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Detail of "The Busy-Body No.2"

The Busy-Body was a pen name used by Benjamin Franklin and Joseph Breintnall in a series of periodical essays printed in The American Weekly Mercury, an early American newspaper founded and published by Andrew Bradford. There are 32 letters in "The Busy-Body" series. The essays were printed in 1729.

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[ Music ] >> My name is Charles Pasternak. I am an actor out of Los Angeles. I'm a guest artist here at the theater and I'm playing Marplot, the titular character in the Busy Body. There are two love stories between are two young ladies and our two young men and Marplot sort of is the go between. He goes between the two older households and each of the couples and he screws everything up. And in the wonderful, sort of restoration tradition, his name means what he is and he mars the plot time and again, but he really does mean well. And as a sort of deviation from the fought of the time, he, he's not a sort of sexual character and he's not involved in a sort of ridiculous wooing of his own. He is simply deeply obsessed with knowing every possible secret, which gets him into trouble and gets his friends and confederates into trouble as well. >> My role in the Busy Body is Miranda and my story is Miranda is an orphan and she is under protection of her guardian, who has all of her money and she doesn't get any of this money until she turns 25. She's 18 at the time of the play and she wants to marry who, a man she loves, Sir George and she can't do that without getting her fortune, which is hers, but right, by law, until she gets consent from her guardian. So she tricks her guardian into thinking she's in love with him - - >> You know my father's will says that I am not to possess my estate, without your consent, till I'm 25. Just subtract seven years, and make me mistress of my estate today, and I'll make you master of my person tomorrow. >> That may not be safe [laughter]. No Chargee, I'll give you some as an allowance. >> Bribe me with my own money. Which way shall I get out of his hands? >> Well, what art thou thinking on, my girl? How to banter with Sir George? >> I must not pretend to banter. Sir George knows my tongue too well. No, Gardee, I have thought of a way will confound him more than all I could say. >> How's that? Oh! I'm transported, I'm ravished, I'm mad [laughter]. >> It would make you mad at you all I'll not answer him one word, but be dumb to all he says. >> Dumb. [Laughter] Good. Excellent. Well, she's the wittiest rogue [laughter]. >> This play was written by Susanna Centlivre who was one of the most prolific and successful playwrights of the eighteenth century. I think it made a very big difference that she wrote as a woman. She took her own experience of marriage and marriage law, her experience as an actress on the stage, and her knowledge of the way that ideas about liberty and personal authority were starting to change. And I think all of those things come out in her comedies. [ Music ] >> One of my favorite asides is the one that you have in that first scene when you go out into the, when you go to the audience and I only remember the end of it, but it's about a woman finding a way to break them. >> Yeah. >> What is -- >> I'm talking about your father -- >> Yeah. >> At the time man make what laws he will, if there's a woman under his government, I warrant she'll find a way to break him. >> Every time I hear that line and especially the way that Charlotte is delivering it to the audience, I'm like this, not only that, but this woman is also telling you exactly how we're going to do this. Like, are you guys that dumb? We are laying it all out here at the very beginning. We're going to win. >> Yeah. >> To me, that moment really rings true that like yes, yes, this is a woman's voice. A strong, smart woman's voice, not just a woman trying to get back at a man or a woman trying to find love. It's to get what she feels that she deserves out of this life, out of this whole life. >> You get a best friend in those moments you are best friends with the audience member and you're sharing something personal for you that the rest of, the rest of these people don't understand. So it's a visceral connection that you make with the audience member and bring them into your story, but then having, you know hundreds of people there and finding a different person each time was like a really awesome acting experience as well, to be able to keep track of everyone and yourself and the story that's still going on. I love it and it's so great to see the recognition in the audience member face when you're speaking to them and yeah, a little secret between you is blossoming. >> Sir, Sir! >> The devil! Whisper here again, that fellow never speaks out. Is this the same or a new secret? Sir George, won't you ask Charles what news Whisper brings? [Laughter] >> Not I, Sir. I suppose it does not relate to me. >> Lord, Lord [laughter] how little