Examine the exposition of Aimwell and Archer’s worldviews in this passage. You may extend your discussion to cover ‘the Beaux Stratagem” as a whole.
The Beaux Stratagem extract is taken from the play’s beginning where Archer and Aimwell, two young men who have squandered their fortunes, travel to Lichfield in the hopes of marrying young wealthy women. Their scheme focuses on Aimwell impersonating a nobleman whilst Archer masquerades as his footman. In this essay, I will be arguing Aimwell’s and Archer’s worldviews are dominated by consumeristic and materialistic thoughts, but I shall be focusing on Archer’s attitude to taking advantage of and capitalising on every opportunity that he is given.
Both Aimwell’s and Archer’s worldviews circulate around consumerism and materialism. Archer embodies his role through addressing Aimwell as “my brother in iniquity.” Aimwell responds “iniquity! […] You need not change your style with your dress.” (BS, 1.1. 116-117) His incredulousness is conveyed through the one-word exclamation at the beginning of Aimwell’s dialogue: “iniquity!” (TBS, 1.1. 116) Aimwell continues by arguing “you need not change your style.” (TBS, 1.1. 116) This demonstrates his overconfidence in their scheme. He does not view it necessary to act their parts; their costumes will suffice. Archer rebuttals him by arguing “that there is no scandal like rags nor any crime so shameful as poverty.” (TBS, 1.1. 118-119) Archer’s dialogue is the most important in the extract, due to how it summarises his and Aimwell’s worldviews. Archer highlights the shame associated with “poverty.” (TBS, 1.1. 119) This demonstrates his and Aimwell’s superficiality by accentuating how money offers both economic and social status. Archer does not worry about material matters, such as food and accommodation, but about the disgrace connoted with poverty. He is more concerned about missing out from the power and status associated with money, rather than the money itself. This emphasises Archer and Aimwell’s shallow worldview; they want money, not to support themselves, but to have social status.
Aimwell and Archer’s skewed romanticised worldview of their actions is presented when Aimwell asks Archer:
who did that worthy lord,
my brother, single out of the side-box to sup with him t’other
night? (TBS, 1.1. 121-123)
Archer responds with “Jack Handycraft, a handsome, well-dressed, mannerly sharping rogue, who keeps the best company in town.” (TBS, 1.1. 124-125) The adjectives Archer uses to describe Jack contribute to how Archer and Aimwell have romanticised Jack Handycraft’s activities. Archer describes Jack as “handsome, well-dressed, mannerly,” (TBS, 1.1. 124) attributing a number of positive qualities to him, despite acknowledging that he is a “rogue.” (TBS, 1.1. 125) These qualities describing Jack are in their own separate clauses and the sentence can function without them. However, their inclusion not only demonstrates the high regard Aimwell and Archer hold Jack Handycraft in, but they also modify the last part of the sentence. If it were not for Archer’s description of Jack Handycraft, as a successful, loveable rogue, the fact he “keeps the best company in town” (TBS, 1.1. 125) is nothing special. It is how he can keep this company, despite being a criminal that is impressive. This elevates him to hero status in Aimwell’s and Archer’s eyes. This notion of criminality as a means to attaining status is exemplified in the succeeding lines, where Aimwell asks “who married my Lady Manslaughter” (TBS, 1.1. 126) and Archer responds:
Nick Marrabone, a professed pickpocket […]
but he makes a handsome figure, and rides in his coach,
that he formerly used to ride behind.” (TBS, 1.1. 128-130)
This further romanticises criminality, as it implies that one way to success and wealth is through deceit and deception. Nick Marrabone, a pickpocket, has married into wealth: he now “rides in [the] coach| that he […] used to ride behind.” (TBS, 1.1. 129-130) Archer then expands on Aimwell’s example of “poor Jack Generous” (TBS, 1.1. 131) who despite sitting in “the Mall [that] was crowded with company, […] poor Jack as single and solitary as a lion in a desert.” (TBS, 1.1. 135-136) Archer’s description of Jack Generous contrasts with his description of Jack Handycraft. Jack Generous is portrayed as an honest man, as his name is “Generous,” (TBS, 1.1 131) whereas the name “Handycraft” (TBS, 1.1. 124) implies Jack Handycraft is a pickpocket; he is crafty in using his hands to take other people’s money. How Archer describes Jack Handycraft as “handsome, well-dressed, mannerly,” (TBS, 1.1. 124) portraying him as a charming, interesting, and fun-loving individual, which contrasts with the honest Jack Generous who is portrayed as quiet and boring. “His autumnal periwig, shading his melancholy face,” (TBS, 1.1. 132) demonstrates him as drab and sad. Autumn is the time of year where everything begins to decay and leaves lose their colour. This applies to Jack Generous who like Autumn has little life or vitality. It is this behaviour that isolates him, whilst Jack Handycraft attracts massive crowds. These examples of Jack Handycraft, Nick Marrabone and Jack Generous portray Archer’s and Aimwell’s distorted worldviews. They idolise Jack Handycraft and Nick Marrabone for achieving success through deceit and deception, whilst deriding Jack Generous. They model themselves after Jack Handycraft and Nick Marrabone and thus romanticise themselves and their actions.
