By Georges Farquhar
The Beaux’ Stratagem, a five-act comedy was produced and published in 1707. Farquhar finished the play on his deathbed and died on the night of its third performance.
The story concerns Archer and Aimwell, two penniless rakes from London who decide that in order to renew their fortunes one of them must find and wed a wealthy lady. Aimwell therefore courts Dorinda, the daughter of wealthy Lady Bountiful; meanwhile, Archer, who is posing as Aimwell’s servant, and Lady Bountiful’s daughter-in-law, Mrs. Sullen, fall in love. In the course of events, Aimwell and Archer manage to foil a pair of highwaymen and thereby become heroes. Eventually Aimwell inherits the family estate, Mrs. Sullen separates from her brutish drunkard of a husband, and the play ends happily.
In addition to its lively comedy, The Beaux’ Stratagem presents a bold argument for divorce, which is voiced by Mrs. Sullen. Lady Bountiful’s name became a byword for a rich, generous, and somewhat credulous philanthropist.
George Farquhar (1678 -1707) was an Irish playwright who began initially as an actor before abandoning appearing on the stage in order to write for it, which he did in London having moved there. His first play, Love and a Bottle, was well received at London’s Drury Lane Theatre in 1699 and was followed in the same year by The Constant Couple. A sequel to the latter, Sir Harry Wildair, appeared in 1701. Between 1702 and 1704 he wrote The Inconstant (adapted from John Fletcher’s Wild-Goose Chase), The Twin-Rivals, and The Stage-Coach, a farce translated from French.
Farquhar’s real contribution to the English drama came in 1706 with The Recruiting Officer and, in the following year, with The Beaux’ Stratagem, which he finished on his deathbed. In these plays he introduced a verbal vigour and love of character that are more usually associated with Elizabethan dramatists. He also eschewed setting his better known plays in London, preferring to use rural settings which allowed a greater variety of characters.
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