Collection No. 67: The School for Wives, by Hugh Kelly

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

Publication details

Author: Kelly, Hugh
Author dates: 1739-1777
Title: The School for Wives

First played: 1773
First published: 1774, for T. Becket [etc.] 88 p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1774)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1997)

Genre: Comedy

Trend(s): Nationality ; Class; Gender; Dialect; Popularity

Character types: Irish; Military

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The married Belville has made off with Miss Leeson. Her brother vows vengeance; this is complicated by the fact that he is in love with Belville's sister, Emily Moreland. General Savage pursues his son's love interest, Miss Walsingham; eventually, they realize the error and Miss Walsingham is married to Captain Savage. The Belvilles and the Leesons are reconciled. Mrs. Tempest continues to be General Savage's mistress.

Dedication to the Queen, for being “the brightest pattern of all female virtues.”

Act I.
Belville has taken Mrs. Tempest’s niece, Miss Leeson, from her guardian, allegedly to make her an actress but really to make her his mistress. Miss Leeson has a brother who will certainly call Belville to account, says Captain Savage. Miss Walsingham expostulates on the vices of men, but the Captain reassures her that Belville loves his wife and will leave his mistress well provided for when he has tired of her. Miss Walsingham and Captain Savage are keeping their own engagement secret, hoping that General Savage will suggest the match himself. The Belvilles arrive, and a servant announces Lady Rachel Mildew. Lady Rachel is in love with Torrington, who has no idea of his conquest. Some masquerade clothes arrive. In the Temple, Leeson speaks with his Irish clerk, Connolly. Leeson refuses to have anything to do with his aunt Mrs. Tempest, who is a ‘kept woman’ and is a disgrace to the family. Leeson may be able to pay his debts by a match with ‘the lovely Emily’ who has ‘half consented’ to run away to Scotland with him; however, he must fight a duel with Belville this evening, which might interfere with this plan. Connolly offers to give Leeson twenty pounds to pay his debts before the duel, and volunteers to be his second. Mrs. Belville wonders if the charge that Mrs. Tempest levelled at Belville was true, despite being told she was mad. Lady Rachel Mildew, a dramatist, arrives; her play has been rejected by both theatres, but she heard Miss Leeson rehearsing, and so thinks there is a new company that might be able to put it on. Belville tells Captain Savage that he loves Mrs. Belville for her mind, but is attracted to all other woman more than he is to her. Belville confides that he intends to pursue Miss Walsingham, to Savage’s inward fury.

Act II.
General Savage has been pressured by Mrs. Tempest, his mistress, to reprimand Belville for seducing her niece. In order to be free of Mrs. Tempest, the General wishes to marry Miss Walsingham. He intends to marry his son Captain Savage to Miss Moreland, Belville’s sister. General Savage is completely Mrs. Tempest’s subject, however, and cannot maintain the military order he strives for. Belville flirts with Miss Walsingham, who twists his advances to expose the fact that he will choose staying in England over her becoming his mistress. Captain Savage is reassured by Belville’s irritation at the meeting’s outcome. Connolly arrives with the letter from Leeson. Belville says that he will meet Leeson at the appointed time, but tells Captain Savage that he does not intend to fight with him. They go out, and General Savage enters. He asks Miss Walsingham if she ever intends to change her name, and compares courtship to a siege. Miss Walsingham unintentionally agrees to marry him when she says that she has no objection to the name of Savage, and when she says that she is happier the proposal came from him than from his son. They agree to keep the engagement a secret.

