Box and Cox By John Maddison Morton
John Maddison Morton was an English playwright, specialized in one-act farces. Box and Cox were his most famous farce. He also wrote comic dramas, pantomimes and other theatre plays. Box and Cox is a one-act farce. It is based on a French one-act vaudeville, Frisette, produced in Paris in 1846.
Box and Cox was first produced on 1 November 1847 at the Lyceum Theatre, London, billed as a “romance of real life.” The term “Box and Cox” has entered the English language: the Oxford English Dictionary describes it as “allusively applied to an arrangement in which two people take turns in sustaining a part, holding a role, or the like.”
OUTLINE OF THE FARCE
Mrs Bouncer, a London lodging-house keeper, is leaving an apartment to a double tenant – to Box, a printer on a daily newspaper, and to Cox, a hatter, the former occupying a room during the day, the latter in the night. They usually meet up on the lodging-house stairs when one comes in from work while the other goes out, but neither has any idea that Mrs Bouncer leaves her room to the other. Cox, suspicious of Mrs Bouncer’s use of his flat during the day, complains to her that his coal continues to disappear and there is “a steady increase in evaporation between my candles, wood, sugar and Lucifer.” He also complains that his room is full of tobacco smoke. Mrs Bouncer gives a number of excuses, including that Box, who, she says, occupies the attic, is a persistent smoker, and that his smoke has to come down the chimney. Cox leaves for his work at the hat shop, and on the stairs passes Box, who returns from the night shift to the newspaper printer.
Box has brought home with him a chicken leg that he prepares to cook at once. He lights the fire, is indignant that his matches were used and his candles burned low; for, being at home only during the day, he suspects Mrs Bouncer of these depredations. Leaving his chicken leg to cook, he goes to bed for a short nap. Cox returns, having been given the day off by his employer. He bought a mutton chop and, going to cook it on the gridiron, found the fire already lit and the chicken leg on the gridiron. He removes it, puts his chop in its place, and hurries to the adjacent room for a plate.
The slamming of the door awakens Box, who, remembering his chicken, leaps out of the bed and finds the chop where he left the chicken leg. He angrily seizes the chop, flings it out of the window, and leaves the room to pick up a plate. Cox returns, and instead of his chop, he discovers the rasher that follows the chop out of the window. Box and Cox meet, each imagining the other to be an intruder, each pulling the rent receipt from his pocket last week, and each clamouring loudly for relief from the landlady. Mrs Bouncer has to explain the mystery, and she throws herself at the kindness of Box and Cox.
J.M.Mortin’s one-act play “Box and Cox” belongs to the dramatic genre “Farce”. A farce is a form of low comedy designed to provoke laughter through highly exaggerated caricatures of people in improbable or silly situations. Traits of farce include (1) physical bustle such as slapstick, (2) broad verbal humour such as puns. Many literary critics (especially in the Victorian period) have tended to view farce as inferior to “high comedy” that involves brilliant dialogue. The main purpose behind a farcical play is to evoke hilarious laughter from the audience. The language used in a farce is not only faulty but also verges on being bizarre unparliamentarily and abusive. Dialogues used are mostly multipronged ones likely to be interpreted differently by different readers and onlookers.
The genre owes its origin to French Theater where it made inroads into Italy first and later into England. So far as Box and Cox by J.M.Mortin is concerned, it presents a typical example of Farce though initially it was staged as a comic opera in France.
All the three dramatic personae namely Box, Cox and Mrs Bouncer exhibit the traits of caricatures and not real life like characters. Their every action, every word they speak is enough to evoke hilarious laughter. Their moves are ridiculous and their dealings simply hyperbole. It is really ridiculous even to harbour the idea of letting out a single room to two tenants simultaneously and not to be found out or caught hold of. Yet Mrs Bouncer the protagonist embarks upon it, is finally found out and put to shame. The dialogues bringing about the finale of the farce evokes hilarious laughter thus fulfilling the purpose of its creation.
Mr. Cox’s getting his hair cut only to discover later that all the hats in his wardrobe wobble round is another example of hyperbole making the onlookers laugh over his all the exaggerated remarks about hats, haircuts, etc.
Character of Mrs. Bouncer
Mrs Bouncer is a female component of J.M. Mortin’s one-acts play – a farce “Box and Cox”. Though seemingly an insignificant and less important dramatic personal, yet it is she round whom the other two characters Mr Cox and Mr Box revolve. She resembles/presents the spectacle of a puppet master who occupies position behind the curtain but whose fingers hold the threads that make puppet revolve and dance. Her part in the main dramatic action and dialogue is just ordinary and trivial, yet if she is removed, the plot will be reduced to not and the entire dramatic action will come to standstill. Though not mentioned, Mrs Bouncer seems to be middle-aged lady full of vigour and wit. She is always found up and doing, vigilant and watchful. She is not so very well off and it is her need for money that makes her resort to underhand and deceitful tactics to do away with her penury. She is by nature covetous lady and it is this trait of personality that makes her let out a single room to two tenants simultaneously taking undue advantage of their callings Mr.Box, a hatter requiring the room to spend nights. Mr Cox, a printer needing it for days only.
Mr. Bouncer is quite active alert and vigilant to an appreciable extent. It is evident by her not letting even the suspicion dawn on either of the two tenants for quite some time that they are occupying the same room.
At times she presents a miserable spectacle of a tough-skinned woman—a shame-proof one who can swallow and digest any and every amount of insult and disrespect. She is accused of stealing by both her tenants but she turns a duff ear to their insulting remarks merely to ensure receiving double rent for a single room.
She presents a typical example of a farcical caricature with unparliamentary and uncivil language; abusive and abusing demeanour and beguiling and deceitful dealings.
As is inevitable in all such farcical plots, her treachery is finally found out/ unearthed and she is put to shame and disrespect quite justifiably.