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Archive for the month “September, 2017”

The last scene of all your contrivances.

The more I got to know this play, the more I was convinced that Act 5 rather sneaked up on the author, Oliver Goldsmith.  It seemed to me that he reached the fifth act with all his plots lines and sub-plots neatly woven into a multi-coloured cloak of confusion, misunderstanding, social satire and general good-natured mayhem and then realised that it was time to bring it all to an end, so that his audiences could make their way through the darkened streets of London before midnight.

So… back to the story.

Kate Hardcastle has promised Sir Charles that if he and her papa should conceal themselves behind a screen, they would see for themselves the ardour of Marlow’s love for her.  When the play was originally produced in 1773, there was obviously plenty of room for a screen in Hardcastle’s drawing room.

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The Brighton Little Theatre had to think of a more creative and space saving place for the two old gentlemen to hide themselves while they eves-dropped on the conversation between Marlow and Kate.

So as Marlow professes his undying devotion to Kate…

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… the portrait of the two old friends that has hung at the back of the stage since the beginning of the play suddenly opens to reveal the two astonished listeners.

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To compound poor Marlow’s embarrassment, Hardcastle and Sir Charles come on stage to seek further explanations and to bring matters to a head. Sir Charles is mightily confused.

SIR CHARLES: (to his son Marlow) Charles, how hast thou deceived me! Is this your indifference, your uninteresting conversation.

HARDCASTLE:  What have you to say now?

MARLOWThat I’m all amazement!  What can it mean?

HARDCASTLE: It means that you can say and unsay things at pleasure.  That you can address a lady in private and deny it in public. That you have one story for us and another for my daughter.

MARLOW: Daughter! This lady your daughter!

HARDCASTLE:  Yes, sir, my only daughter.  My Kate, whose else should she be?

And so with the firm smack of dramatic irony ringing in our ears, Marlow is made aware of what we, the audience, have know for a long while.  He has been the well-deserved victim of the tissue of deceit spread out before him by the infinitely wily and irresistibly manipulative Kate Hardcastle.

Enter Mrs Hardcastle with her long-suffering son, Tony.  She is furious that her niece Miss Neville has eloped with Hastings but consoles herself that, at least, Miss Neville’s jewels are safe and will remain in the family.

Mr Hardcastle seeks to instruct his wife on the finer points of the contract under which Mrs Hardcastle has charge of the jewels.

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HARDCASTLE: But you know if your son, when of age, refuses to marry his cousin, her whole fortune is then at her own disposal.

MRS HARDCASTLE Ay, but he’s not of age, and she has not thought proper to wait for his refusal.

At this point, to Mrs Hardcastle’s consternation, Miss Neville and Hastings appear from the garden. Miss Neville has had a last-minute rethink about the wisdom of eloping with Hastings and leaving her fortune behind.

MISS NEVILLE:  In an hour of levity, I was ready even to give up my fortune to secure my choice.  But I’m now recovered from the delusion.

Much as she loves Hastings, she hasn’t altogether forgotten that being in possession of a considerable fortune is no bad thing either.

Hardcastle is delighted to see her back and calls Tony forward to launch the final twist in the plot.

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HARDCASTLE: Come hither, Tony boy! Do you refuse this lady’s hand which I now offer you.

LUMPKIN:  What signifies my refusing? You know I can’t refuse her till I’m of age, father.

HARDCASTLE:  While I thought that concealing your age, boy, would conduce to your improvement, I concurred with your mother’s desire to keep it secret.  But since I find that she turns it to a bad use, I must now declare, you have been of age these three months.

Tony is delighted with the news. The last thing he wants is to be tied in virtuous matrimony to his cousin, Constance.  He still has his sights set on the lovely Bet Bouncer.

LUMPKIN:  Of age! Am I of age father?  Then you’ll see the first use I make of my liberty. (taking Miss Neville’s hand) Witness all men by these presents, that I, Anthony Lumpkin, Esquire, of blank place, refuse you, Constantia Neville, spinster, of no place at all, for my true and lawful wife.  So Constance Neville can marry whom she pleases and Tony Lumpkin is his own man again.

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All that remains is for Kate and Marlow to be brought together for the inevitable happy ending to become a reality. And so it falls to Mr Hardcastle to give his blessing to the union of his darling daughter and the arrogant, bullying, lascivious, deceitful, predatory, money-driven and class-ridden snob that is Mr Marlow.

