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appearance is against them

19 august 2023

"None of your arts, my Lord," says Lady Loveall, in Elizabeth Inchbald's Appearance Is against Them (1785). "I will see who you have hid in your bed-chamber." Lord Lighthead replies: "I assure you 'tis my Uncle."

And that sets the tone for the surrounding play. The first act is bedroom farce; the second act is a comedy of misunderstandings about a missing shawl. In each act, the title principle holds sway. But everything's explained, all is forgiven, and the characters pair off happily or miserably enough as they're truly inclined to do.

In terms of generating comic business, Appearance Is against Them, like many of Inchbald's plays, is quite comparable to the works of Goldsmith or Sheridan or the earlier Restoration and 18th-century traditions. This is the high English humor tradition, without sententiousness or philosophy, without extravagant character humors, and without protracted length. But there are excellent scenes. Early and late, the mistress/maid pair of Miss Angle and Mrs. Fish account for much of the humor. Miss Angle, irresolute in love, has to be prodded toward drastic steps (including stealing that shawl) by the more madcap Fish. Other characters surround them to offer small blasts of motive that inspire more comic complications. Mr. Walmsley reluctantly courts Lady Mary (the shawl is his gift to her) because he's exasperated by his nomen-est-omen nephew Lord Lighthead, who has flirted with Miss Angle but is fonder of Lady Loveall. Miss Angle really loves Clownly, not a bozo but rather someone of pastoral virtue; but Clownly appears too briefly to do much but patch together a plotline or two.

Appearance Is against Them isn't edifying and isn't meant to be. It achieves its aim: to be funny.

Inchbald, Elizabeth. Appearance Is against Them. London, 1785. ECCO-TCP, Eighteenth Century Collections Online Text Creation Partnership, University of Oxford. iBooks.