nichollsretirementproject

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.

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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.

 

They freeze, they petrify me!

Earlier in the play, Marlow and Hastings, had discussed Marlow’s disabling diffidence in the company of women of a certain education and standing, but also his outrageously predatory behaviour towards “females of a different class, you know!”  Now he is to be put to the test as Miss Hardcastle, (Kate), comes into the room.

Marlow is in a state of total panic and tries to flee the scene, only to be stopped by Miss Neville, who has arrived with Kate.

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Marlow begs Hastings to remain in the room and not to leave him alone with his intended bride.  He is so painfully shy that he cannot even bring himself to look at Miss Hardcastle’s face.

Hastings at first tries to bolster Marlow’s confidence, telling him that, despite his stuttering, stammering conversation with Kate, “Cicero never spoke better.”

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However, Marlow’s repeated entreaties not to leave the room start to meet some resistance with Hastings, who still has arrangements to make for his elopement with Miss Neville.

MARLOW:  George, sure you won’t go?  How can you leave us?

HASTINGS:  Our presence will but spoil conversation so we’ll retire to the next room.  (He whispers) You don’t consider, man, that we are to manage a little tête-á-tête of our own!

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And so Marlow is left alone with Kate and there follows an achingly painful scene during which he is hardly able to speak a coherent sentence.

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He tries desperately, and fails utterly, to engage Kate in polite small-talk, whilst never actually looking her in the face.

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Eventually he plucks up courage and makes an excuse for hurriedly leaving the room, leaving Kate on stage musing on the extraordinary diffidence of the gentleman whom her father has chosen to be her husband.

Despite Marlow’s strange behaviour, she is not unimpressed.

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MISS HARDCASTLE:  Was there ever such a sober sentimental interview?  I’m certain he scarce looked in my face the whole time.  Yet the fellow, but for his unaccountable bashfulness, is pretty well too. He has good sense, but then so buried in his fears, that it fatigues one more than ignorance.  If I could only teach him a little confidence….”

Kate starts to formulate a plan.

“What unexpected good fortune?”

As Mr Hardcastle hurries off-stage in pursuit of Mr Marlow, who wants to inspect the sleeping arrangements, Hastings is left musing on the strange behaviour of his host, whom he still believes to be an innkeeper.  Imagine his surprise and delight when he is joined on-stage by Miss Neville, known as Constance, the lady whom he had come from London to see and with whom he hopes to elope to France.

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MISS NEVILLE:   My dear Hastings! To what unexpected good fortune, to what accident am I to ascribe this happy meeting?

HASTINGS:   Rather let me ask the same question, as I could never have hoped to meet my dearest Constance at an inn.

MISS NEVILLE:   An inn! Sure you mistake!  My aunt. my guardian, lives here.  What could induce you to think this house an inn?

Hastings explains about the meeting with Tony Lumpkin and the deception that he perpetrated on the two visitors.

MISS NEVILLE:  Certainly it must be one of my hopeful cousin’s tricks of whom you have heard me talk so often.

HASTINGS:  He whom your aunt intends for you.  He of whom I have such apprehensions.

Constance’s ‘fortune’ consists of a small chest of jewels that are in the care of her aunt, Mrs Hardcastle, until such time as she marries.  Mrs Hardcastle is determined that Constance should marry her wastrel son, Tony, thereby keeping the jewels in the family.  Tony has no interest in such a liaison and nor does Constance, but they keep up the pretence of a relationship in order to stay on the right side of Mrs Hardcastle, and, in Constance’s case. to conceal the elopement plan.

Hastings and Constance decide not to undeceive Marlow about the fact that they are, in fact, in Mr Hardcastle’s house , because “the strange reserve of his temper is such that, if abruptly informed of it, he would instantly quit the house before our plan was ripe for execution.”

They have to continue the pretence until fresh horses can be procured to take them to France.

When Marlow reappears, Hastings tells him of their great good fortune in that his intended bride, Miss Hardcastle, accompanied by her cousin, Miss Neville, has just arrived at the inn.  “Miss Hardcastle has just stepped into the next room and will be back in an instant. Wasn’t it lucky, eh?”

All of a sudden, all of Marlow’s neuroses about talking to women of ‘quality’ come flooding back as he prepares to meet the woman who has been chosen to be his wife.

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The scene is set for much merry mayhem at Marlow’s expense.

