Collection No. 25: The Runaway, by Hannah Cowley

Publication Details | Synopsis | Secondary Commentary |Varieties & Dialects | Other

Publication details

Author: Cowley, Hannah
Author dates: 1743-1809
Title: The Runaway

First played: 1776
First published: 1776. 72p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1776)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1997)

Genre: Comedy

Trend(s): Contemporary Satire; Gender; Popularity

Character types: Country; Classical; Educated Male; Class-Crossing

[Return to Top]


Emily, who has run away from home, is pursued by George, who is in turn pursued by the aged Lady Dinah, whom he thinks intends to marry his father.

Dedication to David Garrick: “The Runaway has a thousand faults, which, if written by a Man, would have incurred the severest lash of Criticism---but the Gallantry of the English Nation is equal to its Wisdom---they beheld a Woman tracing with feeble steps the borders of the Parnassian Mount---pitying her difficulties (for 'tis a thorny path) they gave their hands for her support, and placed her high above her level.”

Prologue: asks the audience’s indulgence for the female playwright, calling attention to her lack of education:
“Our Poet of to-night, in faith's a---Woman,
A woman, too, untutor'd in the School,
Nor Aristotle knows, nor scarce a rule
By which fine writers fabricate their plays”.

Act I.
On holiday at home from college, George discusses his friends’ love for his cousin Bella Sidney and his sister Harriet with the two women.  Harriet is teased for being in love with Sir Charles Seymour, who is on the point of marriage with a woman that George loves. George’s father plans to marry Lady Dinah, an old ‘sententious, delicate’ woman with forty thousand pounds. Harriet is upset by the news that Sir Charles plans to marry another woman, as his actions have given her cause to believe that he loves her. George meets with Lady Dinah and his father, who teases him about the odd hours he keeps at Cambridge.  To interrupt Lady Dinah’s prattle, Bella pretends to have burned herself. Harriet enters. Mr. Drummond, George’s godfather, arrives. He tells the company of the beautiful young lady who has taken refuge at his house, and asks that his George's father Hargrave allow her to stay with Bella and Harriet; being ‘single, young and handsome’, he presents a danger to her. The company asks the young lady’s identity; Drummond refuses to reveal it, but tells them that she has run away from an uncle who had arranged a marriage for her. Hargrave wonders whether Drummond has been imposed upon, but the latter denies it.  The girls go to help the young lady move. Hargrave tells George of his plan to bring Lady Dinah into the family. The Justice enters; he wishes to visit with Hargrave, but he is called away to deal with various lower-class disputes. Bella finds George reading in the garden; she chastises him for his lack of hospitality towards the mysterious and beautiful lady. He glimpses her from offstage, and is overjoyed: she is the woman he loves! George tells Drummond how he met the woman at a masquerade ball, and that he never learned her name. Drummond enlightens him, but says that he must keep her name a secret. Extolling Love, George leaves.

Act II.
Some hunters arrive to rouse Hargrave with a song. George is supposed to go on the hunt, but prefers to remain at the house to talk to the lady. The young gentlemen tease him about his ‘prey’, revealing that they know about the lady’s presence in the house. George meets with Emily (the lady) in the garden, and professes his love to her. She is hesitant to accept it because of the peculiarity of her situation. George agrees that his confession is ill-timed, but explains that he may not have another opportunity. Demonstrating the truth of this assertion, Mr. Drummond enters, and asserts his role as guardian by escorting Emily to breakfast. Susan, a servant, has spied on George’s courting and has reported it to Lady Dinah; they discuss Emily’s unknown family background and the likelihood of George becoming the sole heir of Hargrave’s fortune. Lady Dinah notes that cosmetics are considered taboo by their society, but that the ancient Romans were not ashamed to use them. She confides to Susan that she intends to become George’s wife rather than Mr. Hargrave’s. Sir Charles Seymour arrives, to Harriet’s distress. George tells Sir Charles that Harriet is in love; Sir Charles is devastated, as he loves Harriet. He did not have enough money to pursue a proper suit with her, but his uncle has now left him with adequate funds; however, he is unwilling to enter into a courtship with her if her heart belongs to another. Mr. Hargrave intends George to marry Lady Dinah, and summons his son to ask if he is prepared to discuss the matter with her. Still believing his father intends to marry the old lady, a confused George agrees to talk to her. George tells Bella that he has deceived Harriet and Sir Charles into thinking that each is betrothed to another to provoke them into revealing their mutual affection more quickly. Bella agrees to this scheme and recommends that Harriet act coolly towards Sir Charles. The latter enters, and Harriet behaves according to Bella’s counsel. Sir Charles laments his lost love.

