A Very Well-Preserved Copy of a Cruel and Odious Play by a Much Undervalued Restoration Dramatist


(London: Printed by E[lizabeth]. F[lesher]. for Richard Tonson, 1678). 220 x 165 mm. (8 3/4 x 6 1/2"). 3 p.l., 68 pp, [1] leaf (epilogue, ads). FIRST EDTION.

Excellent 20th century green half morocco, marbled paper sides, spine with gilt titling, all edges gilt. Robert D. Hume, "The Development of English Drama in the Late Seventeenth Century"; Pforzheimer 776; Wing O-548; ESTC R20912. ◆Three artfully repaired tears (two of them into text, but without loss), otherwise A FINE COPY, unusually fresh and clean, in an unworn binding with lustrous leather.

This is a surprisingly well-preserved copy of an important play by a woefully undervalued English dramatist. At a time when the legacy of the Restoration stage is frequently thought to begin and end with Etherege, Wycherley, and Congreve, a number of dramatists of considerable merit are overlooked. Thomas Otway (1652-85) is perhaps the most talented of that group. Britannica describes him as "one of the forerunners of sentimental drama through his convincing presentation of human emotions in an age of heroic but artificial tragedies. His masterpiece, 'Venice Preserved,' was one of the greatest theatrical successes of his period." Otway had the shortest of all possible acting careers, leaving the profession after one performance because of stage fright, after which he produced works in a range of theatrical genres. His first play was "Alcibiades," a rhyming tragedy in which the part of Draxilla was played by the well-known actress Elizabeth Barry, with whom Otway fell violently in love. Later, Otway, still in his mid-20s, was serving in an English regiment in the Netherlands when the present work--the author's fourth work of 11 but his first comedy--was staged. Hume calls "Friendship in Fashion" a "great play" and states that "neglect of it is astonishing." He also says that while it is "brilliant," it is "not fun." The plot revolves around Goodvile's pursuit of Camilla, who is engaged to his friend Valentine, at the same time as Goodvile attempts to foist his former mistress Victoria on his best friend Truman. Ensuing complications include Goodvile's wife committing adultery with Truman and Goodvile's darkened coitus with Lady Squeamish (though she obviously is not very!) when he mistakes her for Camilla. Many twists and turns ensue in, as well as encircle, the main plot, most of them distasteful; for one example, a minor fool in the cast brags about knocking over a cripple without legs in the street. The work is part of the period's raging fashion for sex comedies, but this is an odious and gratuitous digression. The hatred between the Goodviles is stated in unforgettably evacuative terms when the husband says he'd rather return to his vomit(!) than to his wife. Things are somehow patched up in the end, but Hume calls the reconciliations "a ghastly parody of the usual comedy conclusion." The play clearly has a cruel edge, unrelieved by the wit that typically accompanies and diverts us from objectionable behavior in comic plays of the period. Hume says, "If one is looking for bitter, angry social satire in Carolean comedy, here it is." Restoration plays almost invariably show up on the market in dreadful shape, brutally trimmed, with broken bindings, or disbound; this copy is quite a notable exception. And the work seems to be sought after: the last copy listed in RBH sold at Swann Galleries (without the leaf containing the "Prologue" and "Actors Names") for $1,500 in 2023.

Price: $1,750.00

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