Collection No. 90: The Platonic Wife, by Elizabeth Griffith

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

Publication details

Author: Griffith, Elizabeth
Author dates: c.1727-1793
Title: The Platonic Wife

First played: 1765
First published: 1765, for W. Johnston [etc.]. 97p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1765)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1996)

Genre: Comedy

Trend(s): Nationality; Gender

Character types: French; Irish; Country; Servant

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Lord and Lady Frankland are separated, to the satisfaction of Clarinda, who has romantic aspirations towards the Lord. Mr. Frankland, the Lord's nephew, spies on Lady Frankland through her friend Emilia and schemes to become the heir to his uncle's fortune. Lady Frankland is courted by Sir Harry Wilmot and Sir William Belville, but returns to her husband at the play's conclusion. The loyal servant Patrick reports Mr. Frankland's activities, and he is apprehended.

Prologue: ‘Serjeants’ Pompous and Placid plead the causes of Platonic wives and this play.

Act I.
Lady Fanshaw and Clarinda rejoice in Lady Frankland’s “escape from the galling chain of matrimony”. They compare widowhood and separation as ways of escaping “the tyrant”. Clarinda is Lord Frankland’s Platonic friend; however, she has romantic intentions, for she hopes that Lord and Lady Frankland will not come to an understanding. Lord Frankland bemoans his wife’s departure. Mr. Charles Frankland enters; Lord Frankland explains that if he had shown one thousandth of the affection he feels towards his wife, the separation would not have taken place, but that he is testing her virtue by seeing how she will behave throughout the separation. Lord Frankland hears that Lady Frankland has been crying all night; he decides to leave for Belle-vue, with Mr. Frankland to watch the Lady’s behaviour through his intimacy with her friend Emilia. Mr. Frankland intends to become the heir to the Lord’s fortunes.  Fontange, a French maid, and Nicodemus, an English servant, bicker about their nationalities’ abilities as servants. Lucy interrupts their fight and tries to console the crying Fontange. Lady Frankland is weeping and tells her friend Emilia that she regrets having learned to read, for now she has unrealistic romantic ideals. Lady Fanshaw, Clarinda and Sir Harry Wilmot enter and wish Lady Frankland joy at her new liberty. Sir Harry flirts with Lady Frankland, telling her that she must reserve her affections for men who are not her husband. Lady Frankland tells them that she had always intended to inspire a passion in Lord Frankland and cannot understand how she failed. In a blatant breach of propriety, Sir Harry offers to escort her this evening; Lady Frankland naively accepts. Emilia rushes in to say that Mr. Frankland has kissed her and that she wishes he were more reserved. This gentlemen enters. When the others have left, he says that he cannot have the fortune without the woman, but that he would like to have an intrigue instead of a marriage as his object.
Act II.
Mr. Frankland tells Emilia that he adores her, and that her reputation stands on the brink of ruin because of Lady Frankland’s scandalous behaviour. Emilia protests that Lady Frankland is “as pure as the mountain snow”. Mr. Frankland goes further to say that if there is no reconciliation between Lord and Lady Frankland, there can be no heir, leaving him as the beneficiary of their wealth, and able to properly court Emilia. She is shocked by this scheming and departs in a fury. Fontange enters and asks after Patrick, Frankland’s Irish servant (and her suitor). Frankland determines that Fontage can be used as a spy, to be rewarded with “an Englishman’s gold, and an Irishman’s kisses”. Lady Frankland, Lady Fanshaw, Clarinda and Sir William Belville, another suitor of Lady Frankland’s, play cards. Emilia enters and leaves again. To Lady Frankland’s amazement, Lady Fanshaw tells her that Sir Harry Wilmot has had a dozen lovers in the past year. Fontange enters to tell Lady Frankland that a letter has arrived; they leave together. Sir William recites romantic couplets during her absence; Lady Fanshaw and Clarinda tease him for his bashful love and his sense of propriety. Lady Frankland returns and they discuss love; Lady Frankland is pleased to see that Sir William’s idea of love agrees with her own. The other ladies try to leave the two alone, but Sir William retires as well out of propriety. Lady Frankland reads the letter, which is from Sir Harry Wilmot giving his excuses for their meeting this evening and begging leave to attend her morning toilet. Lady Frankland worries that Emilia has been made unhappy by Mr. Frankland, but Emilia denies it. Patrick has delivered a letter to Emilia, but she has not opened it, to Mr. Frankland’s annoyance. On the brink of ruin, and having lost Emilia’s affections, Frankland contemplates suicide.

