The Belle's Stratagem
The Belle's Stratagem is a romantic comedy of manners that received its première on February 22, 1780; it was the most successful work by Hannah Cowley. It drew its title from George Farquhar's play The Beaux' Stratagem. The show was presented by David Garrick, filling the 2,000-seat Drury Lane theatre. to become a major hit of the season. Queen Charlotte enjoyed the play so much that she decreed it be performed for the royal family once a season for several years.
The play's double plotline concerns the romance between Letitia Hardy and Doricourt, as well as the relationship between Sir George Touchwood and his wife, Lady Frances Touchwood. The story comes to a dénouement at the masquerade ball of the last act. As described by the press office of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival,
"Set in 1780's London, The Belle's Stratagem is the tale of Letitia Hardy, promised to the charming Doricourt whom she hasn't seen since childhood. Her plan to enchant him with her wit and charm is turned upside-down when she discovers she's fallen madly in love with him, and he seems quite unmoved by her. Desiring to marry a man who adores her equally, she plans a bold deception--to have love as she likes it. Interwoven with Letitia's scheme to trick Doricourt into passion is the story of the newly married Touchwoods. Sir George is wildly jealous of his lovely country-bred wife and his fear of her being corrupted by fashionable life encourages plots by his acquaintance to turn Lady Frances into a fine lady in order to spite Sir George."
The role of the ingenue heroine, Letitia Hardy, proved to be a successful vehicle in Paris for Harriet Smithson, who infatuated Hector Berlioz. It was also "a favorite role" for Ellen Terry, who was both photographed and engraved in her character's costume.
- Kitty Willis,
- Mrs. Racket,
- Letitia Hardy,
- Old Hardy,
- Sir George Touchwood,
- Miss Ogle,
- Lady Frances Touchwood
Despite immense popularity in its time, The Belle's Stratagem was withdrawn by Richard Brinsley Sheridan when he took over management of Drury Lane from Garrick. Although presented a number of times during the 19th century in both England and the United States, it was rarely performed by major theaters throughout recent history.
It was revived in an off-Broadway showcase production by Prospect Theater Company in New York City in 2003, in a major production by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2005, and in 2011 received its first British production since 1888. It was presented at Southwark Playhouse, London, by Red Handed Theatre Company, directed by Jessica Swale and met universal acclaim from the press, leading to a tour to the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. Michael Billington (The Guardian) heralded it 'eminently revivable' and Libby Purves (The Times) commented 'Theatrical enterprise like this makes you proud to be British'. The production featured Maggie Steed, Jackie Clune, Hannah Spearritt, Marc Baylis Gina Beck, Joseph Macnab, Christopher Logan, Michael Lindall and Robin Soans in the lead roles.
- Winter, William. Preface to "Two Old Comedies: The Belle's Stratagem and The Wonder. Reduced and Re-arranged by Augustin Daly." pp. 11-14. Privately printed from the prompt books at Daly's Theatre, 1893. Accessed at http://books.google.com/books?id=e2CKdMWUb9wC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Swale, Jessica. "The Belle of London: Hannah Cowley." Program notes, Southwark Playhouse's 2011 production of "The Belle's Stratagem."