But, hey, a man has got to get his daughter married off somehow, doesn’t he?  Otherwise, she’ll be on the payroll for ever!

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MR HARDCASTLE:  Mr Marlow, if she makes as good a wife as she has a daughter, I don’t believe you’ll ever repent your bargain… So, boy, take her, and, as you have been mistaken in the mistress, my wish is that you may never be mistaken in the wife.

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ENDS

 

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“I’m mistaken or I heard voices of people in want of help!”

Mr Hardcastle is taking an evening stroll in his garden and surprised to discover Tony in a state of some agitation. Tony tries to convince him that he has already returned from Aunt Pedigree’s house.

MR HARDCASTLE:  Forty miles in three hours.  Sure that’s too much, my youngster!

LUMPKIN:  Stout horse and willing minds make short journeys, as they say.

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Mr Hardcastle thought that he had heard voices in the garden and that it sounded as if someone was in need of help.  He was keen to know whose voices they were.  Tony tried to convince his step-father that the voices he had heard were just Tony talking to himself but the old man is sceptical.

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Hardcastle knew better than to trust Tony and his disbelief was confirmed when Mrs Hardcastle, blinded by fear and believing that the ‘highwayman’ was about to murder her son, breaks cover and throws herself at the feet of her bewildered husband.

MRS HARDCASTLE:  Take compassion on us, Mr Highwayman. Take our money, our watches, all we have but spare our lives.  We will never bring you to justice, indeed we won’t, good Mr Highwayman.

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HARDCASTLE:  I believe the woman’s out of her senses.  What, Dorothy, don’t you know me?

Mr Hardcastle helps his terrified wife to her feet and reassures her that she is safely back in her own garden.

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They then realise what Tony has done and that he has been responsible for all of the terrors of the night, at which point Tony has to make a hasty exit from the garden, pursued by his furious mother intent on retribution.

Mr Hardcastle, still bemused about what on earth has been going on, follows them off-stage.

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And so the play reaches its final scene and its denouement.  Will all be resolved at the end?  Will Hastings elope with Constance?  Will Kate and Marlow be reconciled? Will Tony be forced to marry his cousin and forsake the lovely Bet Bouncer?  What will happen to Constance’s fortune? Will there be a happy ending?

Hey, this is Restoration Comedy.  What do you think?

 

By my guess, we should be upon Crackskull Common!

The scene shifts to the bottom of Mr Hardcastle ample garden.  We know that we are at the bottom of the garden because there is a tree on the stage.  The fact that the table, Mr Hardcastle’s chair and the bench-cum-settee, which have featured in every scene so far,  are still on stage, reminds us that we are indeed in Brighton Little Theatre, and there is literally nowhere to hide the furniture.  So we have to rely on an expertly held tree and a change of lighting to transform Mr Hardcastle’s drawing room into the bottom of his garden at night.

Well, theatre is all about suspending disbelief, isn’t it?

Back to the story.  Hastings has been waiting at the bottom of the garden for Tony Lumpkin to bring him fresh horses so that he can complete his elopement to France with Miss Neville.

Unfortunately, Mrs Hardcastle has discovered the plot and has forced Tony to accompany her and Miss Neville to the dreaded Aunt Pedigee’s house forty miles away.

The wily Tony, however, in order to exact revenge on his mother, has led her carriage through the night on a long and tortuous journey, only to bring her and Miss Neville back to the place they started from.  As he explains to Hastings:-

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TONY:  You shall hear. I first took them down Feather Bed Lane, where we stuck fast in  the mud. I then rattled them over the stones of Up-and Down Hill. I then introduced them to the gibbet on Heavy Tree Heath, and from that, with a circumbendibus, I fairly lodged them in the horsepond at the bottom of the garden.

The hapless Mrs Hardcastle believes herself to be hopelessly lost and is very scared.

Tony, for his part, does nothing to allay her fears and relishes the opportunity of terrifying her even further.

MRS HARDCASTLE:  Whereabouts do you think we are, Tony?

LUMPKIN:  By my guess we should be upon Crackskull Common, about forty miles from home.

MRS HARDCASTLE:  O lud! O lud! The most notorious spot in all the country. We only want a robbery to make a complete night on’t.

