The Recruiting Officer

by George Farquhar

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Characters Discussed

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Captain Plume

Captain Plume, a recruiting officer in the Queen’s army who goes into Shrewsbury to recruit for a French campaign. His chief endeavor, however, is winning Sylvia Balance for his wife. Blatant and ribald, he declares he will not marry, to spend his entire life with a woman, until he knows premaritally whether he will like her company for half an hour. Winning Sylvia after trickery against him has failed, he quits the service to raise recruits in a matrimonial way. His men’s conduct in the town is well described by the accusation that they leave as many recruits in a town as they take away.

Sergeant Kite

Sergeant Kite, his sergeant. He tries to lure recruits by offers of money and gay living. Ineffectual in these efforts, he disguises himself as a conjurer, predicting for men brilliant futures, according to their vocations, if they will enlist. Through his “predictions,” he also brings the principals of the play together, foretelling the plot. Kite procures other enlistments as he cajoles the justices in court to declare men needy, without means of support, and therefore wards of the Crown.

Sylvia Balance

Sylvia Balance, a young woman who spends the greater part of the play dressed as a man, young Mr. Willful. Suspecting Plume of being attentive to Rose, Sylvia, disguised as a recruit, courts Rose to learn of Plume’s relations with other women. She learns that Plume is not the philanderer he is reputed to be. As a result, she disregards her father’s admonition to break off with Plume and becomes his wife. Her handsome income is no small factor in Plume’s love for her.


Melinda, Sylvia’s cousin, a lady of fortune. She adds to the plot with her attitude toward Sylvia and by her attractiveness to Brazen and Worthy. Melinda’s ill temper causes her to be suspected of writing letters to Sylvia’s father, maligning Plume. Melinda’s comment that the confounded captains do more harm by debauching at home than they do good by their defenses abroad epitomizes the tone of the play.

Mr. Worthy

Mr. Worthy, a gentleman of Shropshire who wins Melinda. Never sure of Melinda’s temperament at a given time, Worthy assumes she is in love with Brazen. Easily influenced, Worthy takes Plume’s advice to win Melinda’s affections by ignoring her. The ensuing misunderstandings make for some rollicking scenes of dispute before Worthy succeeds with Melinda.

Captain Brazen

Captain Brazen, one of the recruiting officers, whose name fits him well. He is an arrogant coxcomb whose sole goal in life is woman or women. He is impetuous and approaches any woman familiarly, undaunted by her resistance. Plume, who sides with Mr. Worthy in the contest for Melinda, sends Brazen packing with the twenty recruits raised by Kite and without the benefit of Melinda’s twenty thousand pounds, which Brazen hoped to gain along with Melinda’s hand.


Rose, a pretty, buxom country girl who is taken in by Sylvia’s disguise as a soldier. Caught in the middle in more than one piece of chicanery, Rose is finally taken as Sylvia’s charge, at Plume’s suggestion. Sylvia assumes the responsibility, telling Plume that she will take care of Rose because Plume will have job enough to take care of a wife.


Bullock, Rose’s oafish brother. He sells grains in the market as Rose sells poultry. Bullock is the butt of many a bawdy joke. His commonness, however, is little different from the sensual behavior of the other, better-bred men. Naïve and bold, Bullock, having become a recruit, has the last word with Plume, telling him that he will desert...

(This entire section contains 972 words.)

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if he is ever mistreated.


Lucy, Melinda’s maid, actively involved in the forgeries that sustain the plot. Finding papers with Melinda’s signature, Lucy writes to Brazen, criticizing Worthy. Lucy stops the duel between Brazen and Worthy that is instigated by the letters.

Costar Pearmain

Costar Pearmain and

Thomas Appletree

Thomas Appletree, two recruits who resist Kite’s appeals to honor and patriotism, only to be tricked into the army. Kite hands them coins, saying that they are pictures of the Queen. When the two bumpkins plead with Plume, claiming they have not enlisted, Kite tells the captain that the two men have accepted money from him, implying payment for going into the service.

Justice Balance

Justice Balance, Sylvia’s father and a justice of the peace. He sits in judgment on the men brought in as vagrants whom Kite would have as recruits. Among those appearing before him is Sylvia, in her brother’s uniform. Balance recognizes Sylvia, shows his recognition indirectly by telling her that she should go home to her father, and gives her to Plume in marriage.

Justice Scruple

Justice Scruple and

Justice Scale

Justice Scale, justices of the peace who add to the burlesque of the country courts by their inane handling of cases.

A constable

A constable, who brings Kite before the justices. He is introduced to point up the treatment civil authorities suffer at the hands of the military at a time of recruitment. Kite goes unpunished for his misdemeanors, and the constable is sentenced to get four recruits for Plume or to enlist himself.


Pluck, a country butcher. Kite, impersonating a conjurer, tells Pluck that he will be surgeon general of the Queen’s army for his part in the battle of Flanders.


Thomas, a smith in Shropshire who Kite predicts will be made captain of the forges in the grand train of artillery. In his soothsaying, Kite advises Pluck and Thomas that they will, in a given time, be approached by gentlemen who will lead them to their good fortunes. The gentlemen are, of course, Kite’s accomplices in recruiting.




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