curiosity some people have! Now my chief pleasure lies in knowing every body's business. >> The times that we get to speak to the audience in asides, in some ways I feel that those are those most mean moments too, where you actually get to drop out of the action that's on the stage and have, or at least attempt to have a connection, a true connection with somebody who isn't in the play's action with you. So I really appreciate the opportunity to not only play for them, but to them and with them in those asides. >> I hate a forth wall. The audience is the other character in the play. They're necessary. It would be stupid to perform in front of an empty house, so why do we pretend that they're not there? They're vital and so to play in a show in which it is so direct that we are addressing them and constantly opening up to invite them to be a part of the story. I mean it's helpful that it's a comedy. Always in comedy there will be more effect because the laughter is there and a sort of direct mark of your success or failure. That engagement is wonderful and it's exciting and I think that audiences love it. They can go to the movies. They could stay home and watch Netflix. What we can give them in the theater is an active experience with live people, in front of them. >> See Madam, a faithful servant kneels and begs to be admitted in the number of your slaves. >> Hold, hold, hold, no palming, that's contrary to articles! >> Keep your distance sir, or I'll write another article in your guts. >> A bloody-minded fellow [laughter]. >> She'll not answer me. Perhaps she thinks my address too grave. I'll be more free. View me well, Madam. Am I not a proper handsome fellow? Can you prefer that old, dry, withered, sapless log of sixty-five, to the vigorous, gay, sprightly love of twenty-four? With snoring only he'll awake thee, but I with ravishing delight would make thy senses dance. [Laughter] Not yet a word, sure she is dumb. Thus, would I touch thy beauteous hand, till by degrees I reached thy snowy breasts. >> Oh Heavens! I shall not be able to contain myself. >> What! Does she mean she won't answer me, or is she afraid yon' old cuff should understand her signs? I'll suppose your mind then and answer for you. First, for myself, that I love you is an infallible truth. Now for you. indeed, Sir, and may I believe it. As certainly, Madam, as that 'tis day light. How bless me with the music of your voice, and raise my spirits to their proper Heaven. Thus, low let me intreat. Rise, Sir, and since my guardian's presence will not allow me privilege of tongue, read this letter and rest assured you are not indifferent to me. >> Ha! what's that, a letter? >> Oh a letter, for me? [Laughter] Oh! Let me kiss it with the same raptures that I would do the dear hand that touched it. Now for some improvisation. Why, what's here? Dear Sir George, this Virgin Muse I consecrate to you, which when it has received the addition of your voice, 'twill charm me into desire of liberty to love, which you, and only you can fix. Oh [laughter] my angel! You transport me! The God of love has set the verse already and I'm inspired with a voice to sing it. >> I'm sure thou art inspired with impudence enough. >> Great love inspire him; Say I admire him. Give me the lover that can discover secret devotion from silent motion; Then don't betray me, but hence convey me. [ Music ] >> Inspiration for the design of Busy Body came from very early discussions with the director where he told me that we need to stick with eighteenth century scenery, which was kind of tricky because we do not really have visual records of scenery from eighteenth century. I came across some amazing material from different theater museums from Berlin, from Amsterdam, and a couple of others that really showed us the way that technology at the time worked. Pulley systems that they used, we used that, but created the movement of pulley systems. Stage left, stage right, we used track system. Now, to just show that kind of movement. Also, my favorite part of the set where the period [inaudible] upstage three of them and rotating at the same, when they rotate at the same time. It's just one of the best feelings that I had since I ever designed anything. And I think the audience responds to that and I doubt that most of our audience had a chance to see that kind of thing. I've never seen it. I've seen it in pictures and drawings, but never a live. So it's just an amazing experience just to know and exploring new things. >> The play started in 1709 and it had a good early run. If the play really took off in London when it moved to a theater called Lincoln's Inn Fields and that was around 1717. This theater, which we've used as our model for the set in this production of the Busy Body, had a lot of musicians on staff, it had a system of moveable flats that were grooved at would have allowed for the kinds of scene changes that we're using in this production. And all of those musicians came in handy when it was time to change the set because their music