Academic journal article Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research

David Garrick and the Marriage Habitus: The Clandestine Marriage Revisited

Academic journal article Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research

David Garrick and the Marriage Habitus: The Clandestine Marriage Revisited

Article excerpt

That David Garrick staged a comedy entitled The Clandestine Marriage in 1 766 did not signal a failure in the Drury Lane theater manager's usually acute sense of timing, but rather an apt choice to dramatize a political issue that clearly had not lost its fascination in the thirteen years since Lord Chancellor Hardwicke's "Act for the better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage" was enacted in 1753. The play was bolstered in its appeal not only by the history of references in novels and pamphlets, including the anonymous publication of Reflections on the Repeal of the Marriage Act in 1764, but also by an attempt in 1765 to curtail the Hardwicke Act by eliminating the parental permission requirement for minors.' Given the continued national debate over nuptial procedures and records, and the nexus of private and public interests involved, "The title of the play . . . had a certain startling, bold ring, even as late as 1766" - as David Garrick and his co-author George Colman the Elder would have known (Stone and Kahrl 243).

On its face, Hardwicke's Marriage Act did not appear controversial. Attempting to bring uniformity to nuptial ceremonies and records in England, the Marriage Act stipulated mat, unless a special license were obtained, a wedding must be preceded by banns, performed by a regular minister during canonical hours in an Anglican church, and duly recorded in the church register. The act further specified that marriages involving minors were void unless written permission were obtained from their parents or guardians. Crucial to its implementation was a penalty of fourteen years transportation for any minister who officiated in a clandestine marriage (Stone, Road 123-24).2

But, as members of both Houses of Parliament recognized in the terms of their debate, marriage was far more than an individual contract sanctioned by the state. National as well as familial, public and private, class and gender, economic and affective interests were at issue. Thus, while proponents gave lip service both to the interests of underage women who would be ruined if their marriages were invalidated and to the rights of the middling sort to marry without the embarrassment of having banns called, there is little doubt that upper-class social and economic stability were primary motives for the propertied and the elite of the House of Lords and the Commons, whose estates were vulnerable to "sharpers." Like Attorney General Ryder, they attempted to enlist national concern for the "distress some of our best families have been brought into . . . [the] ruin some of their sons or daughters have been involved in" (Cobbett, vol. 15, col. 3). In a similar vein, such opponents as Robert Nugent purported to focus on national concerns rather than social differences, yet class interest was apparent in the Harleian metaphor that predicted destruction to "the body politic" if riches were not made "to circulate" (Cobbett, vol. 15, col. 15). In theory, romantic love, the subject of so many period novels and plays, and the cause manqué of William Hogarth's Marriage à la mode engravings (1745), also figured in the debate. But, as Erica Harth astutely observes, the affective interest of young Britons "was neither the pivot on which the vote in the House of Commons turned nor the main concern Forthose in power in 1753, considerations of love and marriage were embedded in those of money and property"(133).

Though Garrick and Colman me Elder began The Clandestine Marriage as a joint project in 1763, extant manuscript evidence discovered in the twentieth century suggests that ultimately most of the text was written by Garrick alone.3 As one of his three main pieces, and a dramatic work that enjoyed enormous popularity in its period, die play deserves closer critical attention than it has received.4 There has been, for example, little examination of how the play was affected by three signal events in Garrick's life that coincided with its composition, production, and publication: his conflict witíi Colman over authorial credit for the play, die life-threatening illness that delayed its completion, and his coincident decision to curtail his Drury Lane responsibilities. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.