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.
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.