would cover up the sound of scraping as the flats came on and off. >> Every moment doth improve joy surprising. Now I meet nothing like love so charming sweet -- [ Music ] >> Sir, here's a couple of gentlemen enquire for you. One of them calls himself Señor Don Diego Babinetto. >> Señor Don Diego Babinetto! [Laughter] Admit him instantly. Joyful minute. I shall have my daughter married tonight. [ Music ] >> In the story, there's so many references to money and very incredible wealth and I think these costumes truly reflect that. It's amazing what they did with these costumes and that embroidery machine. Yeah and it totally helps put you in that -- >> Absolutely. >> Mindset. >> Every time period has a style and those styles are dictated by so many elements and the physicality is the center of it and it's about the costumes, which we were lucky enough to try on start working with early. It has to do with how people held their bodies. >> Oh man, the men's costumes. Well, I mean just like our costumes, they are absolutely stunning. They're beautifully constructed. The way Maryanne has almost color coordinated all of us so we all have hints of each other, both in what we're wearing to help the audience as well as, in my opinion, help me finding that connection with people on stage. I love it. I absolutely love it. I think all of them look fantastic. It's probably the most I've ever cared about their appearance. >> Yeah. >> All semester long. >> Clothing of the period, eighteenth century, kept people, I would say, more constricted. You know, if you've got a corset on, you certainly can't slump. It [inaudible], you're going to be more erect. I would contrast that with contemporary period in which we are less erect. Men wore waskets, so you certainly didn't want to rumple the wasket in anyway, so that would keep you more erect. >> When we have someone putting us in the costume, it's kind of a downer feeling your organs like shutting up into themselves and then again, it reminds you of how resilient these women were to still go after what they wanted while barely being able to breath. You know, a lot of restrictions put on them by their clothes and they're situation, but still finding ways to be graceful and enjoy yourself within the corset. >> They put these on us, what at like almost 7:30 at night. We're in them for maybe three hours and to think of women were in them all day. >> It's crazy. >> Eating, drinking, convert, like, going places, it was just -- I find that to be like resilience. And John also is a fabulous movement teacher. So he was so helpful in, in how we actually move about the space and I felt like it just, once we got the clothes on, we were like oh, I totally get it now. Like all of it made sense. Why he likes the movement to be a certain way and especially in those clothes, it all adds up and it all seems like that's the world. That was the world. >> And again, in the restrictions there is power. Like when I put on this costume, I feel powerful even though there, I mean your backed up too. Like there's like a reinforcement of your strength with this thing holding you in. I still, you know you feel sexy as well. >> Well, if you can't eat, then give me a song whilst I do. >> I have such a cold I can scarce speak, Sir, much less sing. How shall we prevent Charles coming in? >> Well, I hope you have the use of your fingers, Madam. Play a tune upon your spinet, whilst your woman sings me a song. >> Oh I'm as much out of tune as my Lady, if he knew all. >> Yes, Sir. I shall make excellent music. >> Really, Sir, I'm so frightened about your opening this charm, that I won't remember one song. >> Hang your charm. Come, come, sing anything. >> I cannot raise my voice, my heart pants so. >> What? Does your heart pant so that you can't play neither? Pray what key will you play in? >> I cannot play, Sir, whatever ails me. >> You sit down, and play me a tune, or I'll break the spinet about your ears. >> What will become of me? [Laughter] [ Music ] >> Hey, hey [laughter] why you are a top of the house, and you are down in the cellar. What is the meaning of this? Is it on purpose to cross me? >> Pray Madam, take it a little lower, I cannot reach that note nor any note I fear. >> Well, begin [laughter]. [ Music ] [ Laughter ] >> Music and singing. 