Collection No. 37: The Imposters, by Richard Cumberland

Publication Details | Synopsis | Secondary Commentary |Varieties & Dialects | Other

Publication details

Author: Cumberland, Richard
Author dates: 1732-1811
Title: The Imposters

First played: 1789
First published: 1789, for C. Dilly [etc.] 92 p.
C18th availability: Not available

Modern availability: Available from LION (1997)

Genre: Comedy

Trend(s): Class

Character types: French; Servant; Class-Crossing

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Harry Singleton, a valet, is disguised as Lord Janus so that he can pursue Eleanor Sapient and cheat her father out of his money. Sir Charles Freemantle, a noble gentleman, exposes Lord Janus' identity and marries Eleanor.

Act I.
Sir Solomon Sapient meets his brother Captain George Sapient in a “saloon” in Sir Solomon’s house. The Captain urges Sir Solomon to rouse Lord Janus, their guest, who is delaying breakfast. Oliver, a servant, is urged to dress and speak appropriately to the guest; he is extremely rude to Sir Solomon. Sir Solomon tells the Captain that he expects Lord Janus to propose to his daughter Eleanor. Lord Janus’ servant Philibert enters to report that his master is busy with his lawyer but will soon join them. Sir Solomon says that Polycarp, the lawyer, is welcome to join them. Polycarp requests that some trunks belonging to his lordship be placed in a safe location. Sir Solomon’s cousin Dorothy enters; Polycarp mistakes her for the lovely object of Lord Janus’ affections. Polycarp treats Dorothy very gallantly. Philibert asks Oliver whether he thinks Lord Janus will marry Eleanor. Lord Janus and Polycarp confer quietly: Polycarp would like to settle down and would willingly do so with Dorothy, while Lord Janus wants to pursue Eleanor. However, he is not Lord Janus, but Harry Singleton; he plans to live with Sir Solomon until the latter dies, then to inherit Sir Solomon’s house. ‘Lord Janus’ tells Polycarp that he would love Eleanor for her person if the presence of her tremendous fortune did not interfere.

Act II.
Sir Charles Freemantle has just rescued Eleanor, who has fallen off her horse. He asks her name while he adjusts her boot. They agree to keep the fall a secret. Sir Charles tells her that five more minutes of conversation will cause him to be “irrecoverably in love with [her] for life”. Sir Solomon arrives; he knows Sir Charles’ family and offers to let him stay with them. Sir Charles gives a glowing recommendation of Lord Janus’ character but says he dislikes his employee Harry Singleton. Lord Janus and Polycarp prepare to launch their attack: they will get Sir Solomon to sign some documents and will insist that the marriage be consummated immediately. Lord Janus confesses to wearing his ‘valet’s’ clothing. Polycarp pays court to Dorothy; Oliver bursts in to find Polycarp on his knees. Polycarp tells him that ‘he who keeps a secret makes a friend’. Sir Solomon walks in on them kissing. After Dorothy leaves to inspect Eleanor’s injury, Sir Solomon accuses Polycarp of seducing Dorothy with her fortune as his object. Sir Solmon agrees to Eleanor and Lord Janus’ proposed marriage.

Act III.
Sir Solomon tells Lord Janus how pleased he is that he and Eleanor will be married. He announces that Sir Charles Freemantle will dine with them today, to Lord Janus’ inward horror. Sir Solomon is confused by Lord Janus’ unwillingness to meet with a man who gave him such a good character. Oliver enters to report that Sir Charles Freemantle has arrived. Lord Janus demands that a reason be found to turn Sir Charles out of the house, but does not go into particulars about why he so vehemently despises him. Polycarp and Lord Janus hide in the latter’s room. Eleanor tells Sir Charles that she does not like Lord Janus, and that the virtues that Sir Charles described as Lord Janus’ are in fact present to a greater degree in his own character. The Captain enters to bring a message to Sir Charles from Sir Solomon; Eleanor leaves so that it can be delivered in private. The Captain awkwardly and regretfully tells Sir Charles that he is not exactly welcome at this time, as Lord Janus and sir Solmon are completing the business transactions of the marriage. Sir Charles tells the Captain that Eleanor may not really love Lord Janus, but that he (Sir Charles) must make it clear that he has not made any effort to divert Eleanor from her intended husband. Sir Charles demands an interview off the premises with his friend Lord Janus to clarify this. The Captain tells Sir Charles to wait for Lord Janus in a little rustic house down the road. Eleanor tells her uncle that she loves Sir Charles. Lord Janus appeals to Eleanor to marry him, offering her countless riches; she says that he may have her vanity but not her heart. Eleanor tells him to visit Sir Charles Freemantle, who has said he is diffident and self-effacing, who can better instruct him on how to treat her.

