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ENL 6236: Restoration and
Eighteenth-Century Literature

Civility and the Public Sphere


Class 6

Reading Assignment:

Oct. 4: Crime and Deviance - Theatre, Fashion and Sex
    Gay's Beggar's Opera (2605-2652)
    Haywood's Fantomina: Or, Love in a Maze published in Secret Histories, Novels and Poems (1725) volume 3 of 4
    (available through the library's electronic resource: Eighteenth-Century Collections Online)

    Report Topic - Women and Theatre or Urban Crime

    Bibliography -- Matt

Recommended:
    Additional poems that will aid our discussion of Fantomina: Alexander Pope's "Eloisa to Abelard," (NAEL 2545) and Epistle to a Lady: Of the Characters of Women (NAEL 2592) Due: Post #5 Group B
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The two very different works for today share an interest in deviance and sexuality in eighteenth-century culture, with a particular focus on the theatre. Gay's mock-opera is at once a product for the theatre and a satire on the tastes of the public who crowded into the theatres. Haywood, who was herself at one time an actress and playwright, uses the theatre as the opening scene of her story of intrigue and disguise, and she adopts a stage convention in order to manage her rather unbelievable plot.

In keeping with the theme for the course, let us consider these works in the light of public entertainment and the representation of proper manners (and morals). To this end, I would like you to examine the illustrations of the theatre and the background information on a Day in Eighteenth-century London from the Norton Topics Online. Also evaluate Hogarth's illustration of scene 3 act 11 from the Beggar's Opera in the Media Companion.

*********************

Notes and Discussion Questions:

1. Gay's Beggar's Opera

Alexander Pope describes the vogue for opera in the following lines of his satire The Dunciad

    When lo! A harlot form soft sliding by,
    With mincing step, small voice, and languid eye;
    Foreign her air, her robe's discordant pride
    In patchwork fluttering, and her head aside.
    By singing peers upheld on either hand,
    She tripped and laughed, too pretty much to stand;
    Cast on the prostrate Nine a scornful look,
    Then thus in quaint recitativo spoke:
    "O Cara! Cara! Silence all that train:
    Joy to great Chaos! Let Division reign:
    Chromatic tortures soon shall drive them hence,
    Break all their nerves, and fritter all their sense:
    One trill shall harmonize joy, grief, and rage,
    Wake the dull Church, and lull the ranting stage:
    To the same notes thy sons shall hum, or snore,
    And all they yawning daughters cry, encore...."
        Alexander Pope, The Dunciad IV.40-60
What do Pope's and Gay's representation of opera have in common and what might they suggest about the fashion for opera at that time?

Martin Price writes about the remarkably innovative use of air/arias in Gay's work: "A whole satiric dimension can be invoked by playing the new words off against the audience's sense of the traditional ones.... For example, the stirring "Let us take to the road" (Air XX) was sung to a march from Handel's opera 'Rinaldo' (1711) whose plot and grand Italianate operatic manner were the antithesis of Gay's underworld and simple song style. Air XlIV 'The modes of the courts so common are grown' is sung to the tune of 'Lillibullero' a famous late seventeenth-century political song, anit-Irish, anti-Catholic, used by the political enemies of James II" (The Restoration and Eighteenth Century Oxford Anthology of Literature, 1973).

What role do the airs/arias play in Gay's innovation? How do they forward the satire? How does the play reflect the conditions of the theatre world? See Norton Topics Online "A Day in Eighteenth-century London" for more details. Also refer to the discussions between the beggar and the player in the Introduction and before the final scene. How do their exchanges reflect drama as a commodity? What role does the public play in the formation of the play?

Throughout the play Gay draws explicit parallels between leaders and the gangs of thieves and leaders and the gangs of courtiers or politicians. From the opening Air, where Peachum compares his employment with that of lawyer and a Statesman, through the constant references to Macheath as the Great Man, a common name for Walpole, Gay targeted political corruption in his play. This political satire is most explicit in the relationship between Lockit and Peachum, for example in their initial scene together 2.10. What is the point of these political comparison? What does the play say about criminal justice? What is the meaning of Air 67? How does this serve as a central theme of the play?

The social satire of the play targets sexual mores and self-interest in staged parallels between high and low society. What are the implications of the use of formal language among the confederates, who call themselves gentleman or fine ladies? The opening act focuses on the “ruin” of Polly who has married Macheath in secret. In what sense is she "ruined"? Mrs. Peachum is given some excellent one-liners in a satire on marriage. What does "marriage" represent in the play? Given that marriage was the bedrock of civil society (see Addison and Steel on this), what does Gay's satire suggest about the current state of affairs?

What is the significance of the play’s title? In what sense is this a beggar’s opera?

What does the list of stolen objects (throughout the play) tell us about the society?

