This week, with a little jiggery-pokery, I managed to join the actual Zoom chat rather than emote down a phone, letting me join the Brady Bunch of faces on the screen. Lo and behold, more extravagant wigs had been acquired and more people had introduced backgrounds which meant the people I was looking at were in at Drury Lane or interceding in a Hogarth picture. It was time to put The Clandestine Marriage to bed.
When we lady left it, Sir John and Lord Ogleby both had designs on Fanny but she was already married to Lovewell. Aunt Heidelberg and older sister Betsey were paranoid about elopements and various others were getting drunk in various parts of the house. Lord Ogleby, in his certainty that she loves him tells Lovewell about how attractive Fanny is and he can say no more than argue that her beauty is the least of her attributes, as she’s smart and kind also. Lord Ogleby agrees that this must be the case, as she’s so pretty it couldn’t be otherwise.
Then we come to the last act, the escalation and resolution. Fanny and Lovewell are discussing their problem when the maid Betty comes in, telling them she hears voices. Afraid of being caught together, they decide Betty should be sent out first to ensure there’s no one around.
At this time Heidelberg and Betsey wander down the hall because they’ve heard a man in Fanny’s room and assume him to be Sir John.
Then Brush, Lord Ogleby’s servant comes back with a chambermaid. He’s drunk and trying to talk her into bed but he’s also talking about Betsey and Heidelberg, which of course they hear.
Then Betty comes out, locking the door behind her and the two women grab her. They make lots of noise and call the whole household, complaining of the noise. Their assertion that Sir John must be behind the door is rather scuppered when Sir John appears from the hallway. The door is unlocked and Fanny and Lovewell come out, explain things. After a little reluctance, everyone forgives them for getting married and the play ends.
And it ends very suddenly. At one point there’s a play and the next, there isn’t.
For as long as connections lasted, we had a chat about the play. Why all the older sister hate? It’s true that The Taming of the Shrew has a similar setup of a younger daughter everyone wants to marry and an older nobody wants to. Also, the marriageable age, in novels at least, seems to be very narrow - unless a fortune is attached, there isn’t a wide window between marriageable age and old spinster. In truth, it didn’t quite work like that, Fanny Burney was married late and the average wedding age was 27, it’s more a novelistic convention. Similarly, the dislikable older sister my just have been another of those comic tropes that came naturally to writers at the time.
Which leads to the main question, what was the central joke of the play? Was it laughing at the impoverished court and the wealthy but tastless city-folk? Certainly some of the best jokes in the play were about the vulgar garden full of useless extravagances. (I certainly expected those winding paths to play more of a role in the story). There certainly were jokes about Sterling’s weakness fora healthy bank-balance and his habit of reducing everything to commercial interest - but he was the only character to really act like this. Was the main joke about a group of blustery men wheeling and dealing for a ‘prize’ they couldn’t win?
There were certainly some fun language games being played. Lady Heidelberg had this phonetically stretched speech that showed how she felt she was not ‘wulgur’ and part of the ‘qualaty’, whereas Canton, the Swiss servant had the extremes of his accent written for him. As well as this, there was the lawyer speak, the term ‘burglarious’ (which is both great and a recognised word) and finally, the best term of endearment for anyone in the hygiene industry, ‘my sweet spider brusher’.
However, meeting, even in a disjointed way was such fun that we have decided to perform another play from the Oxford She Stoops to Conquer and other Comedies. This one is called Wild Oats by John O’Keefe. We know absolutely nothing about this one, it should be fun. If you are interested in joining in, drop a line on the Dr Johnson’s Reading Circle on Facebook.