LUMPKIN:  Don’t be afraid Mama, Two of the five that kept here are hanged and the other three  may not find us.

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At this point, Tony becomes aware of Mr Hardcastle who is out for his evening stroll around the grounds.  If Mrs Hardcastle should see him, Tony’s secret will be out, so he heaps yet more confusion upon the terrified woman.

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MRS HARDCASTLE:  I see a man coming towards us.  If he perceives us, we are undone!

LUMPKIN:  (Aside)  Father, by all that’s unlucky, come to take one of his night walks.      (To her)  Ah!  It’s a highwayman, with pistols as long as my arm.  A damned ill looking fellow…. Do you hide yourself in that thicket and leave me to manage him.

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Mrs Hardcastle hides herself behind the impressive stage tree and awaits her fate!

 

It’ll all work out in the end,

Act 5 opens with Mr Hardcastle welcoming his wealthy old friend Sir Charles, the father of the hapless Marlow.  the two friends discuss the various  ‘mistakes of the night’ and Marlow’s extraordinary behaviour towards his intended father-in-law.

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The two old friends laugh about Marlow’s tribulations, although Sir Charles is still doubtful that his son, whom he knows to be painfully shy in social situations with higher class women, could have behaved so badly.

Marlow comes in to offer his apologies to the gentleman whom he has treated as an inn-keeper.  Mr Hardcastle, generously benevolent as ever, tries to laugh him out of his discomforture, insisting that he was aware that it had all been a misunderstanding and that he felt no ill-will towards the young man.

MARLOW:  I come, sir, once more to ask for your pardon for my strange conduct.  I can scarce reflect on my insolence without confusion.

MR HARDCASTLE:  Tut, boy, a trifle.  You take it too gravely. An hour or two’s laughing with my daughter will set it all to rights again. She’ll never like you the worse for it.

Marlow is unconvinced and is determined to leave the house in which he has ‘suffered so many mortifications’.

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When Kate comes into the room Sir Charles, still puzzled over his son’s unaccustomed demeanour in his dealing with women, questions her on his behaviour towards her.

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SIR CHARLES: And how did he behave, madam?

MISS HARDCASTLE:  As most professed admirers do.  Said some civil things of my face, talked much of his want of merit and the greatness of mine, mentioned his heart, gave a short tragedy speech and ended with pretended rapture.

Sir Charles is incredulous.  He can’t believe his son capable of such forward behaviour, so Kate is obliged to set up another twist in the plot as it moves towards its inevitable resolution.

MISS HARDCASTLE:  Then what, sir, if I should convince you to your face of my sincerity?  If you and my papa, in about half an hour, will place yourselves behind that screen, you shall hear him declare his passion to me in person.

(Director’s note:  This line presented our director with a problem.  The Brighton Little Theatre is a little theatre! It seats a maximum of 71 in the audience  The stage is also tiny and every inch has to be used just to get the actors around the set.  The space behind the set is so narrow that it is impossible for two actors to pass in opposite directions at the same time as they make their way to make their various entrances.

So, on stage there certainly wasn’t room for any kind of screen behind which to conceal Sir Charles and Mr Hardcastle.  A creative solution had to be found.)

“I can read the outside of my letters well enough”

Hastings has gone to prepare the carriage for his elopement with Constance, but finds that the horses that Tony Lumpkin has promised him have not arrived.

In the meantime, Constance continues the pretence  of affection for her cousin, Tony, in the hope of throwing her aunt, Mrs Hardcastle, off the scent. Mrs Hardcastle must not discover the plans for the elopement!

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Mrs Hardcastle is delighted to think that Constance and Tony are getting on well, suggesting that, if they should marry, Constance’s fortune will remain in the family.

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Meanwhile, Hastings, in his frustration, sends a note to Tony asking for the horses to be sent forthwith so that he and Constance can make their escape.  Unfortunately, Tony, though a grown man, has not yet mastered the art of reading…..

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Constance, knowing that the letter is from Hastings, tries in vain to distract her aunt, but Tony insists that his mother reads the letter to him.

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What she reads does not please her.

MRS HARDCASTLE:  How’s this? (Reads) ‘Dear Squire, I’m now waiting for Miss Neville, with a post-chaise and pair at the bottom of the garden, but I find my horses yet unable to perform the journey.  I expect you’ll assist us with a fresh pair of horses, as you promised. Dispatch is necessary, as the hag’ – (ay the hag), your mother, will otherwise suspect us, Yours, Hastings’  Grant me patience. I shall run distracted.  My rage chokes me.

