's origin 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?" asks Mrs Ashfield 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 with a large sum of money. When Nelly arrives, she is stunned on seeing her 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 being 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 does not know 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.