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such things are

17 september 2023

Such Things Are (1788) is an ungainly farce by Elizabeth Inchbald. Her shorter comedies are much better. I wonder if Such Things Are could be trimmed down to one-act size for modern performance; there's almost enough material there for a snappy short play.

Inchbald explained that she decided "to fix the scene on the island of Sumatra" in order to "reconcile the incidents of the Play to the strictest degree of probability" (Advertisement). Of course the Sumatran setting is completely implausible, and "probability" is never an object of such farces anyway.

In any case, here we are in Sumatra, where the local English community accepts newcomers who bear letters of introduction from folks back home. Sir Luke and Lady Tremor, bitter sparring partners in a terrible marriage, greet a stranger named Twineall, who dresses oddly and has presumptuous notions. Twineall has the idea that he can play any community like a fortepiano as long as he has some inside information on their frailties. An acquaintance of of Twineall's named Meanright tells him all the wrong things: that the coward Sir Luke fancies himself a great military hero, that the lowborn Lady Tremor is vain of her noble ancestry, that the toady Lord Flint is a secret conspirator against the Sultan.

This misdirection leads to some hilarity when all of Twineall's insinuations work against him. Twineall is even taken off to be executed by the Sultan. But not before we have encountered a host of other disconnected characters: prisoners of the Sultan, a benefactor who tries to urge the Sultan to mercy, a long-lost wife, a couple named Elvirus and Aurelia who … I have no idea what the heck they're doing in the play.

As I said, maybe the Twineall/Tremor business could be a brisk farce, but I guess it really reduces to just a couple of funny scenes. The rest is confusing padding.

Inchbald, Elizabeth. Such Things Are. 1788. Eighteenth Century Collections Online Text Creation Partnership. iBooks.