Conference on Gender, Law, and the British Novel: Scenes from The Beaux' Stratagem and Mrs Warren's Profession

These scenes from George Bernard Shaw's "Mrs Warren's Profession" and George Farquhar's "The Beaux' Strategem" were part of a conference on Gender, Law, and the British Novel that was held at the University of Chicago Law School on May 14-15, 2010. The conference was co-sponsored by the Center for Gender Studies.

"Mrs Warren's Profession"
George Bernard Shaw: Dean Michael Schill
Mrs Warren: Martha Nussbaum
Vivie Warren, her daughter: Alison Looman

This controversial play, which frankly discusses prostitution as a form of labor and marriage as a middle-class form of prostitution, was banned by the Lord Chamberlain and was performed only in 1902. When it was perfomed in New York in 1905 the entire cast was arrested. Shaw said that he wrote the play “to draw attention to the truth that prostitution is caused, not by female depravity and male licentiousness, but by underpaying, undervaluing, and overworking women so shamefully that the poorest of them are forced to resort to prostitution to keep body and soul together.” Mrs Warren has led a respectable life in England, giving her daughter Vivie a first-class education. Having finished her mathematics degree at Cambridge with great distinction, Vivie wants to go into business as an accountant, but she is urged by everyone around her to marry. In the scene we perform, she decides to confront her mother about her origins and the origins of their money. Mrs Warren describes the circumstances that led her first to go into sex work and then to set up a house of prostitution in Brussels.

Shaw’s Preface to the play became famous later on, and Dean Schill will read a portion of it.

"The Beaux' Strategem," Act 2 Scene 1
Aimwell, a gentleman of broken fortunes: Daniel Abebe
Archer, servant to Aimwell: Douglas Baird
Count Bellaire, a French Office: Guillaume Briant
Mr. Sullen, a country blockhead: M. Todd Henderson
Sir Charles Freeman, a gentleman form London: William Birdthistle
Father Foigard, chaplain to the French officers: Jajah Wu
Scrub, servant to Mr. Sullen: George Desh
Dorinda, daughter of Lady Bountiful: Alison LaCroix
Mrs. Sullen, Dorinda’s sister-in-law and wife to Mr. Sullen: Rosalind Dixon
Gipsy: Arsineh Ananian

Directed by: Arsineh Ananian

Farquhar, an Irishman, is usually considered the last of the Restoration dramatists and a herald of the new sentimental comedy. This play is one of the first to urge divorce on grounds of mutual incompatibility. Aimwell and Archer are involved in a complicated scheme to get hold of Dorinda’s inheritance and to seduce her sister-in-law, who is unhappily married to Dorinda’s brother Mr. Sullen. Meanwhile, Mrs. Sullen is also courted by the French count. In this scene (Act II, Scene I), we see a typical day in the Sullens’ marriage. Mrs. Sullen confides to Dorinda that she plans to flirt with other men in order to get her husband’s attention. In the final scene, we see that Aimwell has genuinely fallen in love with Dorinda, thus upsetting the scheme. They agree to marry and go to look for the priest. (A memorable stage direction says, “Enter Dorinda, mighty gay.”) Meanwhile, Archer, who is unrepentant, has failed to seduce Mrs. Sullen.

Dorinda now reveals to Aimwell that she has just discovered that he is the very Viscount Aimwell whose identity he has counterfeited: so the scheme did no harm and he is forgiven. Count Bellair complains that some thieves who recently broke into the house have stolen his money, and Aimwell and Archer realize that their money is gone too–along with Archer’s girl friend Cherry, the daughter of the landlord of the inn. So Archer is thwarted in all his schemes. Sir Charles Freeman, a relative of Mrs. Sullen, arrives from London and counsels the warring couple to get a divorce. They agree to separate (without bothering to seek a legal divorce), while the loving couple, Aimwell and Dorinda, will marry. After a musical interlude, Archer reflects:

Both happy in their several states we find,
Those parted by consent and those conjoined.
Consent, if mutual, saves the lawyer’s fee–
Consent is law enough to set you free.

MUSICAL INTERLUDE (during the final scene from BEAUX’ STRATAGEM)
Plays of this era typically had musical interludes, and this one is indicated in the script. The music we have chosen is the final love-duet from Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione Di Poppaea (1642-43), a work that would be well known to the audience of Farquhar’s play. The opera is based freely on Tacitus’ account of the reign of Nero. It depicts Nero’s adulterous affair with Poppaea, a courtesan, his banishment of his wife, and his eventual installation of Poppaea as empress. After the formal ceremony, the two lovers, alone on the stage, celebrate the triumph of love over morality. The role of Nero was originally written for a castrato; today it is sung either by a tenor or (as we perform it here) by a mezzo-soprano. It complicates the play’s happy ending, reminding us that love is not always perfectly aligned with morality. (We think that this is consistent with Farquhar’s intentions, since he gives the last words of the play to the scheming seducer Archer.)

Poppaea: Jajah Wu
Nero: Martha Nussbaum
Accompanist: Lokchi Lam

I wonder at you, I delight in you,
I fold my arms around you, I embrace you,
No more pain, no more death
Oh my life, oh my treasure.
I am yours, my hope,
Speak, oh speak, my idol, my darling,
Yes, my heart, yes, my life, yes yes yes yes yes.

Special thanks to Laura Dieli, Assistant Production Manager and Company Manager of the Court Theatre, for costumes.

Participating faculty: 
Martha C. Nussbaum
Participating faculty: 
Michael H. Schill
Embedded video: