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    Have chosen Thomas D’Urfey’s, Sir Barnaby Whig Essay

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    However Whigg’s arrest follows what again appears to be the last straw for a man intent on subverting the rightful system. In this case, rather than Shaftesbury’s declaration of support for Monmouth, it is the total and instantaneous renunciation not only of his protestant faith but also his country and heritage, by choosing the prospect of enrichment over his nationality. “I’le do’t by Alha, by Mahomet I will”()7. The treachery is uttered without a second thought because there does not even appear to be a moral question in his head, and so his removal is seen as a just and necessary act.

    That there are more than seven full pages following this incident in which the lead figure of hate has no part does not appear to matter, since his only real role in the play was to exemplify all of those traits of his ‘Tribe’ that D’Urfey wishes to denigrate. Indeed, the characters barely seem to notice his departure, and it certainly does not bear on any of their subplots of seduction and evasion of discovery that have occupied them for the majority of the play. Whigg himself seems often to be nothing but a board for the other, more loyal figures to push off and make attacks on his type.

    It would appear that the play’s real focus is the vigorous and combative relationship between Gratiana and Wilding, or the gender divide that it signifies, since he is afforded the last line to comment on the problems affecting men and women’s relationships. However I think that this is merely a factor in the plays comedic value, Whigg’s arrest is funny purely because of the speed of his conversion, and then the equally swift acceptance of his impending death. That he will die is a point of information, not a dramtic or humourous event.

    D’Urfey tries and succeeds in disrupting our expectations of what a comedy should be. The expectations that we develop for this piece begin with the prologue, an essential dramatic tool in this particular piece since it serves to bring the audiences attention not only to the goal of the play, but also highlights the fact that the views being expressed are D’Urfey’s, bringing all acclaim and political affirmation back onto his own head. The passage describes the turmoil that exists in England at the time, “Distraction rages now, and th’ frantick town, / plagued with sham-plots, a very Bedlam’s grown.

    “(Prologue)8 This responsibility for this loss of reason, of wit and intelligence, is placed firmly on the shoulders of mistrust and disloyalty, that the climate of England is rife with discord due to the constant plotting of its citizens, and the paranoia which that evinces, either in response to foreign threats “for fear the French should come and eat them up”, or in the fractious religious climate, “Protestants that rail and grieve ye… think all the Loyal Party Dogs and Bears/Run mad”(Prologue)9.

    This assault on the causes of tension in England places no doubt in the mind of the audience as to the distress caused to the playwright, the descriptive language of the plots and plotters harsh and condescending, “like Lunatics yr roar and range about” (Prologue)10, but D’Urfey also takes pains to separate himself somewhat, as though the poet is beyond this. It may appear to be an appeal to the audience to leave politics at the entrance and treat his work fairly again, “When shall we see an Audience in the Pit, / Not sway’d by faction that will silent sit, / And friends to the poet calmly judge his Wit?

    “(Prologue)11. Despite sounding like a request for impartiality from his audience, we see that this is undermined by his parting statement “his fate’s secure and doubly blessed… he shall know both Parties, now he Glories; / By Hisses th’ Whiggs, and by their claps the Tories” (Prologue)12. This acknowledges that if there can be no possibility of reconciliation or political distance, then this brings ‘the Poet’ joy, because he shall anger his enemies and receive praise from his allies.

    This pride and satisfaction with the results of his actions seems incongruous with the humble presentation of the piece and with it we can see the subtle self-aggrandisement through professed humility that is characteristic of so many restoration playwrights. We must remember that D’Urfey was extremely popular amongst the lower classes on account of his musical endeavours, writing lyrics for songs set to music by over forty composers13, and that there are several songs in this piece which serve to ridicule his own work.

    As with much restoration comedy, relying as heavily as it does on the wit of its characters, and the awareness of wit as a virtue, D’Urfey attacks his own capabilities in the songs of the pieces, as well as in the prologue and dedication to the Earl of Berkeley. He uses a particular style of negative dialectic to prove his talent, in much the same way that Milton was able to display his ability by invoking the muses in order to highlight his own skill. “I thence/ invoke thy aid to my adventurous song” (Paradise Lost Book 1 Line 13)14.

    This address strengthens Milton’s position by eloquently stating his own weakness, and it is just so in the case of D’Urfey’s attempts to sound humble and retiring, when in fact the overt wit of his characters shows both his ability and willingness to use it for his own ends. The songs in Act 3 Sc 2 is testament to this, since they ridicule his worth as an author and then offer to rectify this by presenting a his work as a musician to mollify a supposedly dissatisfied audience. “But to make some amends for my snarling and lashing, / I divert all the: Town with my Thrumming and Thrashing.