Act IV.
Lord Janus tells Polycarp that he is going to see Sir Charles Freemantle in the character of Harry Singleton. He will then flee, leaving Polycarp to pursue Dorothy at his leisure. This couple flirts; Dorothy agrees to a clandestine meeting in the grove.  Lord Janus (as Harry Singleton) meets Sir Charles in the grove; he confirms that Eleanor loves Lord Janus and will marry him. Sir Charles demands to see Lord Janus himself; he wants to warn him that Eleanor is a coquette and that his Lordship stands “on the brink of ruin.” Harry tells Sir Charles that Lord Janus has sent him a message: Sir Charles has had a narrow escape of his own, and should fly immediately. Sir Charles agrees to do so. Harry leaves. Eleanor comes into the garden and tells Sir Charles that she has refused Lord Janus. Sir Charles does not believe her, and accuses her of being a coquette. Eleanor begins to cry. The Captain enters; he threatens to fight Sir Charles for making his niece cry. Sir Charles tells him that he has not seen Lord Janus. They draw and Eleanor throws herself between the swords. They stop fighting. Oliver rushes in to say that Lord Janus has said he has driven Sir Charles out of the country, but that he does not seem to have left yet. Sir Charles again denies having seen Lord Janus. They realize that Lord Janus is really Harry Singleton. Sir Charles laments having insulted Eleanor “past the point of redemption”, but she forgives him.

Act V.
Sir Charles and Eleanor agree to be married. They return to the house with the Captain, who has a plan for exposing Lord Janus. Lord Janus tells Sir Solomon that Sir Charles has left the grounds. Sir Solomon confides to Lord Janus that if Dorothy insists on taking her dowry, he will be unable to provide the full sum for Eleanor’s marriage. Lord Janus tells Sir Solomon that Polycarp is not of the same social standing as Dorothy and that he is also anxious to prevent the match. Polycarp enters; Sir Solomon goes into the next room to tell Dorothy that Polycarp is an usher at a school. Dorothy returns and tells Polycarp that he cannot expect to marry a person of her social standing. Polycarp and Lord Janus fight; Sir Solomon and Oliver break it up. The Captain enters. Oliver repeats the incriminating ejaculations Lord Janus uttered during the fight. Lord Janus and Polycarp pretend to have been acting a play. Dorothy enters to deny that it was a play, and that Lord Janus had taken her part to avenge her against Polycarp. Sir Charles, Eleanor and some constables arrive to arrest the imposters. Sir Solomon condemns Lord Janus to imprisonment and permits Eleanor to marry Sir Charles. Polycarp says he will accept any punishment except matrimony. Sir Solomon orders the men to jail.

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Secondary commentary

A) Keenan, Joseph J.,Jr., ‘Richard Cumberland: February 19, 1732-May 7, 1811’. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 89: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, Third Series. Edited by Paula R. Backscheider, University of Rochester. The Gale Group, 1989. LiteratureResourceCenter. 26 May 2008.
"Cumberland rewrote The Beaux Stratagem as The Imposters, turning the fortune hunters from noblemen into upper middle class and from sympathetic to unsympathetic; their cleverness and wit are cause for much laughter as they outsmart the social-climbing Sir Soloman Sapient and his antiquated cousin Dorothy. In the end, however, the imposters are exposed by the noble Sir Charles Freemantle, who truly loves Eleanor, the object of the imposters' scheme. Although most of the play is satiric, Cumberland returns to some sentimental moments: Eleanor throwing herself between two duelists, the imposters being transported for their crime."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

One foreign variety (French) is present. Sir Solomon makes a few grammatical slips. Polycarp uses one French phrase. Oliver (a servant) uses “thou” to address his master, but this is just to denote his statement as a rhetorical question. Lord Janus and Sir Charles Freemantle use elevated tones in their love-making speeches.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Monsieur Philibert
a. Sample of dialect
[page 5]
I tank you; Grace a Dieu, he has slept like a leetle pig; he make you very many baisemains, and demand ten tousand pardon, for dat he is occupèe with one gentleman, who is juste arrivè de Londres with beaucoup d'affaires for him and papiers, ma foi, plus interressantes.

