Eighteenth Century / Food and Culture

Connecting the Dots

Throughout the entire first scene, my head was filled with memories from my youth of watching re-runs of British classics like Benny Hill and Monty Python. The way the characters seemed to effortlessly flow and play off of each other, while still maintaining that dry, somewhat cheeky, undercurrent, was echoed by many British sitcoms for the latter part of the 20th century. As often times happened in the Monty Python skits, the characters of She Stoops to Conquer seem to dance around questions only to reach an anticlimactic end.  Throughout lines 104-125 of the first scene for example, couldn’t you just picture John Cleese as the role of Tony, bickering in this narcissistic way:

Pray, gentlemen, is not this same Hardcastle a cross-grained, oldfashioned, whimsical fellow, with an ugly face, a daughter, and a pretty son?…The daughter, a tall, trapesing, trolloping, talkative maypole; the son, a pretty, well-bred, agreeable youth, that everybody is fond of….

And then quickly snapping on his antagonist (who’d obviously be played by Eric Idle- he’d be a great Marlow), when informed they’d received some very different intel. I guess what I’m getting at here is that the formula for a comedy really hasn’t changed all that much throughout the past 300 or so years. Which means that the culture behind the comedy really hasn’t changed all too much, either. Like the issues of social class and socio-economic standing that arise in the play, modern Americans are finding themselves faced with many similar problems.

The food-service industry is one issue in particular. As the servants were preparing for their guests to arrive at the beginning of act 2, it struck me interesting that the servants all appeared to be Scottish, or at least Northern English. The English have been stigmatizing and tormenting the Scottish for centuries- evident when Mr. Hardcastle informs the servant, “You must hear us talk, and not think of talking; you must see us drink, and not think of drinking; you must see us eat, and not think of eating.” But is this really any different than the way we treat immigrant fast food workers and caterers?

I don’t know how everyone else feels, but personally I’ve always had an impossible time imagining how things used to be. Things are so immensely different in the 21st century that history just appears so distant and irrelevant. It’s interesting to see though that when given a shared component of the times, i.e. food or comedy, one starts making a great deal of connections to the modern world.

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3 thoughts on “Connecting the Dots

  1. Hi Chris – I like how you connect the past to the present via comedy and food, and I think that’s why I thought “The Lady’s Dressing Room” was not only amusing but also shocking. In most of my other English classes, I’ve almost only read canonical literature, and although Jonathan Swift is an academically accepted author, I think “appropriateness” i.e. politically correct, clean, modest, etc. is another stipulation of most of our assigned readings. With that in mind, even though I thought his poem was chauvinistically sexist (yes, that bad!), it was also hilarious and quite refreshing since it’s so vulgarly different from standard academic literature.

  2. Chris, I couldn’t put my finger on what I felt was a strange far off similarity until I just read your post. My dad lived in England for quite a while and still works in London for a good bit of the year. I grew up watching “Are you being served?” “Monty Python,” and others as well and I think your right on. At first, I immediately saw the two time periods as incredibly different, but after that original connection in the humor I am starting to make some of the other ones now (looking over the text again) that you alluded to in your post. As far as clothing and status go – I feel that yes some of that still goes on today, but not to the rigid extent at which it used to.

  3. Pingback: RE: “Connecting the Dots” « History and Literature of Georgian England

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