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Mrs Hardcastle resolves to thwart her niece’s plan and calls for a carriage to take her to her ‘old Aunt Pedigree, who will keep you secure, I’ll warrant me!‘ The dreaded Aunt Pedigree lives some forty miles away.

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MISS NEVILLE:  So now I’m completely ruined.

Tony is commanded to saddle his horse and accompany  Miss Hardcastle and Constance to Aunt Pedigree’s house.

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All seems lost for Hastings and Constance, until Tony, concerned as ever to extricate himself from any sort of liaison with Constance and be free to pursue the lovely ‘Bet Bouncer of these parts‘, has a bright idea!

Act 5 beckons.

 

Sure I have not mistaken the house!

So, as the audience files back in after the interval, Act 4 starts.

Having received the casket of jewels that Tony Lumpkin has stolen from his mother’s bureau, Hastings confides in his beloved Constance that he has sent the ‘baubles’ to Marlow for safekeeping, while he arranges for fresh horses to be brought. The elopement is due to take place that very evening.

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Enter Marlow who berates Hastings for being so careless with the casket of jewels. He popints out that the only safe place where he could keep such a precious treasure would have been under the seat of the post-coach that had brought them to the inn.  Since he didn’t consider that a very safe place, he had given the jewels to the landlady, i.e. Mrs Hardcastle, and asked her to keep them safe!

Hastings is horrified that his plan to elope with Constance and her fortune have been thwarted, but tries to conceal his consternation from his friend.

MARLOW:  Wasn’t I right?  I believe you’ll allow I acted prudently on this occasion?

HASTINGS:  (Aside)  He must not see my uneasiness.

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MARLOW:  You seem a little disconcerted though, methinks.  Sure nothing has happened?

HASTINGS:   No, nothing.  Never was in better spirits.  (Aside)  So now all my hopes of fortune are at an end and we must set off without it.

While Marlow is musing on his friend’s strange behaviour, Mr Hardcastle enters the room.  He has finally lost all patience with Marlow’s outrageous behaviour and resolves to turn him out of the house that very evening. In addition to his haughty manner and  his inappropriate advances towards Kate, Marlow, not being a drinker, has ordered his servants to “drink freely and call for what you thought fit for the good of the house.”  As a result, they have all got uproariously drunk.

HARDCASTLEHe’ll drive me distracted if I contain myself any longer.  Mr Marlow, Sir.  I have submitted to your insolence for more than four hours and I see no likelihood of its coming to an end.  I’m now resolved to be master here and I desire that you, and your drunken pack my leave my house directly”

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Marlow protests that, as a paying guest at the inn, the house belongs to him as long as he chooses to stay.  “What right have you to bid me leave this house, sir? I never met with such impudence, curse me, never in my whole life before.”

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This throws Hardcastle into an ever greater rage, during which he reveals that Marlow’s father, Sir Charles is expected at the house that very evening, “ and shall hear more of it!”

Hardcastle storms off leaving Marlow covered in confusion.

Marlow slowly starts to realise his mistake and asks Kate, still disguised as a maid, if she was indeed the barmaid of the inn.

MISS HARDCASTLE:  Inn?  O law, what brought that into your head?  One of the best families in the county keep an inn!  Ha ha, old Mr Hardcastle’s house an inn!

MARLOW:  O, confound my stupid head.  I shall be laughed at all over town.  I shall be stuck up in caricatura in all the print-shops.  The Dullissimo Maccaroni.  To mistake this house of all others for an inn and my father’s old friend for an innkeeper!  What a swaggering puppy must he take me for!

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To add insult to injury, he realises that he has been treating Kate as a barmaid, rather than as the poor relation of the family that she now purports to be.  (She still doesn’t reveal that she is the daughter of the house, i.e. the women he has travelled up from London to meet.)

He resolves to leave the house forthwith, even though, as he confesses, he is developing tender feelings towards Kate.  She feigns tears at his decision to leave, but as he explains,

MARLOW:  Your partiality in my favour, my dear, touches me most sensibly, and were I to live for myself alone, I could easily fix my choice.  But I owe too much to the opinion of the world, too much to the authority of a father, so that, – I can scarcely speak it – it affects me.  Farewell.  He leaves the room.

