A well-looking house, antique but creditable.
After a long and tedious journey by stagecoach from London, Mr Marlow and Mr Hastings arrive at Squire Hardcastle’s house. Mr Marlow has come to court Miss Hardcastle, at his father’s insistence, whilst Mr Hastings has come to see his sweetheart, Constance, in the hope that he can persuade her to elope with him to France.
Thanks to Tony Lumpkin’s misinformation and mischief, they believe the house to be an inn and, when he finally makes an appearance, they take Mr Hardcastle for the inn-keeper.
As if that were not bad enough, they immediately make themselves at home and “take possession” of Mr Hardcastle’s favourite armchair by the fireside! Outrageous!
They discuss Mr Marlow unaccountable bashfulness when “in the company of women of reputation” Marlow explains that his life has mainly been spent in a college or an inn, “in seclusion from that lovely part of creation that chiefly teach men confidence.”
In order to explain his disabling shyness when confronted with ladies of ‘quality‘ and to excuse his predatory behaviour towards women of an inferior social class, he goes on: “I don’t know that I was ever familiarly acquainted with a single modest woman, apart from my mother, But among females of another class you know…”
(Editor’s note: seen through modern eyes, Marlow is little short of a monster. He’s a class-ridden, potential rapist who has no thoughts of the impact of his actions on anyone but himself. During the rehearsals, I pointed out to Marlow that if, in real life, he were to have shown any interest in my daughter, I would cheerfully have stabbed him! Georgian England was clearly a different time with different mores, though some might argue that not much has changed. But, hey, it’s post-restoration comedy not gritty social realism.)
Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of their genial host.