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Who Counts in Farquhar? Derek Hughes Le Nozze di Figaro opens with a man counting, as Figaro contentedly measures out the dimensions of his and Susanna's bedroom, only to have his contentment disturbed when she explains the real sexual geography of the place: its proximity to the Count's apartments. Complacently reciting the statistics of the bedroom (his first twelve utterances are numbers), Figaro functionally identifies counting with the exercise—or illusion—of male control, and in Don Giovanni the identification is renewed, and taken to unsurpassed heights, in Leporello's catalogue aria, which features what is probably the most celebrated of all theatrical acts of counting: "Ma in Espagna son già mille e tre." But the association between ordered enumeration and male mastery had been established many generations before: in the first speech in A Midsummer Night's Dream, for example, Theseus counts the time that remains before his possession of Hippolyta; and, in the last speech by a mortal, he concludes the countdown.1 And, throughout Farquhar's plays, the leading males count, and count, and count. Unlike Don Giovanni, however, Farquhar's seducers tend to stay in one or two figures, their commonplace insensitivity unmitigated by the glamor of heroic excess. Roebuck in Love and a Bottle remembers "Mrs. Mary, Mrs. Margaret, Mrs. Lucy, Mrs. Susan, Mrs. Judy, and so forth; to the number of five and twenty, or thereabouts" (3.1.65-67),2 and in The Recruiting Officer Kite recites a "List" (1.1.126) of the women he has married after their impregnation by Plume (1.1.113-22): "you have nam'd five," says Plume; "Come, make 'em half a Dozen" (1.1.123-24). Later, Plume boasts that he has "been constant to fifteen at a time, but never melancholy for one" (1.1.173-74). Sir Harry Wildair has impregnated six nuns in five days (SHW 1.1.396-97) (something of which Don Giovanni might, perhaps, have been proud).3 And, when Oriana in The Inconstant feigns madness and reproaches Mirabel's infidelities, she puts a number to them: "I warrant you have five Hundred Mistresses" (4.4.77-78). This is the only num- 8 Who Counts in Farquhar? ber that could compete with Don Giovanni's statistics, and it is clearly a fiction (as is Sir Harry Wildair's fantasy that, if polygamy were legal, he would have a new wife every day [4.2.9495 ]). But Oriana's exaggeration shows the unheeded effect of male infidelity on its victims, and it is notable that only one woman (the whore Lamorce, also in The Inconstant) is permitted anything like a catalogue; and even here she is essentially passive. Just after escaping murder at the hands of her bravos, Mirabel rather irrelevantly asks to which of them she is married: "Sir she's very true to us all four," replies the first (5.4.78). If the numbers within the catalogues never rise to the definitive panache of mille e tre, however, the catalogue of catalogues is impressively large: six, in eight plays. And they are only a tiny part of the picture. For Farquhar's characters—especially his sexually attractive, socially secure males—are compulsive counters , particularly of women, time, distance, and money. Correspondingly , male absurdity or impotence can be expressed in foolish or meaningless routines of counting. In The Beaux Stratagem Squire Sullen's drunkenness reduces him to the state of a fleshly metronome, in which he counts for others without counting for himself: "O the Pleasure of counting the melancholly Clock by a snoring Husband!" (2.1.74-76), exclaims his wife. ("What Day o'th Week is this?" [2.1.88], Sullen promptly asks, in confirmation of everything). And, when the Sullens' servant Scrub delivers his ludicrously uninformative "Packet of News" (3. 1.48) about the handsome stranger in church, he proudly counts out his non-discoveries: In the first place I enquir'd who the Gentleman was? they told me he was a Stranger, Secondly, I ask'd what the Gentleman was, they answer 'd and said, that they never saw him before. Thirdly, I enquir'd what Countryman he was, they reply...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 7-27
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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