The Beaux' Stratagem
by George Farquhar

George Farquhar - The Beaux' Stratagem

BBC Radio: Third Programme

Broadcast: Friday 29th September 1961

The plot of "The Beaux' Stratagem" is reasonably simple for this sort of comedy. The main male parts are two fashionable beaux, on the lookout for a heiress to marry so they can repair their fortunes. Aimwell and Archer are taking it in turns to be the fashionable gentleman, the other being the gentleman's servant. When they arrive in Lichfield, Aimwell is the gentleman, and his insinuates himself into friendship with the beautiful Dorinda, daughter of Lady Bountiful (the origin of the expression). Meanwhile, Archer strikes up an extremely worldly friendship with Dorinda's sister-in-law. She's married to Sullen, the country squire parody in this play, mad for hunting and eating and (especially) drinking.

While Aimwell and Dorinda continue their inexorable approach to an engagement at the end of the play, in accordance with the rules of the genre - young lovers always marry in the end, to live happily ever after - Farquhar uses Mrs Sullen to criticise this facile outcome. She, originally rich in her own right, is trapped in a loveless marriage to a man she despises, who keeps her from the town-based society she adores, by a legal system which does not allow divorce for incompatibility, and in which divorce would leave her disgraced and in absolute poverty (as her property passed absolutely to her husband when they married). The dark side to the play produced by this theme threatens to overwhelm the rest of it, and Farquhar has to resort to a deus ex machina character and an arbitrary adjustment to English law to get out of the hole he has dug for himself. Noticeably, even when her separation from Sullen seems an accomplished fact, the possibility of marriage never seems to cross either her or Archer's mind.

The action of the play falls between a Saturday midnight and a Monday's dawn in the year 1707, and at Litchfield in Staffordshire.

Adapted and produced by Raymond Raikes from George Farquhar's play, "The Beaux' Stratagem ", first performed on Saturday 8th March 1707.

With Pauline Jameson [Mrs. Sullen, Lady Bountiful's Daughter-in law], John Humphrey [Frank Archer, a Gentleman of Broken Fortunes acting as Servant], Wendy Craig [Dorinda, Lady Bountiful's Daughter], John Graham [Tom Aimwell, a Gentleman of Broken Fortunes acting as Master], Hamlyn Benson [Old Will Boniface, Landlord of the Inn], Barbara Mitchell [Cherry Boniface, the Landlord's Daughter], George Hagan [Squire Sullen, a Country Blockhead and Dorinda's Brother], Hugh Dickson [Scrub, Squire Sullen's Servant], William Eedle [Mr. Gibbet, a Highwayman], Gudrun Ure [Gipsy, Mrs. Sullen's Maid], Gladys Spencer [A Countrywoman], June Tobin [Lady Bountiful, Squire Sullen's Mother], Philip Leaver [Sir Charles Freeman, Mr. Sullen's Brother-in-Law from London], Stanley Lebor [Hounslow, Companion of Mr. Gibbet], and Haydn Jones [Bagshot, Companion of Mr. Gibbet].

Music was specially composed by Stephen Dodgson and played by the Sinfonia of London conducted by John Hollingsworth.

Re-broadcast on Wednesday 18th October 1961.

90 min.



GEORGE FARQUHAR was born in Londonderry, Ireland, in 1677 or 1678. Little is known of his early years beyond the fact that he went to school in his native town and entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1694. He remained there about a year. Not long after he made the acquaintance of the actor Robert Wilks, through whom he obtained a position on the Dublin stage, where he acted many parts during 1696. He accidentally wounded an actor and left the stage, having decided to write plays. He went to London that or the following year. "Love and a Bottle", his first comedy, was produced at Drury Lane in 1698, and enjoyed a fair degree of popularity. It is interesting to know that soon after his arrival he discovered Nance Oldfield and with Vanbrugh's help, secured her a place with Rich. Farquhar's next play brought him a certain fame. This was "The Constant Couple", produced in 1699. The next year found him in Holland, probably for his health. "Sir Harry Wildair", his next play, was produced in1701. "The Inconstant" and "The Twin Rivals" belong to the year 1702. Later in the same year Farquhar published a little collection of miscellaneous prose and verse, in which he included his "Discourse upon Comedy". He was married probably the next year. He spent the following three in recruiting for the army, though he collaborated with Motteux in an adaptation from the French, called "The Stage Coach" (1704). Two years later "The Recruiting Officer" was performed at Drury Lane. Though it was successful, Farquhar was harassed with debts and was forced to sell a commission which he held. During an illness in 1707 he wrote "The Beaux Stratagem". He died a few weeks after the first performance.

Farquhar's importance as a dramatist consists in his having combined many of the elements of the comedy of his time and evolving them into a form which was later developed by Goldsmith and Sheridan. One of the dire results of Collier's attack on the stage was the conversion of Farquhar. "The Twin Rivals" (1702) and its Preface constitute Farquhar's reply to Collier; the play, in the author's words, sets out to prove that "an English comedy may answer the strictness of poetical justice." This was precisely the "poetical justice" which Addison attacked in the Spectator, the conventional reward of the virtue and punishment of vice. "The Discourse" published the same year contains a defense of the drama against Collier and his followers, but in general, it is merely a light essay, anti-classic in its rejection of the Unities.


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