Act III.
Lord Frankland has grown tired of the country and has returned to London. Ambrose, his servant, enters to say that he thinks Lady Frankland would like to be reconciled to her husband; Lord Frankland refuses to do so until her virtue is proven, but says that he will watch over her and prevent her from getting into trouble. Sir Harry comes to Lady Frankland’s dressing room and flirts with her. Lady Frankland questions him about his behaviour towards his past lovers, including Lady Subtle, but he says they are ‘ghosts’. He suggests that she find a confidant (obviously himself) among her friends on whom to place the burden of her wit and beauty. When his meaning becomes clear, Lady Frankland returns to her romantic ideals of lovers suffering in silence, and rejects him. He leaves. Sir William reflects upon his love for Lady Frankland. Sir Harry enters and tells his friend about the assignation Lady Frankland has granted him. Sir William refuses to believe it and they fight; Sir Harry is disarmed. Clarinda enters and sees them. The men are quickly reconciled and walk off together. Emilia enters and Clarinda tells her about the fight; Emilia is concerned for Sir William, which Clarinda notes with satisfaction. Mr. Frankland comes in; Emilia refuses to hear him. Patrick enters to say that he has just seen Fontange half naked, the sight of which turned his stomach. Fontange has agreed to see Mr. Frankland. Patrick refuses to wait for her and runs to open up Frankland’s chambers.

Act IV.
Emilia has told Lady Frankland about the duel, to the latter’s mortification. She hopes that her husband will never hear about it. Nicodemus announces Sir William. He enters and compliments Emilia and Lady Frankland. Emilia leaves; Sir William kisses Lady Frankland’s hand, but says that he will never hope for more. Lady Fanshaw arrives to find out why Lady Frankland has missed the morning’s auction. Lady Frankland agrees to go with her. Sir William is astonished by their motive (to see the fashionable young men of the town), and follows them unseen. Lord Frankland asks Emilia who his wife’s closest acquaintances are; when told that she is intimate with Clarinda, he is shocked and orders Emilia to ensure that Clarinda is dropped. Patrick says that his master and Fontange have been alone in a bed-chamber for half an hour; he tries to eavesdrop, but they emerge. Frankland offers Fontange £1000 for aiding him in his plan to kidnap and marry Emilia. Patrick has overheard this and is disturbed; he decides to visit his friend Jimmy Kavanagh and consult with him. Clarinda visits Sir Harry and dresses his wound. Sir Harry is unimpressed by Lady Frankland’s desire to be platonic friends, and tries to seduce Clarinda, who refuses him. A pained Sir William describes the auction: Lady Frankland flirted with many men and was escorted out by Lord Mount Fashion. Sir William decides to wait inside. He is impressed by Emilia’s innocence and rationality. Lady Frankland returns; goaded by her flirtation with Lord Mount Fashion, Sir William professes his love to her, but she says she only wishes to be his Platonic friend. She leaves abruptly.

Act V.
Sir William’s confession has made Lady Frankland realize her errors. She recognizes that her only safety is in her relationship with her husband. Lord Frankland’s servant Ambrose arrives. As part of her plan to reconcile with her husband, Lady Frankland instructs Ambrose to remove her portrait from his house, and says that it will be returned that evening. Clarinda and Lady Fanshow plot to ruin Lady Frankland’s reputation by spreading the story of the duel. Sir William’s servant James (Jimmy Kavanagh) tells his master about Patrick’s eavesdropping and Mr. Frankland’s plan to kidnap Emilia. Sir William realizes he is in love with Emilia and goes to her rescue. A footman gives Nicodemus a letter for Clarinda. Fontange gets cold feet and requests that Frankland sign the bond for £1000 before he begins the kidnapping. Frankland notes that the bill is invalidate because it has not been witnessed. Clarinda opens the letter to see that Emilia and Lady Frankland no longer wish to have her visit them. She is outraged. Thomas, the footman, saw a muffled man (Frankland) go into Lady Frankland’s house. Clarinda and Lady Fanshaw are pleased with this piece of news as they plan to use it to destroy Lady Frankland’s reputation. Lord Frankland sees the picture, which has been transformed to show Lady Frankland weeping and desolate. He flies to her, and they are reconciled. Sir William Belville is announced, and they learn that Patrick tried to give a letter to Lord Frankland at his house during his absence. Lord Frankland is reluctant to believe that his relation is capable of such villany, but Patrick’s story is convincing and he agrees to search the house. Sir William asks Emilia for her hand, which she grants him. Lord Frankland finds Mr. Frankland in the house; upon discovery, he begs for death. As a reward for Patrick’s honesty, they give him £1000. A nasty letter arrives from Clarinda, which Lord Frankland uses as proof that she should be banned from the house. Fontange escapes; Lord Frankland says that they are no longer to employ foreigners. Lady Frankland promises to obey her husband.

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Secondary commentary

A) Napier, Elizabeth R. “Elizabeth Griffith: October 11, 1727-January 5, 1793”. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 39: British Novelists, 1660-1800. Edited by Martin C. Battestin, University of Virginia. The Gale Group, 1985. LiteratureResourceCenter. 2 July 2008.

"In 1765 The Platonic Wife, Griffith's adaptation of "L'Heureux Divorce" from Marmontel's Contes moraux (1758), was acted to feeble applause at Drury Lane[.]"

