Love and a Bottle, pr. 1698
The Constant Couple: Or, A Trip to the Jubilee, pr. 1699
Sir Harry Wildair, Being the Sequel of a Trip to the Jubilee, pr., pb. 1701
The Inconstant: Or, The Way to Win Him, pr., pb. 1702 (adaptation of John Fletcher’s play The Wild Goose Chase)
The Twin Rivals, pr. 1702
The Stage Coach, pr., pb. 1704 (with Peter Anthony Motteux; adaptation of Jean de La Chapelle’s play Les Carosses d’Orléans)
The Recruiting Officer, pr., pb. 1706
The Beaux’ Stratagem, pr., pb. 1707
The Adventures of Covent Garden, 1698
Love and Business, 1702
The Complete Works of George Farquhar, 1930 (Charles Stonehill, editor)
The Works of George Farquhar, 1988 (Shirley Strum Kenny, editor)
George Farquhar (FAHR-kwur), the son of William Farquhar, a clergyman, entered Trinity College, Dublin, at the age of seventeen, under the patronage of the bishop of Dromore. He was soon thereafter expelled, possibly because of the death of his patron. After leaving the college, he worked for a while as a corrector for the press of a bookseller and then as an actor in Dublin. In a fencing scene in John Dryden’s Indian Emperor, however, Farquhar forgot to change his sword for a foil and almost killed a fellow actor. He never acted again.
He arrived in London about 1697 and began to write comedies. He had met the famous comedian Robert Wilkes in Dublin, and it was perhaps Wilkes’s influence that got Farquhar’s first play, Love and a Bottle, on the boards at Drury Lane in 1699. In 1703 Farquhar married in the expectation of a fortune, only to find that he had been deceived. The remainder of his short life was spent in a constant struggle against poverty. While writing the second act of The Beaux’ Stratagem Farquhar realized that he suffered from a mortal illness. He completed the play and lived through its third night at the Haymarket Theatre before his death in May, 1707.
Farquhar has been called the last notable figure in the Restoration tradition, but he belongs perhaps more properly to the eighteenth century. In 1698 the Puritan call for reform found its most notable voice in the pamphlet A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage, penned by the Reverend Jeremy Collier. Collier was neither the first nor the last to object to the cynical irreligiousness of the contemporary stage, but he gained the most attentive audience. It is unclear whether Farquhar was moved by the clergyman’s protestations, but his work does reflect an awareness of what many theatergoers wanted: His seven comedies and one farce show a definite transitional trend toward what was to culminate in the first half of the eighteenth century in the sentimental comedies of Colley Cibber and Sir Richard Steele.
In Farquhar’s plays, elegance as the social desideratum is replaced by naturalness. One of his ladies, Aurelia, says, “I take good manners to be nothing but a natural desire to be easy and agreeable to whatever conversation we fall into,” and this principle is as fitting for a cook as for a courtier. Farquhar’s stage gentlemen are not merely drawing room dandies; they are more real, more human, more capable of genuine emotion than their predecessors. Servants, bawds, and constables step forth from the wings into notable and organic roles. Virtue is no longer a subject for mockery, and sentiment begins to reappear on the stage. In The Twin Rivals, for example, Richmore, a wealthy fine gentleman, is prevented from raping Aurelia by the last-minute intervention of Trueman, who thereupon reproaches Richmore for the wrongs done to another lady, Clelia. Richmore immediately responds, “Your youthful virtue warms my breast, and melts it into tenderness,” and forthwith agrees to marry the wronged Clelia.
By the time of Farquhar’s death Restoration comedy was almost dead as well, and with it real dramatic comedy, which was not to be resurrected until the time of Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Farquhar, however, replaced the depraved witty elegance of the earlier Restoration with human interest. He emphasized story above scintillant, empty brilliance; his dialogue is natural and never strained. Above all, he made advances in construction and general moral tone that are striking for his times.