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|Mirror or painting?
Written by Elena
(3/10/2007 2:16 a.m.)
How far is the comedy (this particular comedy, I actually meant, but perhaps any comedy) from real life? For all its funny situations, The Rivals seem to be true to contemporary life. I was struck with Ann Monsarrat's opinion that romantic love run amok then:
Clandestine marriages became an absurd society cult during the 18th century. ... If it could be so arranged that the wedding took place in the midst of a whirling house-party, with only the parson and a couple of witnesses in the know, this was very stylish indeed. (One of the most furtive ceremonies of all took place while 500 guests were celebrating the bridegroom's 21st birthday in another part of the house, unaware that there was any additional cause for congratulations.) If the marriage could then be kept secret for several days, or even months, the very pinnacle of bon ton was achieved. It is difficult to find the cause for such curious behaviour, unless the pseudo-discreet marriage was a balance to the noisy commercialism of match-making. ... Many a young heiress resisted this mercenary mating by sighing for a romantic elopement. One factor which may have had a bearing on the new vogue, was the growth of sentimentality.
In this age of stealthy weddings, first prize for the most secret of them all goes to a royal bridegroom. In 1766, King George III's brother, the 24-year-old Duke of Gloucester, married an illegitimate niece of Horace Walpole in her Pall Mall drawing-room, with no witnesses at all – except her own domestic chaplain, who performed the marriage and then, with considerable tact, died shortly afterwards. The marriage was eventually allowed to be legal (just in time to make the first child born of it legitimate). [And the Bride Wore... Ch.6. "Marriage by Stealth. The Eighteenth Century"]
There wasn't a shortage of duellists then, and the spades being forbidden in Bath show that there was a real danger of fighting from mere nothing. Country bumpkins surely blossomed in those days of difficult communication and terrible roads, and their wish for mimicry in different society is understandable (and - well - full of traps). Authoritative fathers and insecure lovers (good at swimming) are eternal, I suppose. We don't have as many Mrs Malaprops now, but they (of both genders) still exist.
And yet - the play is so whimsical. :) What kind of life is this?
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