B) Staves, Susan. “Elizabeth Griffith: October 11, 1727-January 5, 1793”. 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. 2 July 2008.;jsessionid=2D701B429B2E1F584560498F0A078F53?locID=utoronto_main&frmhyp=1&srchtp=athr&c=1&PN=DLBBIO02927&ai=U13597276&svdste=6&docNum=H1200002926&ST=griffith&bConts=10415&vrsn=3&OP=contains&ca=2&ste=120&tab=1&tbst=arp&n=10

"Her first comedy, The Platonic Wife, is based on one of the elegant stories of Jean-François Marmontel, "L'hereux divorce," from the popular Contes moraux. The female protagonist, Lady Frankland, makes such extravagant demands for romance of her husband that she forces a separation. While separated, she attempts to show that a married woman can have male friends, but the lesson of the play is that such Platonic friendship is impossible. The Platonic Wife yields a double moral: overtly, Lady Frankland must learn that she is not entitled to have her demands for romance within marriage met and that she requires the protection of her husband to live with happiness and reputation; covertly, however, the play suggests that as soon as a good woman relinquishes her demand for romance within marriage as an entitlement, her husband will give her romance, indeed, romantic adulation as a free gift. Among the characters added to the Marmontel story by Griffith are two sophisticated and cynical ladies who are so jealous of Lady Frankland's reputation for virtue and of her happiness with her husband that they conspire against her. Such characters are rather common in Griffith's plays; their lives add a harsher realism to plays in which the main plots can sometimes seem cloyingly sentimental. Griffith also adds a lively set of servants--English, French, Irish, and West Indian--who vividly demonstrate the social conflicts that resulted when fashionable Londoners in the age of empire filled their households with both domestic and foreign servants. Her Irish servant turns out to have more conscience than stage Irishmen usually did, while the less scrupulous French maid is used to point a patriotic moral about the folly of Britons who buy foreign products or employ foreigners "while there are persons in our own country, both in trade and service, sufficient to supply our uses." On opening night (24 January 1765), The Platonic Wife was greeted with applause from some but "catcalls, hisses, groans, and horse-laughs" from others; certain quick alterations, including apparently the repainting of a badly done portrait of Lady Frankland crucial to the couple's reconciliation, earned the play a respectable sixday run."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

The only speakers of non-standard English are the servants, who speak with French, Irish, and rural English accents. This is a form of social commentary, as Griffith concludes the play with an encouragement to hire Britons.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Fontange (French maid)
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 7]
Why you no stir, Nicodumpus? my lady up this half-an-hour, and has no gota her tea. In my countré de valet de chambre hava de caffé, de gateau, ready again de lady sit up in her bed; they carry it to her ruelle, they clap it upon her lap, they tell her de news of de ville, of de compagne, of every ting in de vorld; they maka her laugh, and put her in de bon humeur for de whole day. O, de English serviteurs sont de mere bétes!

b.1 Orthography: “Nicodumpus”; “de”; “gota”; “ countré”; “hava”; “ting”; “vorld”; “maka” 
b.2 Grammar: “Why you no stir?”
b.3 Vocabulary: French: “de chambre”; “de gateau”; “ruelle”; “ville”; “compagne” ; “bon humeur”; “serviteurs sont de…betes”
c. Nationality: French
d. Character profile: French servant
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: Nicodemus
a. Sample of dialect
[page 7]

Why there now, youse run on at a fine rate, and Ise does not know what youse been jabbering about, this half hour. The Devil take all your country, say I: Youse come over here, poor, sorry, lean, spectacles, to take the bread out of our English

[page 8 ]

mouths, and then prate to us in outlandish gibberish, of ruelly's, villy's, and Cato's. But I'll be hanged if Mrs. Cato, that lived with my lady before she ever saw your ugly feace, were not worth a ship-load on ye.
b.1 Orthography: “feace”
b.2 Grammar: “Ise does”; “youse been”
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English (country)
d. Character profile: English servant
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: Patrick
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 31]
Fait, and if I had done that, myself would not have been here so soon itself; for how could miss Emilia give an answer to a letter she would not read, unless she was a conjuror, or a witch?

Not read my letter!

Not she indeed; she scorned the motion, though mademoiselle palavered her at the greatest rate, and said she was sure it must be very pretty, when it

[page 32 ]

would come from the young concealor; but madam Emilia she said she would not pry into the concealment; that is, she would not break the seal, I suppose. Augh, she is very witty.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “myself would not have been here so soon itself”
b.3 Vocabulary: “Fait”; “Augh”; “motion” (for “notion”)
c. Nationality: Irish
d. Character profile: Irish servant
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: Sir Harry Wilmot’s Franglais
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 35]
Bright as the sun, and as the morning fair! Eh, ma charmante! what an amazing freshness of complexion! what a profusion of lovely hair! upon my soul, lady Frankland, you are vastly handsome.

I am glad to see you in such top spirits, Sir Harry. I suppose them the effect of your last night's party.

Last night---Let me consider, where was I last night? Oh the cursed embarras du monde! which prevented my waiting on your ladyship. I have a vast mind to turn shepherd, and renounce the world at once. Should not you like to be a shepherdess now?

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: French: “ma charmante”; “embarras du monde”
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: a flirtatious but unsuccessful suitor
e. Consistency of representation: consistent throughout this scene

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects


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Other points of interest

On reading:

I assure you, Emilia, I almost wish I had never learned my letters; for the delicate and refined sentiments, which books have inspired me with, have only served to disgust me with almost all mankind.

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©2008 Arden Hegele