Farquhar, George. The Beaux-Stratagem.
In the prefatory "Advertisement", the author apologizes for the faults of the play and at the same time pays tribute to his friend, the actor Robert Wilks, to whom he claims to owe the success of the play.
The short rhymed "Prologue" is spoken by Mr Wilks who denies the play to be a satire, since this genre is incompatible with the age of contentment, and says that it simply laughs at the follies of fools.
The play is set in the small town of Lichfield in the author's present.
Boniface's Inn. Aimwell, a gentleman, and Archer, his supposed footman, lodge in the Inn. They entrust the owner with a box containing two hundred pound. Boniface holds them for highwaymen and plots how to make money on it, using his seductive daughter Cherry to spy on them. The two turn out to be on their way from London where they wasted most of their money on enjoying luxurious lifestyle. Though both of equal status, they apparently alternate in playing a master and his servant in small towns where they are on their search for a wealthy bride. Arch is immediately enchanted by Cherry, though only an inn-keeper's daughter, and starts courting her.
Lady Bountiful's house. Sunday morning. The ladies are preparing themselves for the church. Mrs Sullen discusses with Miss Dorinda, her sister-in-law, her unhappy marriage. Her husband, Dorinda's brother, neglects her and spends his time with drinking, hunting and with his friends. Mrs Sullen designs a plot to arouse her husband's jealousy and make him care for her. What she misses most is entertainment, society and London city life.
Aimwell dresses himself up to attend the holy service which he intends to use as an occasion for meeting his future wealthy wife. Boniface is visited by Gibbet, a highwayman, obviously in complicity with both Boniface and his daughter. Archer continues in courting Cherry who tries to find out about his and his master's secret. She offers Gibbet's hoard for Aimwell's secret and suggests Archer's marrying her, but Archer is afraid that the wife would outlive the money, and the business is not transacted.
Dorinda is enchanted by Aimwell whom she saw in the church. She sends her servant Scrub to inquire and find out who the gentleman is. Scrub befriends with Archer and brings him to the house. Archer is enchanted by Mrs Sullen and vice versa.
Mrs Sullen with Dorinda's help arranges things so as to make her husband overhear a French count courting her. The design however fails to reach the desired effect and both the wife and the husband keep on feeling prisoners in their marriage.
Aimwell pretends a fit of weakness and is brought to the house of Lady Bountiful who is known as a local healer. Under this pretension he gets to Dorinda and courts her, while Archer courts Mrs Sullen. A plot is arranged to hide Archer in Mrs Sullen's room in the night.
Night. Archer and Mrs Sullen's courting in the absence of Mr Sullen is interrupted by a robbery. Gibbet and his companions break into the house. Archer saves the ladies and together with Aimwell they manage to close the robbers in a cellar.
Aimwell intends to make the best out of his heroic deed and as a priest for the French officers is present, he presses Dorinda to marry him immediately. However, moved by his conscience, he confesses her that he pretended to be a gentleman of wealth, claiming his brother's title for his own, in order to be able to marry her. Dorinda is moved by his sincere confession.
Sir Charles Freeman, Mrs Sullen's brother who has come to deliver his suffering sister from her intolerable husband, enters with the news that Aimwell's brother has died and Aimwell now has the right for his title and wealth. With universal blessings, Aimwell and Dorinda are immediately married, while Mrs and Mr Sullen are separated.
The rhymed "Epilogue" once again reflects at the mistakes of the play and asks the audience for a kind judgement or at least pity for the author who wrote the piece on his deathbed.
A Restoration comedy. Uses stock types, a stage crowded with many characters, and the subject of love, matrimony and/or sexual escapades. The title comes from the play's central characters, Aimwell and Archer, beaux or fops, i.e. stock characters posing to be perceived as aristocrats.
A light-hearted and amusing play, based on conversational wit. The first two acts consist of technically static scenes, in which the characters reveal some of their motives and begin weaving their plots and petty manoeuvres. The last three acts are a series of speedy surprising revelations and physical action (the robbery). Deals with deceit, pretension and the social issues of status, money, and marriage and their interdependence.
Pokes fun at society as a whole, men as well as women, masters as well as their servants. Renders characters neither as fools nor as villains, but rather as clever people who can make use of their wits. The characters are treated sympathetically, perhaps with the exception of the Irishman Mackshane in the disguise of the Frenchman Foigard, who is generally disagreeable, liked by nobody but Lady Bountiful's servant Gypsy.
Satirizes society but does not make explicit moral judgements. Concludes with all the characters getting what they wanted, not what they would deserve from a moralistic point of view. Critically touches on the contemporary problem of women's dependent status in marriage, but easily resolves the problem in fictional terms with staging an unofficial divorce between the incompatible husband and wife.
AuthorFarquhar, George. (1677/1678 - 1707). Irish.
Full TitleThe Beaux-Stratagem.
First PerformedLondon: Theatre Royal, 1707.
Farquhar, George. The Beaux-Stratagem. (1707). New York: BiblioBazaar, 2008.