Act III.
Lady Dinah tells Mr. Hargrave that she wants George to marry her for love rather than for her money. George and Lady Dinah converse in an amusing scene, in which George still believes her to be marrying his father, while she believes him to be courting her.  The misunderstanding is not revealed. Bella plays a sad love song on her harpsichord. Emily and George enter separately. George teases Bella for loving Beauchamp, which she hotly denies; however, Emily notes that Bella is blushing. Harriet hides herself in the garden as Sir Charles approaches and looks at the picture of his mistress that he keeps next to his heart. George stops him and they converse; Harriet learns that Sir Charles’ love is unrequited. In the wood, Lady Dinah sees George, supposedly about to become her fiancé, courting Emily, who flees when George falls to his knees. Lady Dinah emerges and gives George a reproachful air. Lady Dinah and Susan plot to have Emily expelled from the house before nightfall by tricking the Justice; for her help in arranging this, Susan is to have £200 on the day of her marriage with Jarvis, another servant. Jarvis, once a traveling player, is to reveal that Emily was also an actress, which will discredit her story and force her departure. Jarvis is put off by the prospect of telling this lie, but agrees to Susan’s plan.

Act IV.
Sir Charles demands to see Harriet, who is reluctant to meet with him. Bella encourages her to admit him; Harriet marvels at Bella’s change of heart. Bella’s goading finally results in Sir Charles’ entrance. Sir Charles tells Harriet that he adores her; she refuses to believe him until he gives her the picture of his mistress. She is shocked to see her own likeness. Bella and George enter and the trick is revealed. Harriet returns the portrait to Sir Charles. Hargrave enters to tell George that his antics with Emily have caused Lady Dinah’s digestion to be upset. The truth comes out that Lady Dinah and George are to marry, to George’s shock. Bella counsels him to fly to Mr. Drummond, which he does. Susan and Jarvis discuss the story they plan to tell the family; in an aside, Jarvis reveals that he plans to coax Susan out of the £200 and does not intend to marry her. The Justice flirts with Susan, asking her to come to London with him to be a housekeeper. Susan says that the marriage between George and Lady Dinah must take place for her to be able to come to London, and secures the Justice’s promise that he will ensure that Emily is sent away. Mr. Drummond approves George’s decision not to marry Lady Dinah. Hargrave enters and Mr. Drummond speaks with him about the match. Hargrave says that he will disinherit George if he doesn’t obey him; Drummond says that he will disinherit George if he does. The Justice enters to criticize Drummond’s interventions in county matters. Led on by the Justice, Hargrave refuses to discuss the match further. Drummond and Emily plan to consult her uncle for help. The drunken Justice wanders on and off stage. Lady Dinah tells Hargrave that Jarvis knows that Emily is an actress, and that Emily plans to marry some young heir; furious, Hargrave replies “I’ll young heir the baggage”. Emily is summoned. Jarvis pretends to know her and the Justice asks her for her personal information, which she refuses to give. Mr. Morley, her uncle, arrives in a coach and six. Shocked by the deception, Lady Dinah discharges Jarvis.