Act III.
Lady Rachel and Miss Belville hear Miss Leeson’s recitations, and agree that she should be a comic actor, although the girl thinks herself more suited to the role of tragic heroine. Mrs. Belville suspects that her husband has eloped with the girl as Mr. Frankly, to whom Miss Leeson continually refers. While Miss Leeson rehearses Romeo and Juliet with Lady Rachel, Belville enters and inserts himself into the dialogue. They go to see the ladies, who recognize Belville. Mrs. Tempest arrives as well and takes Miss Leeson with her. Mrs. Belville forgives her husband; Lady Rachel transcribes the scene to insert into her own play. Captain Savage and his father discuss the engagement to Miss Walsingham; the misunderstanding is still not exposed. A servant has heard Belville trying to seduce Miss Walsingham, and has reported it to Lady Rachel; however, Mrs. Belville maintains her composure and says that more mistresses means that Belville will not form a strong attachment to any of them. To test the shamed Belville, Lady Rachel suggests that she write a love-letter from Miss Walsingham (their hands are virtually identical). At the temple, Leeson is terrified by some bailiffs, whom he thinks are coming to arrest him for his debts. To prevent the duel, Connolly decides to write a letter informing Mrs. Belville of it, in hopes that she will keep Belville from fighting. A letter arrives for Belville, supposedly from Miss Walsingham; renewing her interest in him, she instructs him to approach her in a blue domino costume at the masquerade to take place that evening. A servant enters to report that Miss Walsingham has been in a carriage accident. Thinking Miss Walsingham has betrayed him, Savage breaks off their engagement once he sees she is all right. The General arrives. Savage refuses to marry the lady intended for him. The General says he will cut him off financially. Miss Walsingham finally realizes the error.

Act IV.
Mrs. Belville entreats Captain Savage to prevent her husband’s fighting Leeson; Savage goes to Hyde Park on her orders. Miss Walsingham and Lady Rachel enter, and the women cry about the terrible practice of duelling. Belville has already left for Hyde Park, where he meets Leeson. Although Belville is reluctant to fight, Leeson insists. Belville disarms him, but refuses to kill him. Leeson is humiliated, but Connolly says that he has proven that he is willing to risk his life if his family is wronged. Leeson goes to Mrs. Crayon’s, where he will see Emily. General Savage and Torrington meet with Miss Walsingham, who tries to speak to the General privately for the sake of decorum; however, he will not let her do so. Miss Walsingham finally tells the men that she does not wish to be married, and begs leave to retire. The two men go to find Captain Savage to hear what he had tried to tell them. Belville returns; Mrs. Belville faints with joy. A letter arrives for Belville to say that his sister has eloped because she objects to a match with Captain Savage. Torrington and the General arrive at Captain Savage’s lodgings. The Captain tells them that Miss Walsingham is in love with Belville and will be carried off by him at the masquerade. Belville arrives at Mrs. Crayon’s, looking for his sister. He meets Leeson, to his surprise. The men are shocked to discover that each has tried to make off with the other’s sister; Belville consents to Leeson’s match with Miss Moreland, despite Leeson’s poverty. Connolly cries at the scene.

Act V.
Belville is resolved to be virtuous, but to give Miss Walsingham the audience she has requested. Lady Rachel believes that Belville will be led by his passions, while Mrs. Belville thinks he has learned to abide by his conscience. Torrington, the General and Captain Savage see Belville going into the masquerade with a woman dressed in a blue domino; they believe it is Miss Walsingham. The General restrains his son, but Belville is alerted by the noise, and asks Miss Walsingham to step into a closet. Captain Savage tries to force his way into the room. The woman in the blue domino emerges; unmasked, she proves to be Mrs. Belville, to her husband’s delight. Captain Savage tells his father that there may yet be a chance that Miss Walsingham could be brought into the Savage family. The General believes that his son means the lady’s match with himself. With Torrington, he finds Captain Savage and Miss Walsingham engaged, to his embarrassment and Torrington’s mockery. The whole company arrives; the General ponders what to do. Mrs. Tempest arrives and berates him for making a proposal of marriage to Miss Walsingham, as he is supposed to be her lover. The General consents to his son’s marriage with Miss Walsingham, leaving in shame with Mrs. Tempest. The company rejoices at the proper couplings and says that the whole story, if played on the stage, might be very instructive.

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Secondary commentary

A) Schneller, Beverly E. ‘Kelly, Hugh (1739–1777)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 28 May 2008.

