The Fourposter, Jan de Hartog's most successful play, was first produced at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in 1951; it ran for 632 performances on Broadway. The play earned de Hartog the 1952 Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award. The Fourposter was adapted to the screen in a 1952 film produced by Columbia Pictures. A musical rendition, entitled I Do! I Do! opened on Broadway in 1966.
The Fourposter features two characters, Agnes and Michael, and spans the years 1890 to 1925, as key moments in their marriage are played out around their four-poster bed. In act I, scene 1, they have just returned from their wedding ceremony, anxious and nervous about consummating their marriage. In scene 2, Agnes begins to feel the labor pains of their first child. In act II, scene 1, Michael, who has become a highly successful writer, reveals to Agnes that he has been having an affair. In scene 2, Michael has just discovered what he thinks is a bottle of liquor in their son's bedroom. In act III scene 1, they have just returned from their daughter's wedding. In scene 2, they are moving out of their house to live in a smaller apartment.
De Hartog's play charts the ups and downs of a long-lasting marriage that is punctuated by moments of crisis and reconciliation. It maintains a balance in perspective between the special concerns and complaints of the woman and those of the man, as a function of their traditional societal roles. The "four-poster" bed, in and around which these moments of crisis are played out, symbolizes the lasting quality of the marriage bond, which remains steady throughout several decades of love and conflict.
Act I Summary
The Fourposter takes place in the bedroom of Agnes and Michael, a married couple, who are the only characters in the play. Act I, scene 1 takes place in 1890, at night. They have just come home from their wedding. Agnes's mother has placed a pillow with "God Is Love'' embroidered on it on the bed. Michael is amorous, but Agnes is shy and nervous about consummating their wedding, even threatening to walk out on Michael. Soon, however, she feels comfortable enough to get into bed with him.
Act I, scene 2 takes place in 1891, in the late afternoon. Agnes is pregnant with their first child. Michael complains that he is having labor pains and worries that Agnes is neglecting him in favor of the coming child. When she goes into labor, Michael leaves to get the doctor for her delivery.
(The entire section is 138 words.)
Act II Summary
Act II, scene 1 takes place in 1901, at night. Michael has become a very successful writer, and they are now quite wealthy. They have just returned from an evening out at a party, and they begin to bicker and argue. Agnes accuses him of being self-centered, and Michael reveals that he has been having an affair. Agnes responds by hinting that she may also be having an affair. They make up, however, when Michael asks if he can read to her from his most recent writing.
Act II, scene 2 takes place in 1908, from four A.M. until dawn. Michael has just discovered what he thinks is a bottle of liquor in the bedroom of their son, Robert, who is now seventeen. Michael claims he is going to beat the boy when he returns home. He and Agnes argue; she accuses him of favoring their daughter, while he accuses her of favoring their son. Agnes reveals to Michael that their daughter, Lizzie, is engaged. They then discover that the bottle does not contain alcohol, but cod liver oil, which Michael had poured into it years earlier to hide the fact that he was not swallowing it, as prescribed by his mother.
(The entire section is 199 words.)
Act III Summary
Act III, scene 1, takes place in 1913, in the late afternoon. Michael and Agnes have just returned from their daughter's wedding. They argue, and Agnes informs Michael that she no longer loves him and is going to leave him. She criticizes Michael for discouraging a young aspiring poet who had asked for advice on his poems. Michael agrees to look at the poems again but is still critical. Agnes accuses him of not needing her any more, but he tells her, ‘‘It's you who make me sing . . . and if I sing like a frog in a pond, it's not my fault.’’ Upon hearing this, Agnes simultaneously laughs, cries, and embraces him.
Act III, scene 2 takes place in 1925, at dawn. Michael and Agnes are moving out of their house to live in a smaller apartment. Agnes wants to place their pillow, on which the words "God Is Love'' are embroidered, under the bedcovers for the newly wed couple who will be moving into their house, but Michael protests. They bicker over the pillow, each in turn surreptitiously removing it and replacing it. Finally, Michael leaves the pillow where Agnes has placed it in the bed, setting a bottle of champagne next to it.
(The entire section is 201 words.)