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|Ja and Sheridan's The Critic
Written by JulieW
(8/26/2004 10:45 a.m.)
Goldsmith, as we all know by now, was not adverse to using Shakespearean invention as fact: see the Henry IV entry below)
So , she decides to take Goldsmith on in a similar fashion with her entry for James I:
Sir Walter Raleigh flourished in this & the preceding reign , & is by many people held in great veneration & respect. But as he was an enemy of the noble Essex, I have nothing to say in praise of him, & must refer all those who may wish to be acquainted with the particulars of his Life, to Mr Sheriden’s play of the Critic, where they will find many interesting Anecdotes as well of him as of his friend Sir Christopher Hatton.
Richard Brinsley Sheriden’s play The Critic is in fact a comedy. He was a favourite playwright I think of JA. She appeared as Mrs Candour in a performance of The School for Scandal performed as a private theatrical at Manydown.
The Critic is ,in its turn, a parody of historical drama, and takes the from of a play about a production of a play. The last two acts are concerned with the rehearsals of this historical hodge -podge,written by Mr Puff.
His play within the play( we watch as the actors rehearse) is callled The Spanish Armada.
Here’s is Mr Puff’s justification of his historically inaccurate play:
PUFF:No, no sir; what Shakespeare says of actors may be better applied to the purpose of plays; they ought to be the “abstract and brief chronicles of the times” Therefore when history and particularly the history of our own country , furnishes anything like a case in point , to the time in which an author writes, if he knows his own interest , he will take advantage of it; so , sir, I call my tragedy The Spanish Armanda; and have laid the scene before Tilbury Fort.
Act II,Scene I
Mr Puff’s play is frankly, deliberately idiotic , and has an underplot which bears no relation to the main plot, three women in love with the same man, a principal character who says nothing but merely shakes his head, and a mad scene in which the heroine is “stark mad in white satin”, and her confidante “stark mad in white linen”.
You get the gist.
Indeed, the historical basis for the play is clearly threadbare:
PUFF: ..it is a received point among poets that where history gives you a good heroic outline for a play, you may fill up with a little love at your own discretion; in doing, which , nine times out of ten, you only make up a deficiency in this private history of the times-Now I rather think I have done this with some success.
SNEER: No scandal about Queen Elizabeth , I hope?
Puff : O lud! No, no- I only suppose the Governor of Tilbury Fort’s daughter to be in love with the son of a Spanish Admiral.
SNEER: Is that all?
DANGLE: Excellent ,I’faith – I see it all at once- But wont this appear rather improbable?
PUFF: To be sure, it will-but what the plague! A play is not to shew occurrences that happen every day ,but things just so strange , that thought they never did, they might happen.
Act II, Scene i
Hmm…. Sounds like Sheridan could be writing about historical films made in today’s Hollywood ;-)
You can see why it appeals to JA. She deliberately chooses a nonsensical play to highlight Goldsmiths idiocy in confusing Shakespearean fiction with historical fact. No one in their right minds could confuse Puff’s play with true fact.
For anyone interested in reading the play on line, here is a link to it. Enjoy- especially the final scene, which bears all the hallmarks of an incongruous night out at the Georgian theatre ;-0
[_Flourish of drums, trumpets, cannon, &c., &'c. Scene changes to the sea--the fleets engage--the music plays--"Britons strike home."--Spanish fleet destroyed by fire-ships, &c.--English fleet advances--music plays, "Rule Britannia."--The procession of all the English rivers, and their tributaries, with their emblems, &c., begins with Handel's water music, ends with a chorus to the march in Judas' Maccabaeus.--During this scene,_ PUFF _directs and applauds everything--then_
PUFF: Well, pretty well--but not quite perfect. So, ladies and gentlemen, if you please, we'll rehearse this piece again to-morrow
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