I’ve decided that I quite like reading afterpieces: they are – of course – not long, many of them still have some decent jokes in them, and – as is the case here – they have some usefully clear titles. This play turns on the competition of two men, one young, called Clerimont (our hero), and one old and avaricious fellow called Mr Matchwood. The object of their desire is Harriot, whose father Fretwood wants her to marry Matchwood even though she desires Clerimont. Thankfully for the young lovers, Harriot’s resourceful maid Lucy successfully causes enough delay for Clerimont and Frederick to hatch a plan. Frederick gets Fretwood so drunk that when Clerimont turns up disguised as Matchwood, Fretwood cheerfully send his daughter off to marry the young man. When Matchwood arrives and discovers that his rival has come as himself (hence the title), some particularly good comic dialogue occurs between the drunken father and the despairing miser, who now has the additional problem of being believed to be Clerimont in disguise:
MATCHWOOD Why did not you promise I should have her when I wou’d?
MATCH. And did not you bid me come for her?
MATCH. And did not you say we wou’d be married tonight?
MATCH. And don’t you know any thing at all of it?
It might be churlish to say it, but for all moral correctness of satiricially attacking avarice and lecherous old men (Matchwood is sixty, Harriot sixteen), the play does seem a bit divided when it comes to other matters. Take alcohol: on one hand, the devilish drink allows Fretwood to be tricked, yet if Fretwood were not tricked, there would be no happy ending. Similarly, the play takes a pretty strong line on sex and desire. Lucy, when asked by Matchwood what has been happening, replies, “Nothing, Sir; ’tis I have been doing, and the Parson has been doing, and by and by Mr Clerimont will be doing, ha, ha, ha!” Earlier, a porter has described Lucy as follows, “The she has such a mouth! And such a pair of lips! Oh, how I could smack ’em! Then she has such a pair of bubbies! So round and so plump! And they do so pout, and swell, and rise, and stick so close! – Oh Sir! – And such a pretty woman, to be sure, has such a pretty, pretty, pretty, ha, ha, ha!” (he then leaves without finishing the sentence: there was no need). This, I feel should be chalked up to the other (perhaps less well-known) half of the Enlightenment, that of rowdy Georgian London, whose atmosphere the theatre, especially with its afterpieces certainly participated in as well as capitalised upon.
The Lover his Own Rival is billed as a “Ballad Opera”, and like The Beggar’s Opera includes many songs. As in Gay’s play, the songs are all keyed to the plot, and occasionally deliver more subtle messages: Matchwood’s impotency is hinted at by the fact he never sings, while the genius of Lucy and Frederick is manifest in their frequent musical outbursts. However, unlike The Beggar’s Opera (and The Lying Valet) there is less of a sense of topsy-turvy here. The maid Lucy is clearly meant to be the heroine of the play, the servant who is so much smarter than all those around her, yet she actually does no more than Frederick. Overall, the play is entertaining, loud and unsubtle, but seems a little short of the sophistication of other, similar pieces. That said, I don’t think the author, Mr Langford was obliged to aim any higher than he did.