Sunday, June 12, 2016

Revising Isabella

Last week, I wrote about Thomas Southerne's play The Fatal Marriage; Or, The Innocent Adultery. As I mentioned, the play was also well known to later audiences through an adaptation by David Garrick called Isabella: Or, The Fatal Marriage. Notice that the provocative title has become a subtitle, and the even more provocative subtitle has completely disappeared.

Garrick eliminated the cross-dressing subplot in which Anne Bracegirdle had once excelled. An advertisement for Isabella condemned the comic scenes "not only as indelicate, but as immoral." Garrick also added some lines to the play, beefing up a few of the parts. According to the advertisement, Susannah Cibber, who played the title role in Garrick's production, did not perform everything written for her. As the advertisement puts it:

Many things please in the reading, which may have little or no effect upon the stage. When the passions are violent, and speeches long, the performers must either spare their powers, or shorten their speeches. Mrs. Cibber chose the latter; by which she has been able to exert that force and expression which has been so thoroughly felt, and so sincerely applauded.

Garrick's adaptation skips right to the third scene of Southerne's play, though he does provide a brief introduction to that scene, in which Villeroy and Carlos discuss Villeroy's desire to marry Isabella. Garrick also makes sure there can be no doubt about Carlos's villainy and his base motives for wanting that marriage. After Villeroy exits the stage, Carlos confides in the audience, "There is an evil fate that waits upon her, / To which, I wish him wedded--Only him: / His upstart family, with haughty brow...." Though Southerne's Carlos just wants to be rid of Isabella, Garrick has him desire revenge on Villeroy as well.

The rest of the scene closely follows Southerne, though Garrick does give Isabella one last line at the end: "Then heav'n have mercy on me!" Garrick revises the beginning of Act II, again to make Carlos appear more villainous. Villeroy is completely taken in by his enemy, even embracing Carlos as his friend. Garrick then settles into Southerne's words (with the subplot removed, of course) and proceeds to the scene at Isabella's house, and then to Villeroy paying off her creditors. The last scenes of Southerne's Act II, belonging to the subplot, are of course omitted.

Garrick begins his third act with a new scene between Carlos and his father, Count Baldwin. Though Carlos was just urging the marriage between Villeroy and Isabella, he now predicts disaster:

                    Soon he'll hate her;
                    Tho' warm and violent in his raptures now;
                    When full enjoyment palls his sicken'd sense,
                    And reason with satiety returns,
                    Her cold constrain'd acceptance of his hand,
                    Will gall his pride, which (tho' of late o'erpower'd
                    By stronger passions) will, as they grow weak,
                    Rise in full force, and pour its vengeance on her.

The wedding sequence is different in Garrick's version as well. In Southerne's play, characters from the subplot attend the wedding, but he replaces them with generic friends of the couple. Garrick also replaces the music at the wedding. No less a composer than Henry Purcell had provided settings for the songs "The Danger Is Over" and "I Sigh'd, and Own'd My Love" but Garrick swapped out those old-fashioned songs for some airs originally sung by a Miss Young and a Mr. Beard. When Isabella enters the scene, Garrick goes back to Southerne's dialogue, though he wisely trims some of Villeroy's lines and elevates the importance of Carlos.

Garrick's fourth act omits the opening scene with its subplot characters and skips right to Biron's return. Though this scene is nearly identical to Southerne's, Garrick adds a final line for Biron at the end, anticipating his reunion with Isabella. Biron also gets some extra lines in the reunion scene while Isabella is offstage. When she returns, Isabella retains most of her lines, but the eighteenth-century Garrick chose to strike out a reference about following her husband to bed. (The Restoration had no such scruples.) Garrick also got rid of some grisly lines about stabbing her husband in the heart and expanded Biron's closing couplet into a longer speech at the end of the scene.

Act V of the adaptation begins with a scene that is nearly word-for-word the same as Southerne's with the exception of a couple of judicious cuts. Isabella's lines get a few cuts in the following scene, including the removal of a reference to cuckolds. Garrick rewrites one of Biron's speeches, but to my mind does not improve it. Curiously, when Biron meets the villain Carlos in the next scene, Garrick cuts Carlos's order to his ruffians, "Be sure you murder him." Perhaps Garrick felt he had already made Carlos villainous enough.

The advertisement seems to imply that as Isabella, Susannah Cibber did not perform extra lines Garrick had penned for her. However, where are those extra lines in the script? Instead, Garrick's version omits the final lines of Isabella in Southerne's play: "The Waves and Winds will dash, and Tempests roar; / But Wrecks are toss'd at last upon the Shore." It would seem that Cibber might have chosen to omit not Garrick's lines, but Southerne's, having already worked herself up into a height of passion.

In any case, Garrick's adaptation shows that both he and Cibber acknowledged the importance of trimming when preparing works for the stage, even though we might question some of the individual choices they made.