Article Title

"For want of Clelia": Re-placing the Maternal Body in The Twin-Rivals


George Farquhar’s The Twin Rivals (1702) stages popular fears about the social power of duplicitous and corrupt midwives as debates over the practice of male-midwifery begin to emerge. The play highlights how the secrets of the female body—particularly the maternal body—underpin pervasive anxieties about social stability and the inviolability of the family. The play’s midwife, Mother Midnight, attempts to subvert proper lineage structures and consistently sullies national purity by helping women conceal the truth of their maternity and trick unknowing men into ‘fathering’ illegitimate children. Although Farquhar asserts in his prologue that the threats the play rehearses are of the utmost gravity, and advocates comedy as the appropriate vehicle for performing and containing those threats, the simple comic closure proves out of proportion to the midwife’s danger and fails to effectively curtail her very powerful figure. Farquhar attempted to subvert theatrically what his play could not resolve thematically by casting William Bullock, a famous theatrical clown, to play the midwife onstage, thereby erasing the female body which stood as the sign of social discord throughout the play. If an actress had played this role, her body would have visibly reinforced the duplicity of the female body and the power of the midwife to adjudicate the truths of that body. Instead, character and actor were perpetually disjointed, which produced an intensified comic effect onstage; however, it did not ultimately circumscribe the larger threat that the midwife could contaminate family relationships and, by extension, proper English masculinity.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.