How does Hogarth’s illustration of the final prison scene (3.11) comment on the staging of the play? On the moral of the play?

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2. Eliza Haywood, Fantomina

Eliza Haywood 1693-1756
Although until recently Haywood was principally known as the prize in a pissing contest between unscrupulous publishers in Pope's Dunciad, Haywood had an important and highly visible (not to mention sensational) career in literature. One of the most successful novelists of her era, Haywood’s Love in Excess (1719) sold as many copies as the other three most popular fictions of the first half of the century: Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe and Pamela. What does such company suggest about Haywood’s achievement in fiction? How might you account for a lack of equal treatment in the history of literature?

The editors of Popular Fiction by Women 1660-1730: An Anthology, Paula Backscheider and John Richetti, provide some strategies for reading fictions such as Fantomina. “Joining the critics giving new attention to the non-realist novel, they have revealed unions of form and content and effective statements of personal and public engagement worthy of serious attention.” Haywood’s stories are “a sustained critique of her society, male-female relationships, and class politics, and that these characteristics should be recognized and integrated into studies of the eroticism and wild fantasies also typical of her texts” (xiii).

In what ways are such insights helpful for reading Haywood’s Fantomina? What statements does she make about her society? What is the effect of the tension between profound social criticism and the sheer eroticism of the texts?

Fantomina; Or, Love in a Maze (1724)

Eliza Haywood's short story takes up the problems of a specifically gendered virtue, chastity, and exposes the hypocrisy of the beau monde as well as the double-standard of sexual behavior for men and for women. Jerry Beasley argues that much of Haywood's erotic fiction addressed (among other things) "the more general public concern with corruption and disorder in contemporary life (particularly high life), with the problems of class conflict, and with the threatened ideals of public and private virtue" (DLB vol. 39).

Given these tendencies, how do you read Fantomina's decision to play the role of prostitute? What does this role playing suggest about the construction of gender, virtue and money in the work?

What elements of Fantomina’s initial behavior to Beauplasir lead to his confusion about her status?

Why is Beauplasir’s “constancy” so important to Fantomina? What motivates her elaborate plans to captivate him continually?

In the course of the story, Fantomina constructs three other identities to seduce or entice Beauplasir. Examine the roles of Celia, Mrs. Bloomer and Incognita. What are the important characteristics and traits that she changes? To what does Beauplasir respond in each case? How is class or status a factor? How is beauty a factor? How is perceived virtue a factor in his behavior to these women? What does this role playing suggest about Fantomina? What does it suggest about Beauplasir? What does it finally suggest about the nature of romantic or erotic love?

At one point, the narrator raises the absurdity of Beauplasir's continual deception regarding the person (i.e. body) of his beloved. What does the narrator ask us to believe about Fantomina's character?

Haywood uses the language of triumph and victory as well as slavery and liberty. In what sense is the relationship between Beauplasir and Fantomina a battle? In what sense is either enslaved?

What is the distinction between virtue and reputation? Why is the latter more important in this story? What does this have to do with the public sphere?

Why does Beauplasir believe Fantomina “in the end … would be in reality the thing she so artfully had counterfeited”? What determines the authentic self? Is it different for men then for women?

Note the two letters that Beauplasir writes to Fantomina and Mrs. Bloomer. What do their differences suggest? What do their similarities suggest about the character of Beauplasir (for that matter, what does his name suggest)?

She continues on with this deception to gratify "the inclination she had for his agreeable person, in as full a manner as she could wish" (796). To what extent does this frankness qualify as erotic? Knowing the reputation that Haywood gained (as a popular writer of erotic tales and scandal), what does this story tell us about the culture for which Haywood wrote?

Jerry Beasley writes that "Virtue does not always triumph in Haywood's stories, but it is always an issue. The treatment of the issue is never subtle or sophisticated, but the context of domestic strife and sexual tension gives her work, sensational as it is, an immediacy that surely attracted readers – especially female readers – to it" (DLB vol. 39). Regardless of whether you agree or not with Beasley's gendered assessments of the audience, evaluate the conclusion of Fantomina in light of virtue.

What happens when Fantomina’s mother arrives in town?

What is the significance of Fantomina’s giving birth to a daughter? Why do Fantomina and her mother reject Beauplasir’s offer to take the child?

How does the story conclude? What are the implications of such an abbreviated ending?

Why do you think this story was popular?

Recent critics, such as Catherine Ingrassia in Authorship, Commerce and Gender in Early Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge UP, 1998) have done much work to revise the critical reputation of this much maligned author. In particular, they have shown more clearly her relationship to other (more respected) authors of the era, namely Pope and Richardson. She was undeniably a prolific writer who, according to Beasley "managed to be more widely read over a longer period of time than all but a very few other writers of her day" (DLB vol. 39).

How do issues of popularity and literary quality inform your understanding of the reading for today.



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