"Kelly's third play, The School for Wives (1774), was the most successful drama in Drury Lane's 1773–4 season. Another comedy involving marriages and disguises, the play ran for twenty-four nights. It was printed in five editions and was seen in 1805 in Bath."

B) Foster, Gretchen. ‘Hugh Kelly:1739-February 3, 1777.’ 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. 28 May 2008.
"The play contains Kelly's favorite sentimental, romantic, and comic elements--the libertine who reforms, the spirited young woman who captures all hearts, the blustering father who must yield to his child's wishes, and no end of mixups and mistakes. Kelly also mixes in those rareties of the English stage, a pacific Irishman and an honest attorney, two characters which reflect Kelly himself--his Irish background and his aspiration to become a lawyer. The play dramatizes not only what wives are supposed to learn but also what sentimental drama is supposed to teach. Kelly introduces a sentimental dramatist, Lady Rachel Mildew, who helps underscore his belief in the value of sentimental comedy and is also a focus of some mild comedy herself as her name indicates. He also has some linguistic fun with the military jargon of General Savage… Opportunities for pure comedy abound, and in this play Kelly allows them more scope than he had in the earlier comedies… Kelly's lesson for wives is more complex than the patient-Griselda character of Mrs. Belville (the only actual wife in the drama) would imply. Even she displays newfound spunk at the play's close, when, taking her final cue from the triumphant Mrs. Tempest, she conjectures, "If the women of virtue were to pluck up a little spirit, they might be soon as well treated as kept mistresses." The play also depicts a school for husbands… In the closing dialogue, Kelly states his version of the commonplace that literature's goal is delightful instruction, which reflects the eighteenth century's obsession with the Horatian ideal for poetry of "utile dulci.""

C) Synder, E.D. “The Wild Irish: A Study of Some English Satires against the Irish, Scots, and Welsh.” Modern Philology 17, 12 (1920): 687.

"One of these [works] is Hugh Kelly’s The School for Wives, which gives us a stage Irishman, Connolly, almost too likable to be spoken of as the object of satire" (Snyder 709).

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

Most characters speak StE, except for Connolly, Leeson’s honest Irish clerk, and General Savage, who uses military jargon to emphasize the order of his household (which is undercut by his subjugation to his mistress Mrs. Tempest).

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Connolly (honest Irishman)
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 7]
In troth, so they are: I strove to brighten them up a little, but some misfortune attends every thing I do, for the more I clane them, the dirtier they are, honey.

You have had some of our usual daily visitors for money, I suppose?

You may say that; and three or four of them are now hanging about the door, that I wish handsomely hang'd any where else, for bodering us.

b.1 Orthography: “clane”; “bodering”
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: “honey”
c. Nationality: Irish
d. Character profile: Connolly is an honourable, peace-loving Irishman who is overcome with emotion at the plot’s proper resolution
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: General Savage’s military jargon
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 29]

Generously said, Madam: Then give me  leave, without any masked battery, to ask, if the heart

[page 30 ]

of an honest soldier is a prize at all worth your acceptance.

Miss Wal.
Upon my word, Sir, there's no masked battery in this question.

I am as fond of a coup de main, Madam, in love, as in war, and hate the tedious method of sapping a town, when there is a possibility of entering sword in hand.

Miss Wal.
Why really, Sir, a woman may as well know her own mind, when she is first summoned by the trumpet of a lover, as when she undergoes all the tiresome formality of a siege. You see I have caught your own mode of conversing, General.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: military: “masked battery”; “coup de main”; “sapping a town”; “sword in hand”
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: The General uses military language to support his autocratic rule of his household (which is shown many times to be a self-deception)
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects


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Other points of interest

Intertextuality: Joseph Andrews (Henry Fielding)
I wonder if Lady Rachel knows that Torrington came to town last night from Bath!

Mrs. Bel.
I hope he has found benefit by the waters, for he is one of the best creatures existing; he's a downright parson Adams, in good nature and simplicity.

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©2008 Arden Hegele