Sir Sol.
Who is the gentleman, may I ask!

Ah! he is very great man to mi lor, he is all in all to my lor, his avocât, his what d'ye call it, his homme d'affaires, his Monsieur, Monsieur---(peste!) Ah! je comprens---Monsieur Polycarp---Mais, voila! mi lor, soi meme---Ah! je suis ravi, he is habiliè to a merveil.

b.1 Orthography: “tank” “leetle”; thousand”; “dat”
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: French: “Grace a Dieu”; “baisemains”; “arrive de Londres”; “beaucoup d’affaires” ; “papiers, ma foi, plus interressantes” ; “avocat” ; “peste” ; “je comprens” ; “Mais voila” ; “soi meme” ; “je suis ravi” ; “habilie” ; “merveil”
c. Nationality: French
d. Character profile: French/Jewish character impersonating a valet
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: Sir Solomon
a. Sample of dialect
[page 29 ]

Sir Sol. And you was only taking it.

[page 84]
Sir Sol.
I am all astonishment. Those were the very word.
b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “you was”; “those were the…word”
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: baronet
e. Consistency of representation: non-standard grammar only in these instances

Variety: Polycarp (lawyer)
a. Sample of dialect
[page 30]
Certainly she is neither, and yet there is a something, give me leave to say, a kind of je'n scais quois about her---
b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: French: “je ne sais quoi” (bad orthography)
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: an usher at a school impersonating a lawyer (absence of Latin phrases is telling, especially when compared to other stage lawyers)
e. Consistency of representation: just this instance

Variety: Oliver (servant)
a. Sample of dialect
[page 36]

What the murrain ails 'em now? Ah my poor master, thou hast stuft thy skull so full of my

[page 37 ]

lord, that thou hast turn'd out thy wits to make room for him.

b.1 Orthography: “stuft” (stuffed)
b.2 Grammar: “thou”
b.3 Vocabulary: “what the murrain”
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: faithful servant
e. Consistency of representation: inconsistent; this choice of second person pronoun suggests it is a rhetorical question

Variety: Lord Janus (really Harry Singleton)
a. Sample of dialect
[page 47]
Lord Janus.
Fairest object in nature, how blest am I in being privileg'd to address you as your betroth'd admirer! Your worthy father has admitted me to an alliance, which will add a lustre to the brightest honors of my family, and I wait

[page 48 ]

the approaching moment, that is to make us one, with an ardor nothing but the warmest passion can inspire.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: elevated tone: “fairest object in nature”; “lustre to the brightest honors”; “ardor”; “warmest passion”
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: middle-class man impersonating a lord
e. Consistency of representation: consistent (when speaking with Eleanor)

Variety: Sir Charles Freemantle’s rhapsodic love-making
a. Sample of dialect
[page 71]
Sir Charles.
Oh thou enchanting natural creature! with a heart so open, so transparent as thine, an hour's acquaintance is an age of experience; think me not so mere a trifler as to be the captive of a smile, a glance; beauty, if not animated by a soul like thine, has no allurements for me, thou art nature itself and with nature I am safe, but the confidence thou art so ready to repose in me shou'd have better ground to rest on, than it's own generosity alone: I shall demand a scrutiny before I will accept of my election.
b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “thou”, “thine”; “it’s”; “accept of my election” (?)
b.3 Vocabulary: elevated tone: “enchanting natural creature” etc.
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: honest baronet
e. Consistency of representation: inconsistent; usually speaks with a less elevated tone

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects

Misunderstood French:

Aye, aye, taisez vous, Monsieur Olivier, taifez vous.

                                         [apart to Oliver .

Not I, I have no desire to taste .

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Other points of interest


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