Archer and Aimwell’s opportunistic worldview becomes evident within this extract. Archer is critical of Jack Generous not only because of how alone he is, but also because of his idle behaviour. Jack Generous stands “with one hand idle in his pocket, and with the other picking his useless teeth.” (TBS, 1.1. 133-134) Archer’s scathing attitude of this idle behaviour contrasts with his attitude towards Jack Handycraft and Nick Marrabone. Whilst Handycaft and Marrabone are criminals, they have worked hard to find success, whereas Jack Generousis waiting for success to find him. Archer’s biting attitude towards poverty and his materialism is evident when he argues “men must not be poor.” (TBS, 1.1. 139) His hostility continues when he says “idleness is the root of all evil, the world’s wide enough, let ‘em bustle.” (TBS, 1.1. 139-140) Archer is scathing of the laziness that people can demonstrate, arguing the world is big enough to let the idle people “bustle.” (TBS, 1.1. 140) He is critical of how:
taken the weak under her protection, but men of sense are left
to their industry. (TBS, 1.1. 140-142)
Whilst the weaker-willed have better luck, the more intelligent men, like Jack Handycraft or Aimwell and Archer, have to use their wits to succeed. The fact that these men are “left to their industry” (TBS, 1.1. 141-142) means they have been left to fend for themselves. Furthermore, in a performance, the “must” in “men must not be poor” (TBS, 1.1. 139) would be emphasised, to capture Archer’s distaste for poverty. It would also demonstrate his control, confidence and agency. He says “men must not be poor,” (TBS, 1.1. 139) not “men should not be poor” or “men cannot be poor.” This portrays Aimwell’s and Archer’s opportunistic worldview. They believe you must take advantage of every opportunity you receive and it is better to make your own fortune. This is evidenced by how Aimwell and Archer’s scheme comes to fruition at the play’s conclusion. Aimwell marries Dorinda and the friends secure her fortune of “ten thousand pound.” (TBS, 5.4. 115-116) Whilst, it can be argued Aimwell would have inevitably come into fortune and could have remained idle, due to him inheriting his deceased brother’s title and estate, I argue his brother’s death was not guaranteed. If Aimwell had remained idle and had not taken advantage of the opportunities available to him, he might have remained penniless. Even if luck and fortune had not rendered him “the true Lord Viscount Aimwell,” (TBS, 5.4. 89) the fact that he seized the opportunity of marrying Dorinda still ensured his success.