Kate has now seen the softer side of Marlow’s character and is much impressed.

MISS HARDCASTLE:  I never knew half his merit till now.  He shall not go.  If I have power or art to detain him, I’ll still preserve the character in which I stooped to conquer but will undeceive my papa, who, perhaps, may laugh him out of his resolution.

The path of true love proceeds along its way with only a couple more twists and turns to negotiate.

 

The true bar cant.

As part of her plan to tease the desperately shy Mr Marlow, and perhaps laugh him out of his reservedness, Kate decides to dress like a bar-maid and to see if that encourages Marlow to at least talk to her.  She enlists the aid of the wonderfully named Pimple, the maid, to help her disguise her voice and adopt a less refined accent.

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The lesson has hardly started when Marlow enters. He cannot understand everyone’s strange behaviour in this house, which he still believes to be an inn.

MARLOW: What a bawling in every part of the house. I have at last got a moment to myself and now for reflection. (He walks and muses)

Kate, playing the role of a servant, asks Marlow, persistently,  if he had called for her. At first he ignores her and tries to get her to leave him alone. However, as soon as he takes a proper look at her, his attitude changes.

MISS HARDCASTLE: Did you call, sir? Did your honour call?

MARLOW: No, no, I tell you. (Looks full in her face).  Yes, child, I think I did call. I wanted – I wanted – I vow child, you are vastly handsome.

Now that he thinks Kate to be a woman of low standing, all Marlow’s inhibitions disappear and he sets about a very unsubtle seduction.

Indeed, looked at though a 21st century lens, Marlow is a sexual predator whose behaviour is outrageous. He would, quite rightly, find himself on a charge for attempted rape, but this is a comedy of errors in Georgian England so perhaps we need to don our eighteenth century lenses.

The scene ends, just in time, with Mr Hardcastle coming on stage to find Marlow forcing his attentions  on Kate.

In true patriarchal fashion, Mr Hardcastle allows Marlow to flee the scene and then berates his daughter for having deceived him when she told him about Marlow’s halting, stammering behaviour during their previous encounter. Kate, unruffled by Marlow’s advances, asks for one night to convince her father of her suitor’s ‘modesty’ and good character.

HARDCASTLE: You shall not have half the time, for I have thoughts of turning him out this very hour.

MISS HARDCASTLE: Give me that hour then and I hope to satisfy you.

HARDCASTLE: Well, an hour let it be then. But I’ll have no trifling with your father. All fair and open, do you mind me.

I’ll bear witness to that!

Unaware that Tony has already stolen the jewels for her, Constance is trying to talk Mrs Hardcastle into letting her borrow them.  She says that she wants to wear them for a day in order to impress Mr Hastings, but Mrs Hardcastle has no intention of letting her have them, not even for a day.  Constance is much vexed by her aunt’s excuses for not making the jewels available.

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MRS HARDCASTLLE:  Indeed, Constance, you amaze me.  Such a girl as you want jewels?  It will be time enough for jewels, my dear, twenty years hence when your beauty begins to want repairs.

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In order to compound his mischief, Tony suggests to his mother that she tells Constance that the jewels are “lost and not to be found“.  Mrs Hardcastle readily goes along with this plan.

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Tony promises to back up Mrs Hardcastle’s story that her bureau has been broken into and that the jewels have disappeared.

MRS HARDCASTLE:  So, if I say they are gone, you’ll bear me witness, will you? He! He! He!

TONY:  Never fear me. Ecod! I’ll say I saw them taken out with my own eyes!

Constance is much vexed to hear that her jewels have disappeared, but Mrs Hardcastle tells her that she should not over-react.

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MRS HARDCASTLE:  You must learn resignation, my dear, for though we lose our fortune, yet we should not lose our patience.  See how calm I am.

MISS NEVILLE:   Ay, people are generally calm at the misfortune of others.

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Mrs Hardcastle offers to provide some garnets for Constance to wear in the place of the ‘missing’ jewels.

MRS HARDCASTLE:  The most becoming things in the world to set off a clear complexion.  You have often seen how well they look on me,  You shall have them.

Constance hates garnets but her aunt insists and goes off to fetch the inferior baubles.