    ” This suggests such invective and incompetence that he presents a lowly song in order to retain some respect. However no-one is likely to take such self criticism seriously, it merely acts as a device to lower himself that he might rise higher when his wit is properly observed. The tone of the letter to his patron the Earl of Berkeley not only emphasises this praise through self inflicted disparagement, but also gives us D’Urfey’s an opportunity to flatter his patron in the process.

    “This therefore causes our Modern authors… to make an humble offering of their works to the most deserving and knowing of Men of the Age… ” (Front Matter)15. This is a clear attempt to ingratiate himself further with the patron, by lowering himself to a position of inferior intellect he is obviously assured of the goodwill Berkeley in the future. However more importantly, this debasement of his own merits is not too effective because what reason would Berkeley have had to fund and support an unskilled writer.

    It is in the comparison to his patron’s work that D’Urfey is diminished, and this elevates them both to a level above the common man, because he anticipates a degree of the impartiality from his patron that he cannot hope to receive from the common or noble audience. D’Urfey is displaying an ability to manipulate all the different factions of his audience, those that can remain aloof above political affairs, and the crowd that will react for good or ill, but in entirely the manner that he requires.

    In the Epilogue, we hope to be afforded some insight into why the appeal to so many different strands of audience, and an explanation as to why the title figure seemed to remain only a peripheral figure during the play. The new actress coming in at the end seems to be claiming the role of scapegoat and emissary of the poet, seeking to assuage any feelings of resentment towards the piece, an escape clause almost to prevent criticism. But to introduce a self-aware masque-like figure at this point seems strange, especially since her role appears to be to ridicule those who choose political sides and cannot see past them.

    It is this suggestion that the future may be a time when there will be impartiality, and that at that point she will have authority and control. As it stands, she has neither and so the play ends on what feels like a weak point until you realise that she represents the artistic or creative urge, unfettered by politics that is currently constrained by the social structure of the time. In conclusion we can see that D’Urfey has used satire and incisive wit on behalf of his ‘heroic’ characters to ridicule what can easily be construed as his political enemies, considering his loyalty and close relationship with Charles II.

    However whilst the force of his vitriol is most definitely focussed on Whigg and what he represents, it would appear that he is trying to eliminate this from the audience’s mind when they come to see a play. Hence the marginalisation of Whigg’s role in the play, and the entreaty in the prologue and epilogue to the audience to keep a degree of political distance when observing his work, hoping no doubt that in the future, hopefully lest tempestuous political climate, drama will be able to return to a position outside of parties and sides.

    Considering the climate it was written in however it is no surprise that D’Urfey comes down hard on those opposed to the King, and still begs the favourable indulgence of his patron.

    Bibliography Sir Barnaby Whigg: Thomas D’Urfey, 1681 Sourced from LION http://www. contemplator. com/history/durfey. html http://www. ajdrake. com/teachers/teaching/guides/brit_civil_war/restoration_comedy. htm http://www. encyclopedia. com/html/S/Shaftes1. asp John Milton Paradise Lost Penguin Popular Classics 1996 Approx Word Count: 2, 495.

    1The First Modern Comedies Norman Holland sourced at http://www. ajdrake. com/teachers/teaching/guides/brit_civil_war/restoration_comedy. htm 2 http://www. encyclopedia. com/html/S/Shaftes1. asp 3 http://www. contemplator. com/history/durfey. html 4 http://www. contemplator. com/history/durfey. html 5 http://www. encyclopedia. com/html/S/Shaftes1. asp 6 Sir Barnaby Whigg: Thomas D’Urfey, 1681 Sourced from LION 7 Sir Barnaby Whigg: Thomas D’Urfey, 1681 Sourced from LION 8Sir Barnaby Whigg: Thomas D’Urfey, 1681 Sourced from LION.

    9 Sir Barnaby Whigg: Thomas D’Urfey, 1681 Sourced from LION 10 Sir Barnaby Whigg: Thomas D’Urfey, 1681 Sourced from LION 11 Sir Barnaby Whigg: Thomas D’Urfey, 1681 Sourced from LION 12 Sir Barnaby Whigg: Thomas D’Urfey, 1681 Sourced from LION 13 http://www. contemplator. com/history/durfey. html 14 John Milton Paradise Lost Penguin Popular Classics 1996 15 Sir Barnaby Whigg: Thomas D’Urfey, 1681 Sourced from LION University Number 0200853 Course: Seventeenth Century Literature and Culture Module Tutor: Sarah Knight.

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