Act V.
Morley says that he will force Emily to marry Baldwin, the man from whom she fled. Mr. Drummond does not arrive in time to help persuade Morley to let Emily marry George. Morley and Emily leave. George plans to follow the carriage and transport Emily to France; he decides to risk being disinherited because he has £600 a year independent of his father’s will. Sir Charles cannot help him because he has to ask for Harriet’s hand and does not wish to alienate Hargrave. Lady Dinah chides Susan for believing that George was at all interested in Emily, and dismisses her when she asks for the reward anyway. Harriet and Bella wait for news. Morley returns; George has taken Emily, who fainted in the chaise, to Mr. Drummond’s. Each led by his own vanity, Morley and Hargrave both refuse to let George and Emily marry. Drummond arrives and approves of George’s actions. Lady Dinah enters; Drummond accuses her of conspiring with her servants to slander Emily’s character. George and Emily arrive. George proposes to Emily, to everyone’s consternation. Mr. Drummond reveals that he was Emily’s father’s friend, will not allow her to be made to suffer by her relatives, and that he will settle his late wife’s property on her. Hargrave exits and hears the tale of Lady Dinah’s conduct from her servants. George explains to Lady Dinah that he believed she was to be his stepmother rather than his wife. She departs in a huff. After some persuasion, Morley gives his consent to George and Emily’s marriage. Sir Charles proposes to Harriet, to Hargrave’s happiness. Bella receives a letter from her lover, but refuses to be married. Drummond concludes the play by hoping that everyone can enjoy being a married lover.

[Return to Top]

Secondary commentary

A) de la Mahotière, Mary. ‘Cowley , Hannah (1743–1809)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 26 May 2008.

"She sent The Runaway anonymously to the great actor–manager, Garrick, who immediately recognized its potential and put it on at Drury Lane, on 15 February 1776. With Sarah Siddons in the starring role, it was a ‘smash hit’, highlighting the injustice of arranged marriages by which a father or guardian could legally give away his daughter or ward to a totally unsuitable husband to gratify some personal ambition or mere whim. Particularly earnestly debated throughout London society was the outburst by a young female character regarding the marriage vow ‘to love, honour and obey’; ‘I won't hear of it, “love” one might manage that perhaps, but “honour, obey”!—, tis strange the ladies had never interest enough to get this ungallant form amended’. This was near-heresy at the time, but the wording of the marriage vow remained controversial throughout the twentieth century."

[Return to Top]

Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

The two main couples (George and Emily, Sir Charles and Harriet) speak in Standard English, except for the romantic tone and archaic language of George’s rhapsodies about love. George’s father, Mr. Hargrave, uses countrified language. A brief appearance of hunters and young gentlemen incorporates classical allusions and rustic language. Bella, George’s cousin, mocks Sir Charles’ passion by infantilizing him (“its” for “his”). The Justice tries to seduce a servant with coy language; she adopts an ignorant air (and language!) as she means to use his interest for her own ends.

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Mr. Hargrave
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 4]
Mr. H.
No;---Barbary Bess is spavin'd; let her be taken care of: I'll have Longshanks, and see that he's saddled by five.
[Exit Servant.]
---So we shan't have you in the hunt to-morrow, George,---you must have more time to shake off the lazy rust of Cambridge, I suppose.---What sort of hours d'ye keep at College?

Oh, Sir, we are frequently up before the Sun, there.

Mr. H.
Hah!---then 'tis when you ha'n't been in bed all night, I believe.---And how do you stand in other matters?---Have the musty old Dons tired you with their Greek and their Geometry, and their learned Experiments to shew what air, and fire, and water, are made of? Ha! ha! ha!


[page 56 ]

Mr. H.
Hoh, ho, is it so---now I understand your Ladyship---if your man can prove what he asserts, be assured, Madam, she shall not stay in my house another moment--- I'll young heir the baggage.

b.1 Orthography: “d’ye”; “ha’n’t”
b.2 Grammar: “ye”
b.3 Vocabulary: “I’ll young heir the baggage” (uses adjective/noun as verb)
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: country squire
e. Consistency of representation: fairly consistent

Variety: George, on Love
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 13 ]
May it! Oh Love, sweet Tyrant! I yield my heart to thee a willing slave---to Love I devote my future life---never more shall I experience the aching void of indifference, or know one moment unoccupied by thee  

[page 22]
Aye, she's in for't, depend on't---but that's nothing, I have intelligence for thee, man---my Incognita 's found, she's now in the house---my beauteous Wood Nymph!

b.1 Orthography: “for’t”, “on’t”
b.2 Grammar: “thee”
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: a Cambridge man in love
e. Consistency of representation: inconsistent; George speaks in StE for most of the play, only switching to "thou" in these speeches

Variety: Hunters
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 13]
Enter a HUNT . A Flourish of Horns.
Hollo! hollo! ye hoicks, Hargrave, ille, ille, hoa.
First Hunter.
Zounds , 'tis almost seven;---
[looking at his watch]
the scent will be cold---let's rouse the lazy rogue with a song.