Throughout the extract, Archer exhibits more control and agency over Aimwell despite Archer’s subservient position. He progressively gains power through his dialogue becoming continuously longer and more opinionated. Although Aimwell begins the conversation and controls it by asking questions, Archer usurps his authority. Whilst Archer is initially reactionary to Aimwell, he takes control quickly. Hitherto, Aimwell has eight lines of dialogue, whereas Archer only seven, yet when Aimwell asks whether Archer has “observe[d] poor Jack Generous in the park,” (TBS, 1.1. 131) Archer responds with a four line answer dwarfing Aimwell’s preceding and succeeding dialogue. His control is evident when he decisively says “and that’s enough” (TBS, 1.1. 139) forcefully cutting Aimwell off. This is emphasised by how the line is a three word sentence concluding in a full stop. The full stop gives the sentence a direct and forceful tone accentuating Archer’s authority. When Aimwell tries to regain control by arguing “would not any man swear now, that I am a man of quality and you my servant, when if our intrinsic value were known-,” (TBS, 1.1. 144-145) Archer interrupts him:
we are the men of intrinsic value who can strike
fortunes out of ourselves, whose worth is independent of
accidents in life […]; we have heads
to get money. (TBS, 1.1 146-149)
This relates to Archer’s opportunistic worldview and distaste for idleness. He argues they have achieved their success not by being “luckily hitherto,” (TBS, 1.1. 143) but because “we have heads to get money.” (TBS, 1.1. 148-149) Archer is advocating taking advantage of your situation to obtain success and not waiting for success to find you. Jem Bloomfield argues Archer’s name implies “an ability to hit a “mark” or target, to take aim to achieve [his] object.” He continues by arguing “there is […] an ambiguity in what the “well” in Aimwell’s name means- does it suggest that he’s a crack shot, or that he aims at being virtuous?” I agree with Bloomfield, as he demonstrates Archer’s unwavering attitude towards taking advantage of every situation and how Aimwell’s aims of being virtuous makes him doubt their scheme and Archer has to encourage him, further demonstrating his agency. Archer’s dialogue becoming progressively longer climaxes in his monologue when he requests:
a man that keeps his five senses keen and bright as his sword
[…] with his reason as commander at the head of ‘em […]
and commands ‘em to retreat upon the least appearance of disadvantage or danger. (BS, 1.1. 200-202, 204-205)
Archer’s speech dominates the page, as he is requesting a man who keeps his “senses keen” (TBS, 1.1. 200) and does not let his passions overpower him. Archer boasts “I can be charmed with Sappho’s singing without falling in love with her face.” (TBS, 1.1 207-208) There is irony in how Archer discusses being in control of your emotions in a paragraph consisting of three sprawling sentences. However, I argue that this is his opportunistic worldview emerging. After Aimwell says “and to pass to the other extremity, of all keepers I think those the worst that keep their money,” (TBS, 1.1. 196-197) Archer seizes an opportunity to regain control which he then capitalises on. This demonstrates Archer’s worldview of not only seizing every opportunity you receive, but capitalising on it to the best of your ability.
Whilst, within the extract, the pursuit of material and social status are central to Archer’s and Aimwell’s worldviews, I argue making your own fortune is paramount to Archer’s worldview. Through his increasing confidence reflected by his progressively growing speech, Archer believes it is better to seize every opportunity you can, rather than waiting for success to find you. At the conclusion of the Beaux Stratagem, this idea comes to fruition: Archer and Aimwell achieve wealth and affluence, not through waiting for success to find them, but by actively working to make their fortunes.
Word Count: 1977
Bloomfield, Jem, ‘Names in the Beaux Stratagem,’ (Suite.io: place of publication not given, 2007) https://suite.io/jem-bloomfield/e5b2k4 [accessed 01/11/2015].
Farquar, George, The Beaux Stratagem, ed. by Ann Blake 2nd edn (London: A&C Black Publishers Limited, 2006)
George, Farquar, The Beaux Stratagem, ed. by Ann Blake 2nd edn (London: A&C Black Publishers Limited, 2006), I.I, l. 115 All subsequent references are from this edition and will be given in parentheses after quotations in the text.
 Jem Bloomfield, ‘Names in the Beaux Stratagem,’ (Suite.io and place of publication not given, 2007) https://suite.io/jem-bloomfield/e5b2k4 [accessed 01/11/2015].
This essay was for my Ways of the World module. This module mainly explored the popularity of the theatre in the 17th and long 18th centuries. This particular essay was written about the 1707 the Beaux Stratagem.