Home  »  Volume X: English THE AGE OF JOHNSON  »  § 22. Foote’s Comic Mimicry; His Farces

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

IV. The Drama and the Stage

§ 22. Foote’s Comic Mimicry; His Farces

Foote’s career as playwright coincides almost exactly with Garrick’s managership at Drury lane (1747–76). He was a direct descendant of Fielding, fully developing personal satire through the medium of brief dramatic sketches. Of about a score of printed dramatic pieces, none exceeds three acts. With Foote, as with Fielding, most of the zest of his “local hits” is now lost. Taylor the quack oculist, the extortioner Mrs. Grieve, chaplain Jackson and many other once familiar personages whom he boldly caricatured are now shadowy or forgotten figures. Foote’s characters often have animation and theatrical effectiveness; but they are not developed in action. Though his pieces are usually printed as comedies, they mainly belong to the realm of farce. Like his own art as an actor, they tend to substitute mimicry for original delineation of character.

The zest of Foote’s farces, without their personal bitterness, is seen in various contemporary after-pieces. Garrick produced a number of lively farces, such as The Lying Valet (1741), Miss in her Teens (1747), The Irish Widow (1772) and Bon Ton (1775). James Townley’s High Life below Stairs (1759) proved a welcome variety to those who, like George Selwyn, were tired of “low life above stairs,” and it long maintained its popularity.