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Three Hours After Marriage was a restoration comedy, written in 1717 as a collaboration between John Gay, Alexander Pope and John Arbuthnot, though Gay was the principal author.[1] It premiered in 1717.[2] The play is best described as a satirical farce, and among its satirical targets was Richard Blackmore.

Three Hours After Marriage tells the story of Dr Fossil, a pompous ageing scientist, who has just married a much younger woman, who is then immediately beset by two rival suitors who try to win her affections. The wife and suitors then go to comical lengths to hide their intentions from Dr Fossil.[1]

Initial receptionEdit

The play received seven sell-out performances, then a record for the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and influenced The Author's Farce. Critical reception was less friendly. Charles Johnson, in the preface to the published version of his The Sultaness called Three Hours "Long-labour'd Nonsense" and it was also attacked in Leonard Welsted's 1717 Palaemon to Caelia, or, The Triumvirate and in the Poetical Register by Giles Jacob, who stated that it included scenes that "trespass on Female Modesty".[3] This view of the play as obscene became the majority view, and it would not be given a major performance again until 1996.


Scientist Jacob Bronowski cites the play in episode 7 of the 1973 BBC television documentary series The Ascent of Man,[4] which deals with the discoveries of Newton and Einstein: "By the time Newton was in his seventies, England under the Georges was pre-occupied in the coffee houses with gossip, money, politics, and with scandal. Nimble businessmen floated companies, to exploit fictitious inventions (most famously The South Sea Bubble). Writers poked fun at scientists, in part from spite, and in part for political motives, because Newton was a big wig in the government establishment. The group of Tories, who later helped John Gay to satirise the government in The Beggar’s Opera, also helped him, in 1717, to write the play Three Hours After Marriage". While there is scholarly consensus about the active role of Arbuthnot and Pope in Three Hours After Marriage, however, The Beggar's Opera is generally considered Gay's own work.


In 1996, Richard Cottrell directed a Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Swan Theatre. Dr. Fossil was played by Clive Francis, his new wife was played by Jane Gurnett, with her two persistent suitors Plotwell (Richard McCabe) and Underplot (Adam Godley). This production won two Laurence Olivier Awards for Best Set Designer and Best Costume Designer for Tim Goodchild in 1998.

The play was revived again in 2008 at the Union Theatre in a production by Blanche McIntyre.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Billington, Michael (15 March 2008). "Review: Three Hours After Marriage". The Guardian.
  2. ^ Gay, John. "Three hours after marriage. A comedy, as it is acted at the Theatre Royal" (London printed; Dublin reprinted by S. Powell, 1717).
  3. ^ Kilburn, Matthew. "Giles Jacob" in Matthew, H.C.G. and Brian Harrison, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. vol. 29, 546-7. London: Oxford UP, 2004 - page 547
  4. ^ The Ascent of Man (1973) Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, Pages: 448 p. ISBN 0-316-10930-4