Academic journal article Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research

Mrs Midnight, Mrs Mandrake, and the Serious Presentation of the "Drag Role" in the Twin-Rivals

Academic journal article Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research

Mrs Midnight, Mrs Mandrake, and the Serious Presentation of the "Drag Role" in the Twin-Rivals

Article excerpt

In her recent and valuable collection of George Farquhar's entire Works, Shirley Strum Kenny considers certain aspects of his play The Twin-Rivals (1702). She refers in detail to the confusion over the name given to the character of the midwife-bawd, Mrs Midnight/Mandrake. "In a Folger copy of the first edition," she comments, "'Mandrake' is consistently emended to 'Midnight' .... Although there is no possible way to ascertain whether the holograph is Farquhar's as the Folger catalogue speculated, the contemporaneity of the hand suggests a close relationship to the original production. "[1] Professor Kenny concludes that "Certainly 'Midnight' is a more appropriate name for the character than 'Mandrake.' The term 'mandrake' is used allusively, according to the OED, as a term of abuse, a narcotic, or a noisome growth; the examples tie the word to men. 'Mother Midnight,' however, according to contemporary cant dictionaries meant a 'Midwife (often a Bawd).' The tag-name, then, is entirely appropriate to the character." Professor Kenny is, of course, correct in defining "Midnight" as the more suitable name for Farquhar's character, but both terms contain sufficient dramatic signals; "Mandrake" does tie the word to a man, but since the creator of the role was the male comedian William Bullock, who played it in skirts, the visual pun would have been appreciated by the audience. Furthermore, although the name "Midnight" is a clear indication to the audience that the character is a midwife and bawd, the name "Mandrake" is still appropriate here, since in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there were both female and male midwives. The significance of Mrs Midnight/Mandrake in Farquhar's play lies less in the question of the name, and more in the occupation of the character; it is the first time that a midwife has been presented upon the stage, and Farquhar's depiction gives the "drag role" a more serious treatment than it would have had at any other time in its history.

If, as seems likely, Farquhar's original intention was to call his character "Mrs Mandrake," he was emphasizing both the masculine part of the name because it was to be a "drag role," and also the unpleasantness of the character. The particular significance of this intention to make it a "drag role" will be more easily understood once the rest of the portrait of Mrs Mandrake/Midnight has been examined. According to the OED, the term "mandrake" can also be applied to someone unwelcome, who has to be "got rid of," and certainly all but two of the other characters try to avoid her. These two, Young Wou'dbe and Richmore, are the villains of the play, and they are seen to want to spend time with Mrs Mandrake, in order to enlist her as accomplice in their wicked designs. Her association with them clearly indicates her malicious character to the audience; their association with her emphasizes their villainy. Thus Farquhar signals, not only the linking of these three particular characters as evil within the play, but also the spread of evil throughout the society which he portrays, where the impoverished gentleman represented by Young Wou'dbe, the cynical rake such as Richmore and the low-life bawd Mrs Midnight are all interdependent upon each other.

Mrs Mandrake/Midnight is not the instigator of evil within the play, she merely aids and abets the conspiracies of Young Wou'dbe and Richmore. Farquhar emphasizes the close links between all three characters, however, by making her a midwife, or rather, the midwife who was present at Young Wou'dbe's birth, and also Richmore's bawd. As the OED has indicated, the audience would recognise in the character of the midwife, the character of the bawd. Here, then, we find a reason for Farquhar's changing the name of "Mandrake" to "Midnight." But The Twin-Rivals is further distinguished by the fact that this is the first time that a midwife has appeared upon the English stage. Whether Farquhar set out to write a satire upon midwives, or whether he took the opportunity offered by the need to create a close relationship between Mrs Midnight/Young Wou'dbe/Richmore to satirise them is debatable. …

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