Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1711
First produced: 1730
First published: 1730
Type of work: Drama
Type of plot: Comedy of manners
Time of work: Eighteenth century
Wilding, a wild young man supposed to be a law student
Sir Harry Wilding, his father
Bellaria, a young woman supposed to marry Wilding
Sir Avarice Pedant, Bellaria's miserly uncle
Pedant, Sir Avarice's son
Lady Lucy, Sir Avarice's coquettish second wife
Lady Gravely, Sir Avarice's prudish sister
Veromil, Bellaria's lover
Valentine, Veromil's rakish friend
Because of his fame as a novelist, relatively few modern readers are aware of Fielding as a playwright. Certainly his abilities as a dramatist have been overshadowed by his fame as the author of such novels as TOM JONES and JOSEPH ANDREWS. He was also the last of the great eighteenth-century playwrights of the comedy of manners, and this particular drama is one of his best. Yet even his work in comedy cannot compare with the polish of his later farces, in which he found his best dramatic medium. Very apparent in THE TEMPLE BEAU is Fielding's attitude that high life in the eighteenth century was of the dullest and that the people, both men and women, who made up the highest circles were entirely without shame. Though he pictured high life amusingly in his plays, in private life Fielding could see little that was comic in it.
Sir Avarice Pedant, who had lost a great deal of money in the South Sea Bubble, decided to marry his son to Bellaria, his rich niece. An opportunity presented itself when her father, sending Bellaria to London in order to get her away from a fortuneless young man, asked her uncle to see that she married the son of Sir Harry Wilding. Sir Avarice, who saw a chance to make ten thousand pounds, had no intention of furthering the request.
Young Pedant was too deep in his studies of philosophy, however, to wish to marry Bellaria. Only after Sir Avarice threatened to disinherit him did he agree to follow his father's wishes.
In the meantime Sir Harry Wilding came down to London to arrange the marriage between his son and Bellaria. He found that his son, young Wilding, was not a lawyer, but had been spending his time as a gay man about town. In fact, young Wilding had been flirting with Sir Avarice's young second wife, who was a coquette of the worst kind. She also was flirting with Valentine, one of the most licentious young men in town. For her coquetry, Lady Avarice was constantly badgered by her older sister-in-law, Lady Gravely, who seemed on the surface to be a prude. Actually, Lady Gravely was merely jealous of her reputation and, when opportunity presented itself, discreetly had affairs of her own.
Also in London was Veromil, a friend of Valentine's who had been cheated of his inheritance by his brother. Veromil, the young man with whom Bellaria was really in love, had come to London to solicit his friend's aid in marrying Bellaria before she could be married off to someone else. Valentine, not knowing that Bellaria was the object of Veromil's affections, agreed to help him. Valentine had just thrown over his own fiancee in hopes of winning Bellaria for himself.
While Valentine and Veromil went to see Bellaria, Sir Harry Wilding went to call on his son. In young Wilding's rooms, instead of books, he found packets of love letters and a crowd of tradesmen who were about to send him to debtors' prison. Sir Harry went about the rooms in a fury, breaking open closets and chests to learn what the young man had been doing. From there he went immediately to Sir Avarice's house in hopes of finding his son. He and Sir Avarice discovered Wilding in the garden embracing young and pretty Lady Avarice. Both men were furious, the father because he found his son a rakish fop and the husband because he suspected that he had been made a fool and a cuckold. Lady Avarice saved the day by telling a lie; she said that young Wilding had merely been importuning her to help him win Bellaria. The husband and father were satisfied with the answer.
Young Wilding still had to answer for the lack of law books and the presence of love letters and duns at his rooms; to do so he told his father that he had gone into the wrong apartment. The father, believing the lie, was immediately fearful lest he be arrested as a house-breaker. Through a servant young Wilding played upon his father's gullibility and persuaded Sir Harry to offer an annuity to the army officer whose rooms he had supposedly broken into. Sir Harry, rather than be hanged for what he thought was a felony, was glad to comply.
Meanwhile Valentine had discovered that the object of Veromil's affections was Bellaria and became so angry that he offered to kill his friend. Finally friendship overcame his passion, and he once more agreed to help Veromil win the girl. He was partly persuaded by the discovery that his own fiancee loved him so much that she would take him back, even after his rudeness in breaking their engagement.
