David Garrick, the leading actor of his time, was also one of its most accomplished dramatists, and The Clandestine Marriage is perhaps his finest play. Its story centres on the household of a wealthy merchant, Mr. Sterling, whose main concern is that his two daughters marry men of wealth. Fanny has defied her apprentice; her sister Betsey is engaged to be married to Sir John Melvil. But Melvil and his friend Lord Ogleby both fall in love with Fanny. It is up to Lovewell to persuade both men that marriage to Fanny is out of the question—without revealing to them that he has already married her.
The action of the play and also its setting (a landscape garden designed after the fashion of the time to provide artificial wildness and ‘commanding’ views) give ample scope for Garrick and Coleman to satirize the mercantile mind—yet the play’s comic spirit holds appeal to those on all points of the political compass. First produced in 1766, The Clandestine Marriage was revived to great acclaim in 1995 in a London production starring Nigel Hawthorne.
Full-length plays of the late eighteenth century were usually performed together with short plays (or ‘afterpieces’) to form a full evening of entertainment. In accordance with that tradition this edition is completed by two of the most interesting examples of the genre: Charles Burney’s The Cunning-Man (which in fact was several times performed alongside The Clandestine Marriage during the 1766-67 season) and The Rehearsal; or Bayes in Petticoats by Catherine Clive (who played Mrs. Heidelberg in the original production of The Clandestine Marriage).
“This imaginative collection takes us to the London theatre c. 1766 for an ‘evening’s entertainment’ of sparkling comedies (a mainpiece and two afterpieces), with Chevalier as our knowledgeable and genial guide.” — Peter Sabor, McGill University