George Farquhar

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George Farquhar
George Farquhar2.jpg
George Farquhar
Born 1677 or 1678
Derry, Ireland
Died April 29, 1707
London, England
Occupation Dramatist
Nationality Irish
Genres Comedy
Spouse(s) Margaret Pemell

George Farquhar (1677 or 1678[1] – April 29, 1707) was an Irish dramatist. He is noted for his contributions to late Restoration comedy, particularly for his plays The Recruiting Officer (1706) and The Beaux' Stratagem (1707). Both plays reflect the Restoration emphasis on the exploits of rakes who seek fame and fortune through their sexual exploits.

Restoration comedy is the name given to comedies written and performed in the Restoration period from 1660 to 1700. After public stage performances had been banned for 18 years by the Puritan regime, the re-opening of the theaters in 1660 signaled a rebirth of English drama.

The era of Restoration Comedy is seen as the high point for literary freedom of expression in monarchial England. Censorship, under Charles II's reign, was loosened. By the mid-seventeenth century, the opinions and moral climate of the English public were, like those on the rest of the European continent, beginning to change. Playwrights in the Restoration period were able to write about romance, courtship, marriage, and sex in ways that had previously been inconceivable, and the result was one of the more libertine periods in English literary history. While decidedly ribald at times, the Restoration was nonetheless a major turning point in the history not only of the English stage, but also of European comedy in general.

Early Life

Born in Londonderry, Farquhar was one of seven children born to William Farquhar, a clergyman of modest means.[2] The author of "Memoirs of Mr. George Farquhar," a biographical sketch prefixed to certain eighteenth century editions[3]of his works, claims that Farquhar:

discovered a Genius early devoted to the Muses. When he was very young, he gave Specimens of his Poetry; and discovered a Force of Thinking, and Turn of Expression, much beyond his Years."[4]

He entered Trinity College, Dublin at age 17 as a sizar under the patronage of the Bishop of Dromore, who may have been related to Farquhar's mother.[2] Farquhar may have initially intended to follow his father's profession and become a clergyman,[5] but was "unhappy and rebellious as a student" and left college after two years to become an actor.[6] His eighteenth century biographer claims that the departure was because "his gay and volatile Disposition could not long relish the Gravity and Retirement of a College-life," [4] but another story of uncertain veracity has him being expelled from Trinity College due to a "profane jest."[2]

Acting career

Farquhar joined a company performing on the Dublin stage, probably through his acquaintance with the well-known actor, Robert Wilks.[2] However, Farquhar was reportedly not that impressive as an actor. It was said that "his Voice was somewhat weak" and that "his movements [were] stiff and ungraceful."[4] But he was well-received by audiences and thought to continue in this career "till something better should offer." Some of the roles reportedly played by Farquhar were Lennox in Shakespeare's Macbeth, Young Bellair in The Man of Mode by George Etherege, Lord Dion in Philaster by Beaumont and Fletcher, and Guyomar in The Indian Emperor by John Dryden.[2] While performing in the Dryden play, an accident on stage put an end to Farquhar's acting career. As Guyomar, Farquhar was supposed to "kill" Vasquez, one of the Spanish generals in the drama. Forgetting to exchange his sword for a foil before enacting this scene, Farquhar severely wounded Price, the actor playing Vasquez. Although Price recovered, Farquhar resolved after this mishap to give up acting for good.[4][2]

Writing career

After the mishap, Farquhar left for London, "possibly with a draft of his first play in his portmanteau."[6] Some believe he accompanied his friend Wilks, who had received an offer from the manager of Drury Lane to come to London and join the theater;[7] Wilks is also credited with encouraging Farquhar's efforts at becoming a playwright.[4] [2]

Farquhar's first comedy, Love and a Bottle, was premiered in 1698; it is said to have been "well received by the Audience for its sprightly Dialogue and busy Scenes," [4] Called a "licentious piece" by one scholar,[6] and cited as proof that Farquhar had "absorbed the stock topics, character-types, and situations of Restoration comedy."[5] The play deals with Roebuck, "An Irish Gentleman of a wild roving Temper" who is "newly come to London."[4] As a Restoration comedy, the general character of the play is bawdy. In the opening scene, Roebuck tells his friend Lovewell that he has left Ireland due to getting a woman pregnant with twins (a boy and a girl) and to Roebuck's father trying to force Roebuck to marry the woman; however, Roebuck remarks, "Heav'n was pleas'd to lessen my Affliction, by taking away the She-brat."[4]

After the favorable reception of Love and a Bottle, Farquhar decided to devote himself to playwriting. However, he received a commission in the regiment of the Earl of Orrery, so his time for the next few years was divided between the vocations of soldier and dramatist.[7] It was also at about this time that Farquhar discovered Anne Oldfield, who was reading aloud a scene from The Scornful Lady at her aunt's tavern. Impressed, he brought her to the notice of Sir John Vanbrugh, leading to her theatrical career, during which she was the first performer of major female roles in Farquhar's last comedies.[2]

In 1700, Farquhar's The Constant Couple was acted at Drury Lane and proved a great success,[7] helped considerably by his friend Wilks' portrayal of the character of Sir Henry Wildair[4] (a performance that Farquhar himself praised generously in his "Preface to the Reader" when the play was published).[7] The playwright followed up with a sequel, Sir Harry Wildair, the following year, and in 1702 wrote both The Inconstant, or the Way to Win Him and The Twin Rivals. Also in 1702, Farquhar published Love and Business, a collection that included letters, verse, and A Discourse Upon Comedy.

The next year, he married Margaret Pemell, "a widow with three children, ten years his senior," who reportedly tricked him into the marriage by pretending to have a great fortune.[6] His eighteenth century biographer records that "though he found himself deceived, his Circumstances embarrassed, and his Family increasing, he never upbraided her for the Cheat, but behaved to her with all the Delicacy and Tenderness of an indulgent Husband."[4] He was engaged in recruiting for the army for the next three years, writing little except The Stage Coach in collaboration with Peter Motteux–an adaptation of a French play.[2] He drew on his recruiting experience for his next comedy, The Recruiting Officer (1706).[4] However, Farquhar had to sell his army commission to pay debts, reportedly after the Duke of Ormond advised him to do so, promising him another but failing to keep his promise.[2]

Early in 1707, Farquhar's friend Wilks visited him;[6] Farquhar was ill and in distress, and Wilks is said to have "cheered him with a substantial present, and urged him to write another comedy."[2] This comedy, The Beaux' Stratagem, premiered on March 8, 1707; we know from Farquhar's own statement prefacing the published version of the play that he wrote it during his sickness:

The reader may find some faults in this play, which my illness prevented the amending of; but there is great amends made in the representation, which cannot be match'd, no more than the friendly and indefatigable care of Mr. Wilks, to whom I chiefly owe the success of the play.[2]

Farquhar died on April 29, 1707, not quite two months after the opening of this last play.[7] He was buried in the Church of St. Martin in the Fields, London, on May 3.[2]


Farquhar "stood out from his contemporaries by originality of dialogue and a stage sense that stemmed from experience as an actor." His two major contributions to the stage, The Recruiting Officer and The Beaux' Stratagem "introduce verbal vigor love of character that are more usually associated with Elizabethan dramatists."[8]

Alexander Pope famously refers to the playwright in the "The First Epistle of the Second Book of Horace, Imitated," where he comments (line 288), "What pert low Dialogue has Farqu'ar writ!" (It has been argued that this is not an attack by Pope on Farquhar, but an illustration of "how seldom ev'n the best succeed" two lines earlier.)[6]