“Their impudence confounds me!”

Fearing that Mr Hardcastle is about to launch into another of his interminable stories about the Duke of Marborough and the siege of Denain …

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… and still believing  himself to be in the presence of an inn-keeper, Marlow asks what the house has for supper and demands that the cook be called.

When Mr Hardcastle explains, nervously, that Bridget, the cook-maid is not very ‘communicative on these occasions’  and might react to being summoned to the parlour by scolding them all out of the house, Marlow insists on seeing the ‘bill of fare’ for that evening’s supper.

Mr Hardcastle is taken aback by this request.  He has planned an elaborate banquet to welcome Mr Marlow and his father, Sir Charles, to his home but, out of ploiteness to his guests, he agrees to produce the bill of fare.

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He expects the young gentlemen to be impressed with the scale and variety of the supper menu, but as he reads the bill of fare, Mr Marlow fears that the whole feast will appear on his bill at the end of his stay. He mocks Mr Hardcastle for the lavishness of the fare on offer.

The devil, sir, do you think we have brought down the whole Joiners Company or the Corporation of Bedford to eat up such a supper?  Two or three little things, clean and comfortable, will do.”

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Marlow reads out the menu to Hastings, who joins in with the mockery.

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MARLOW:  For the first course, a pig and prune sauce.

HASTINGS:  Damn your pig, say I.

MARLOW:  And damn your prune sauce, say I.  At the bottom, a calf’s tongue and brains.

HASTINGS: Let your brains be knocked out, my good sir, I don’t like them.

MARLOW: Or you may clap them on a plate by themselves, I do.

When Marlow follows up this outrageous behaviour with his insistence on checking that the beds are “properly aired and taken care of”,  Mr Hardcastle is left in a state of total consternation and confusion.

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As he follows Mr Marlow off-stage to go and check the state of the rooms, he sums up his exasperation with the manners of the young gentlemen from London:

This may be modern modesty, but I never saw anything look so much like old-fashioned impudence!”

“Gentlemen, you are heartily welcome!”

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Mr Hardcastle is an old-fashioned, genial host.  “It’s not my way, you see to receive my friends with my back to the fire.  I like to give them a hearty reception in the old style at my gate.”

But the visitors, Mr Marlow and Mr Hastings, believe their host to be a rather talkative and over-familiar inn-keeper and think nothing of talking across him as they discuss the clothes that they intend to wear the following day when they meet their respective ladies.270

At the first opportunity, Mr hardcastle takes the opportunity of launching into one of his favourite stories, about the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene, “When he fought the TUrks at the Battle of Belgrade.”

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The Gentlemen from London are less than impressed.

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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!

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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.

 

 

Servants’ training.

Whether or not Mr Hardcastle is a Yorkshireman is not made explicit in She Stoops to Conquer. What is made clear, however, is that he intends to incur no unnecessary expense in preparing for the impending visit to his house by his old friend, Sir Charles and the two young suitors, Mr Marlow and Mr Hastings.

Act Two starts with Mr Hardcastle, fully bewigged in anticipation of company, trying to make some, albeit limited, progress in the training of his non-too-bright servants.

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“I hope you’re all perfect in the table exercises that I’ve been teaching you these three days.  You all know you posts and your places and can show that you have been used to good company.”

Rather than spending money on employing proper servants, the over-talkative Diggory has been “taken from the barn,”  the shepherd, Ned has been brought off the meadow, Susan, the milkmaid has been brought in from the cowshed and Roger has been “advanced from the plough.”  Much training is necessary.

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Diggory, in particular, takes a deal of training, perhaps because of his propensity, like his master, to divert himself with stories of his days in the militia.

Mr HardcastleNow if I should happen to say a good thing or tell a good story at table, you’re not all to burst out a-laughing, like you made part of the company.

Diggory: Then your worship must not tell the story of Ould Grouse in the gunroom.  We’ve laughed at that these twenty years.

Mr Hardcastle:  Ha, Ha the story is a good one.  Well, honest Diggory, you may laugh at that, but remember to be attentive…”

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The training is cut short as Mr Hardcastle hears a coach pulling in the yard. Mr Marlow and Mr Hastings have arrived and Mr Hardcastle sets off to give them a hearty welcome, in the old fashion,  at his gate.

The scene is now set for much confusion and discomforture for all concerned

 

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