Valentine persuaded Sir Avarice to give him seven thousand pounds for help in marrying off Bellaria. Sir Avarice thought Valentine had reference to the marriage of Bellaria to his son, but Valentine, leaving the agreement vague, planned to marry Bellaria to his friend Veromil and still have the money. He told Sir Avarice to bring the young people to young Pedant's apartment at the Inns of Court at a certain time. Young Pedant, not knowing of the scheme, had lent his apartment to young Wilding, who in tended to pass it off to his father as his own. Hoping to embarrass them both into letting him alone thereafter, Wilding had also made assignations with both Lady Avarice and Lady Gravely for the same time. He too had fallen in love with Bellaria and hoped to marry her according to his father's wishes.
The two women, arriving first at the apartment, were utterly confused to find themselves dupes. They agreed to stick together, however, and try to save their reputations. A short time afterward Valentine, his fiancee, Veromil, and Bellaria, arrived. Within a few minutes the clergyman appeared to officiate at the marriage of Veromil and Bellaria. But at the last minute Valentine could not bear to see Bellaria married to Veromil. He tried to interrupt the ceremony, but his fiancee, with the help of Lady Avarice and Lady Gravely, held him back. Just then Sir Harry Wilding appeared with his son and young Wilding's servant. Veromil, drawing his sword, threatened them unless they let him pass with Bellaria. He was disarmed by young Wilding before any mischief was done. Veromil was beside himself until Bellaria told him that nothing could force her marriage to anyone else.
Just then Sir Avarice and his son arrived, expecting to find no one but a clergyman, Bellaria, and Valentine, for they had come to marry Bellaria, according to Valentine's agreement, to young Pedant. When Sir Harry Wilding demanded to know why all these people were in his son's apartment, young Wilding's ruse was disclosed. Sir Harry, furious at the trick played upon him, swore he would disinherit his son. Then young Wilding revealed that the annuity his father had signed was actually made out to him. Sir Harry left in a rage.
Veromil picked up a letter which Sir Harry had torn from the pocket of his son's servant. It was a letter from Veromil's brother and it related how Veromil had been cheated of his inheritance. The servant, after confessing to his part in the crime, promised to admit his perjury in court, thereby permitting the restoration of Veromil's rightful property. Sir Avarice was only too glad to give his blessing to the match between Bellaria and Veromil; under the circumstances he would not be forced to pay the seven thousand pounds to Valentine for arranging a marriage between Bellaria and his own son. Valentine, however, pointed out to the miser that the contract had only called for an arrangement of a marriage for Bellaria and did not name anyone as the husband in the affair, and so Sir Avarice, much to his dismay, was still liable for the payment. Young Pedant was only too happy to learn that he could continue his studies instead of taking up the burdens of a husband.
Further Critical Evaluation of the Work:
The subjects of Fielding's burlesques and farces are quite often the contemporary political and literary scenes. His satire of the titled upper class is incidental to these themes. The same is true of his novels. But in THE TEMPLE BEAU, Fielding is concerned with the superficiality of the contemporary English upper class. He takes the conventional view of the Restoration comedy of manners, that, as Lady Lucy Pedant says, it is an age "when 'tis as immodest to love before marriage, as 'tis unfashionable to love after it. . . ." But he is also concerned with the vices exemplified by the name of Lady Pedant's husband: Sir Avarice Pedant. The tragic themes of THE REVENGER'S TRAGEDY, gold and women, are here treated comically, along with a third theme, pedantry.
It has long been disputed among critics as to whether Fielding's purpose as a writer of satire is primarily comic or moral. In THE TEMPLE BEAU, the upper class is the object of Fielding's comic satire, but implicit in the comedy is the need for change. Fielding accepts the system of social stratification, where people are divided into low, middle, and upper classes with varying levels within each class; but he believes that the upper class has a responsibility to act as moral models. If he makes fun of them in THE TEMPLE BEAU and his other plays and his novels, he means to show that they are falling far short of what they should be. As the prologue to THE TEMPLE BEAU states, the author of the play wants toConvince that town, which boasts its better breeding,That riches------are not all that you exceed in.
The rich not only fall short in virtue, they exceed in their vices.