Second Hunt.
Aye, a good thought---come, begin.

b.1 Orthography: “Hollo”
b.2 Grammar: “ye” (archaic)
b.3 Vocabulary: “ye hoicks, ille, ille, hoa” (?)
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profiles: lower-class country hunters
e. Consistency of representation: consistent in their very brief appearance

Variety: Classical allusions (young gentlemen)
a. Sample of dialect
[page 13]
First Gent.
Hah, my young Hercules!---But how  now, in this dress! don't you hunt with us?

[page 14 ]

Oh, I have only changed liveries,---I used to wear that of Adonis---but now I serve his mistress---Venus.

Second Gent.
And a most hazardous service you have chosen---I would rather subject myself to the fate of Acteon, than to the caprice and insolence of the handsomest Coquette in England.

Acteon's fate would be less than you'd deserve, if, knowing my Goddess, you should dare profane her with such epithets.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: “Hercules”; “Adonis”; “Venus”; “Acteon”; “Goddess”
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profiles: George’s educated friends
e. Consistency of representation: very brief appearance; however, classical allusions recur throughout the play (particularly Lady D)

Variety: Hunting language (young gentlemen)
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 14]
Justice to Geo.
Yes, yes, you're a keen Sportsman--- I saw the Game you are in pursuit of, scudding away to the garden---beat the bushes, and I'll warrant you'll start her, and run her down too.

Third Gent.
Egad! I started a fine young Puss a few days ago---She seem'd shy, and made her doublings; but I stuck to the scent, and shou'd infallibly have got her, if that sly poaching rogue, Drummond, had not laid a springe in her way.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: “sportsman”; “game”; “scudding”; “run her down”; “a fine young Puss”; “stuck to the scent”; “poaching”; “a springe” (trap)
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profiles: George’s gentleman friends imitate the hunters’ language and apply it to the chase of women
e. Consistency of representation: very brief

Variety: Bella (Mocking)
a. Sample of dialect
[page 44]

Sir Ch.
Return it to me, Madam, I intreat you
I will receive it as the most precious gift.

Come, give the poor thing its bauble.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: “the poor thing” ; “its”; “bauble” (infantilizing Sir Charles)
c. Nationality: English
f. Character profiles: Bella is educated and independent; she mocks the lovers’ foibles throughout the play
g. Consistency of representation: the mocking tone is consistent

Variety: Justice/Susan (cross-class courtship)
a. Sample of dialect
Hah, hah! have I caught you, my little Picksey? Come, no struggling---I will have a kiss, by Jingo.

Lud! you are the strangest Gentleman---

You are wondrous coy, methinks.

Coy---so I should---What have Gentlewomen without fortune, to recommend 'em else?

Aye---but that rosy, pouting mouth tells different tales, I warrant, to the fine Gentlemen in London. I have been thinking you'd make a pretty little Housekeeper---yes you would, Hussey---yes you would---will you come and live with me?

b.1 Orthography: “Lud”
b.2 Grammar: “to recommend ’em else”
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profiles: the Justice is legitimately flirting with Susan; she is using him to further her own ends, adopting a rustic and ill-educated tone
e. Consistency of representation: very brief

[Return to Top]

Narrative comments on varieties and dialects


[Return to Top]

Other points of interest

An unconventional attitude towards marriage:

[page 72]

Oh mercy!---I won't hear of it--- Love , one might manage that perhaps---but honour, obey ,---'tis strange the Ladies had never interest enough to get this ungallant form mended.

[Return to Top]

©2009 Arden Hegele