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Body and Ritual in Farquhar Derek Hughes In the first incident in Farquhar's first play, the hero inspects and interprets a maimed body. Roebuck arrives, penniless, in England and meditates on possible ways to maintain himself. He considers robbery or soldiership, but is instantly deterred from the latter when a disabled ex-soldier enters, begging: "a glimpse of Damnation just as a Man is entering into sin, is no great policy of the Devil," he reflects (Love and a Bottle, 1.1. 10-1 1).1 But, after a comparative reading of his and the beggar's body, he concludes that the latter's may be better written: the bullet has given the beggar "a Debenter in thy broken Leg, from which thou canst draw a more plentiful maintenance than I from all my Limbs in perfection" (1.1.21-23). In a recent article, I studied the compulsive counting that runs through Farquhar's plays: the representation of social structure and status through the image oíplace is constantly superseded by numerical systems (as when Scrub in The Beaux Stratagem enumerates the different places he has in the Sullens' household on each day of the week), and number even takes over from language as the prime means of articulating and sustaining social existence.2 As the encounter with the beggar shows, the individual body too becomes an object of numerical significance—an atomistic, materialistic unit of economic exchange. It is almost superfluous to say that the beggar's body offers no parallel to the political organism and that his injuries lack the social symbolism of Lavinia's mutilations or Coriolanus's scars. After all, hardly any dramatist since 1660 had used the body in this way, especially in sphere of comedy (though, as it happens, Vanbrugh had used the fable of the belly in /Esop [1696]).3 What can be said, however, is that, unlike comedy-writers of the previous generation, Farquhar creates situations in which such comparisons force themselves on our attention. Indeed, strikingly recreating and redefining the deformed figure of Richard III in The Twin414 Derek Hughes415 Rivals, he writes the part of a hunchback for Cibber, who played Richard in his own adaptation of Shakespeare.4 Here, clearly, Farquhar is writing against an older image of the significant body. In doing so, as we shall see, he turns the deformed body from a moral sign into an economic indicator: because of his body, Benjamin needs money to get women. Benjamin is a deformed man and a vicious man, but the relationship between the two facts is not an immediate, or analogical, or symbolic one. There is an intermediate term: the commercial consequences of deformity. Similarly, the significance of the beggar's body arises from its economic function—its participation in a chain of monetary cause and effect.5 In describing the beggar's shattered leg as a "Debenter," Roebuck treats the maimed body as a text, but a text recording numbers: a debenture is "A voucher certifying to a soldier or sailor the audited amount of his arrears for pay" (OED lb). Moreover, the economic significance of the text is contingent and changing, according to periods which are also numerically measured: the disabled man was five years a soldier, but fifteen a beggar. It should be noted, however, that Farquhar does not take the usual method of subjecting the body to definition by economic forces—namely, portraying it as a commodity. As the image of the body as promissory note indicates, the beggar 's body is a form of currency, a unit of exchange; and so the body is to be throughout the play.6 There is another way in which this incident subordinates language to number. Poor soldiers, the beggar explains, are more generous than well-fed clergymen; for "A Captain will say Dam'me, and give me Six-pence; and a Parson shall whine out God bless me, and give me not a farthing. Now I think the Officers Blessing much the best" (1.1.34—37). A curse is numerically preferable to a blessing in that it is accompanied by sixpence. The awful comminations of earlier generations have declined into empty verbal...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 414-435
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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