About Farquhar by Akiva Fox
BY AKIVA FOX
From "Asides" Magazine by the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Washington, DC
Born to an Anglican parson in Londonderry, Ireland, in 1677, George Farquhar was one of seven children. As an Ulster Protestant, he almost certainly suffered through the aftermath of the “Glorious Revolution,” in which the deposed Catholic King James II landed an army in Northern Ireland in 1689 to try to regain his throne from the Protestant William of Orange. Some of Farquhar's earliest writings were poems celebrating William's victory.
Farquhar studied for a year at Trinity College, Dublin, but left in 1696 to pursue an acting career. Through an actor friend, he came to play several parts during a season at the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin. But an unimpressive stage voice hampered him, and the accidental wounding of a fellow actor ended his stage career for good. He turned instead to writing, completing his first play, Love and a Bottle, by the time he set off for London at the age of 20.
Love and a Bottle told the story of “an Irish Gentleman, of a wild roving temper, newly come to London” (hardly a stretch of imagination for Farquhar to write). It met with immediate success, receiving a production at the Drury Lane Theatre. Even more successful was his next play, The Constant Couple, which played for an unprecedented 53 nights. But the five years that followed this initial success were far more difficult. His plays Sir Harry Wildair, The Inconstant and The Twin Rivals all flopped, leaving him in desperate need of money.
Farquhar complicated matters by cultivating a notorious personal life; high-profile liaisons with famous writers and actresses earned him a dubious reputation apart from his often scandalous plays. In 1703, however, a widow named Margaret Pemell convinced Farquhar to marry her on the grounds that she was independently wealthy. Pemell was 10 years older than her new husband and had three young children, but she did not have the £700 a year she had claimed.
Now faced with mounting debts and a family to support, Farquhar took a commission to join the army. He served three years as a recruiting officer in Shrewsbury and Lichfield, two towns in central England that would provide the settings for his final two plays. The Recruiting Officer, the first of these plays, drew heavily upon Farquhar's experiences in the army. This play marked a return to success, but the income it provided fell short of relieving his debts. He even sold his lieutenant's commission in the hopes of receiving a higher office, but no such office materialized.
Robert Wilks, the actor who had first brought Farquhar to the stage, discovered his old friend impoverished and dying in early 1707. Wilks convinced him to write one last play, The Beaux' Stratagem. Perhaps inspired by his time in Lichfield and by his own unhappy marriage, Farquhar wrote his masterpiece in less than six weeks. He died only two months after the premiere, not yet 30 years old. The works he produced constituted an important development in English comedic style, bridging the gap between the light Restoration comedies of Congreve and Wycherley and the more nuanced humor of Sheridan and Goldsmith.
Copyright Akiva Fox
Copyright The Shakesepare Theatre Company