In Act III of She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith, Kate Hardcastle asks her maid, "Tell me, Pimple, how do you like my present dress? Don't you think I look something like Cherry in the Beaux' Stratagem?" A theatrical notice in the New York Times for February 7, 1885 remarked that at that date Goldsmith's allusion was "all that the stage [had] known of George Farquhar for many a year."[9]

Bertolt Brecht set his adaptation of The Recruiting Officer, called Pauken und Trompeten, in America during the Civil War.[6]

The 1987 play, Our Country's Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker, revolves around the story of eighteenth century Australian convicts attempting to put on Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer. Wertenbaker's play is based on a novel by Thomas Keneally.[6]


  1. The explanation for the dual birth year appears in Louis A. Strauss, ed., A Discourse Upon Comedy, The Recruiting Officer, and The Beaux’ Stratagem by George Farquhar (Boston: D.C. Heath & Co., 1914), v. Strauss notes that "Our sole source of information as to the time of his birth is the entry of his matriculation in the register of Trinity College" on July 17, 1694, where "His age is given as 17." Earlier biographers took this to mean Farquhar was in his seventeenth year—hence born in 1678—and Strauss favors this date. But later writers, such as William Myers, (ed.), George Farquhar: The Recruiting Officer and Other Plays, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. ISBN 0192822497), vii, Retrieved October 20, 2008. give the dual year, and John Ross, (ed.), George Farquhar: The Recruiting Officer, 2nd ed., (London: A&C Black, 1991, ISBN 0713633492), xiii, gives a birthdate of "ca. 1677" for the playwright.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 Louis A. Strauss, A Discourse Upon Comedy: The Recruiting Officer and The Beaux' Stratagem. Retrieved January 26, 2023.
  3. Alex Charles Ewald quotes from a slightly different version of these "Memoirs" in the introduction to his edition of The Dramatic Works of George Farquhar. Retrieved January 26, 2023. (London: John C. Nimmo, 1892), Vol. 1, vi-vii, and Strauss, vi et seq., cites from but does not quote a biographical writing by "T. Wilkes" given in the 1775 Dublin edition of Farquhar which agrees in some but not all details with the version quoted in this article.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 Anonymous, "Memoirs of Mr. George Farquhar," in The Works of the Late Ingenious Mr. George Farquhar ("The Tenth Edition") (London: John Rivington et al., 1772) Vol. I, iii. Retrieved January 26, 2023.
  5. 5.0 5.1 John Ross (ed.), George Farquhar: The Recruiting Officer (London: A&C Black, 1991, ISBN 0713633492), xiii.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 William Myers (ed.), George Farquhar: The Recruiting Officer and Other Plays (Oxford University Press, 1995, ISBN 0192822497), vii.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 John C. Nimmo, George Farquhar: Love and a bottle. Retrieved January 26, 2023.
  8. Kathleen Kuiper (ed.), Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature (Merriam Webster, 1995, ISBN 0877790426), 404.
  9. "Daly's Theatre" The New York Times, February 7, 1885. Retrieved January 26, 2023.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Ewald, Alex Charles (ed.). The Dramatic Works of George Farquhar. Littlefield Press, 2008 (original 1892). ISBN 978-1408659335
  • Farquhar, George. "Love and a Bottle," The Works of the Late Ingenious Mr. George Farquhar. Gale ECCO, 2010 (original 1772). ISBN 978-1170743201
  • Kuiper, Kathleen (ed.). Merriam Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature. Merriam Webster, 1995. ISBN 0877790426
  • Myers, William, (ed.). George Farquhar: The Recruiting Officer and Other Plays. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995. ISBN 0192822497
  • Ross, John (ed.). George Farquhar: The Recruiting Officer. London: A&C Black, 1991. ISBN 0713633492
  • Strauss, Louis A. (ed.). A Discourse Upon Comedy, The Recruiting Officer, and The Beaux' Stratagem. Franklin Classics, 2018 (original 1914). ISBN 978-0341857198

External links

All links retrieved May 20, 2024.


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