While she is away, Tony take the opportunity of letting Constance into the secret that the jewels are already hers and that he has stolen them and given them to Hastings.

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Mrs Hardcastle storms back into the room in a blind panic.  She has found that her bureau has, indeed, been broken into and that the jewels are, indeed, missing.

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Tony insists on keeping up the pretence that the whole story is made up and that it is his job to bear witness to the truth.  His mother tries in vain to explain to him that the jewels really have disappeared  and Tony revels in the confusion raining down on his mother.

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MRS HARDCATLE:  Was there ever such a blockhead that can’t tell the difference between jest and earnest.  I tell you I am not in jest, booby.

TONY:  That’s right, that’s right.  You must be in a bitter passion, and then nobody will suspect either of us.  I’ll bear witness to that they are gone.

In exasperation, Mrs Hardcastle falls back on her traditional parenting skills in the hope of beating some sense into her errant son.

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“The most impudent piece of brass!”

Mr Hardcastle has a very different impression of his visitor, Mr Marlow, than does his daughter, Kate.

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HARDCASTLE:   He’s taken possession of my easy chair by the fireside.

As Mr Hardcastle complains, in an aside to the audience, about Marlow’s overbearing behaviour, his soliloquy is interrupted by Kate who has changed out of her finery to please her father.  From their conversation it would seem that they had both encountered a different person in Mr Marlow.

MISS HARDCASTLE:  He met me with a respectful bow, a stammering voice and a look fixed on the ground.

HARDCASTLE:  He met me with a loud voice, a lordly air and a familiarity that made my blood freeze.

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They agree that one of them must be mistaken but resolve to “go on to make further discoveries.”

As they leave the stage, Tony rushes on with a casket of jewels that he has liberated from his mother’s bureau.  These jewels are the fortune left to Constance Neville by her late father, The India Director, but entrusted to Mrs Hardcastle until such time as Constance should marry. Tony has stolen them in order to give them to Hastings so that he might take Constance away to France and out of his life.

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TONY LUMPKIN:  Ecod! I have got them!  My Cousin Con’s necklaces, bobs and all.

 

Looks like a lad of spirit!

Since the horses that brought him from London are fatigued, Hastings needs to enlist Tony Lumpkin’s help to acquire fresh horses and secure his escape with Miss Neville to France, where they can be married. Before he can do that, however, he ingratiates himself with Mrs Hardcastle, in order to be in a position to approach her son, Tony.

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Since Mrs Hardcastle is hopelessly vain, this is not a difficult task. As she fishes for compliments about her new and very elaborate wig, Hastings sees his chance.

MRS HARDCASTLE:   Pray, how do you like this head, Mr Hastings?

HASTINGSExtremely elegant and dégagée, upon my word, Madam.  Your friseur is a Frenchman, I suppose?

MRS HARDCASTLE:  I protest I dressed it myself from a print in the Ladies Memorandum Book for the last year.

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The flattery continues.

MRS HARDCASTLE:  Pray, Mr Hastings, what do you take to be the most fashionable age about town?

HASTINGS:   Some time ago, forty was all the mode, but I’m told the ladies intend to bring up fifty for the ensuing winter.

MRS HARDCASTLESeriously.  Then I shall be too young for the fashion!

Tony Lumpkin, meanwhile is still looking for a way to extricate himself from his forced engagement to his cousin, which Mrs Hardcastle has engineered.  He has no desire nor intention of marrying Constance (Miss Neville), despite her considerable fortune in jewels.  He has his sights set on one ‘Bet Bouncer of these parts’, who, we learn, has ‘two eyes as black as sloes and cheeks as broad and red as pulpit cushions.’

After another outburst of unmannerly behaviour on Tony’s part, Mrs Hardcastle is forced to demonstrate some of the parenting skills that have made Tony the man he is today.

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Mr Marlow offers to intercede on her behalf with her wayward son.

HASTINGSDear madam, permit me to lecture the young gentleman a little.  I’m certain I can persuade him to his duty.

Mrs Hardcastle leaves him to it.

Left alone with Tony, Hastings makes the young man an offer he can’t refuse.  He offers to take Miss Neville away and leave him to his dear Betsy. Tony can’t believe his luck and not only agrees to provide a pair of fresh horses for Hastings, but offers to try and secure part of Constance’s fortune into the bargain

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The plot continues to thicken.

 

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