The Chaplet

Shorn of its music and most likely spectacular stage business and sets, Boyce’s “musical entertainment” took me five minutes to read. The Chaplet represents the vicissitudes of two couples: Damon and Laura, Palaemon and Pastora. “Scene: a Grove”, and everything is very pastoral indeed. The play opens with Damon abandoning his love Laura to go carousing and wandering while Laura is left to pine. In the next scene, Palaemon leaves Pastora in search of variety too. Pastora then meets Damon, resists his entreaties for a quick fling and resolves herself to go out looking for a husband. In the second act, Pastora and Laura compete for Damon’s hand in marriage, with the shepherd in the end proving loyal to his Laura. Pastora proclaims that “I’ll quit the dull plains for the city / Where beauty is follow’d by merit”, and then Damon and Laura, to end on a more positive note, finish the entertainment with lines of such a kind as “Ne’er yield to the swain, till he make you a wife / For he who loves truly, will take you for life.”

Poussin’s Et In Arcadia Ego, 1637-38.
I don’t have too much to say about this play. So much of it is stylised and conventional. ‘Laura’ is probably called so after Petrarch’s beloved, while the other monikers are similarly derivative: Pastora / Pastoral, for example, while Damon has a famous mowing ancestor created by Andrew Marvell. One other thought springs to mind, and that is that there is an inherent misogyny in the work: while Pastora is able to wander like Damon and Palaemon, she is still very much the victim, since all agency is largely in the hands of the men. Such a state is never questioned, despite a fair amount of satire in the play. We’ve already had one example in Pastora’s thoughts about merit’s place in the city, but another occurs in Damon’s drinking song. I’ll conclude with it and the way it generalises its soon to be proved erroneous ideas about love out to all society, largely with reason:

Push about the brisk bowl, ’twill enliven the heart;
While thus we sit on the grass,
The lover who talks of this suff’rings and smart,
Deserves to be recon’d an ass.
The wretch who sits watching his ill-gotten pelf,
And wishes to to the mass;
Whate’er the curmudgeon may think of himself,
Deserves to be reckon’d an ass.
The beau who so smart with his wel-powder’d hair,
An angel beholds in his glass,
And thinks with grimace to subdue all the fair,
May justly be reckon’d an ass.

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