'Tis thus the bright celestial court above, Beguiles the hours with music and with love. Death! Her father there [screaming], then I must fly -- >> Hell and Furies, a man in the bedroom! [Screaming] >> A ghost, a ghost! He must not enter the bedroom! [ Laughter ] >> The devil! I'll make a ghost of him I warrant you. >> Oh hold, Sir, have a care, you'll tread upon my Lady. This comes of your opening the charm. Oh, oh, [laughter]. >> I'll charm you, housewife, here lies the charm, that conjured this man in I'm sure on it. Come out you rascal, do so! [ Music ] >> My name is John Sipes. I'm the director of the Busy Body. I'm also responsible in this production for teaching the actors how to move in period style, in the period of the eighteenth century. >> John Sipes, our director, who is a movement expert in the truest sense and I would say one of the last around that has his kind of expertise on this kind of style. The specificity with which we get to work in this and with John is one of the truly great blessings. >> Clearly the movement in the eighteenth century was more formal. There was a certain degree of artifice to it. although the dancing masters constantly spoke about, about executing the artifice of the time of a kind of naturalness. So I think there was the sense of the vertical with moving with grace and ease and a kind of coordination that we may not have now. >> Oh, the devil, if he gets out before me, I shall lose him again. Come Sir, dispatch me the money, Sir. I'm in a mighty haste. >> Fool, take this and go to the cashier. I shall not be long plagued with thee. >> Devil take the cashier, I shall certainly have Charles gone before I come back again. [ Laughter ] >> The head is on top of the vertical neck, not stiff. The shoulders, they generally refer to the shoulders as being pressed back, which we don't speak about so much now, but at any rate it was to expand the chest and give a sense of grace and ease. We would move to the bow and rather than in restoration, where the foot would sweep around in a big circle, you know somewhat more effective in that period, to go backwards, in this century, eighteenth century we would just step back, which then allows the foot to be like so. Most of the guys were wearing heels, so they would've been off the ground, but you can see as I step back and if I keep my leg extended, the heel is off the ground somewhat, you also see my calf. Calves were very important at that point. One wanted to show a good leg and so if one is wearing hose, this would very much flex the calf so we would see a little bit more muscle in the calf. So first of all, the bow of this period, we step back and move forward. Now, a couple of options here, I like it particularly when the knees are slightly bent. I think that's a little bit more elegant. It engages the legs a bit more, you know the muscles are flexed here. So I think that's a little bit stronger and more manly, if you would. And the bow, the degree of the bow, the bending forward can vary according to the person and who you're bowing to. So I don't like to encourage a very deep bow, but we see Charles Pasternak as Marplot in our production do that quite a bit, but he's, he's more Faulk-like effective, so we've allowed that sort of thing to happen. The use of the hands, they can, the hands can be right at the side as I described or there's a gesture that we see very often and I think we don't often know where it comes from. It's this kind of gesture here. [ Music ] But it comes, the source is very interesting, it comes from kissing one's hand and then offering the hand to the person that you're bowing to. So in time, it's simply looked like this. [ Music ] So it has, it you know feels somewhat decorative, but when you know where it came from, I think, that makes a difference. Let's talk about curtsies. Most of the curtsies of that period would've been either in a first position like so or a second position. The feet could really be in any number of ways because mostly they were covered. So I prefer that the body, that the female just allow the body to sink like so and with a slight incline of the head like this. As opposed to this, which I think is not very elegant. You know, so it's just an easy descent like this with a slight incline of the head. Now, a curtsy that is far more elegant than what I just described, and it really is from a later period, but I do like to use it and it's like this; the leg goes all the way behind and we can go all the way to the ground like so. And that particularly when they're large skirts being worn is really, really quite beautiful. >> There is an element of merging the time of within it was written with the time within in which it's being performed. For example, you know young Charles and his Isabinda are two of our young lovers. In a scene where he sort of sneaks up to see her, they touch each other a lot. I think stylistically in period that would be wrong. I don't think they would and if they did, perhaps it's a little modern. I say that without criticism. I think they're scene is beautiful and I think it's a blending of the energy they brought into the room, of John's taste because he held them back on certain things, but allowed others. He wasn't obsessed with the conservatism of the time, but he also doesn't, it doesn't want to be modern. It's that beautiful, artistic blending that happens in the moment. We're doing this right now, with this audience, and this is the blend we find and sometimes you get it wrong, that's art and sometimes you get it right. I think we got it right. >> Then I and my fortune are free to go. >> Oh, Madam, my master and Mr. Marplot are just coming into the house. >> Undone, undone! If he finds you here, all my plots are unraveled! >> What shall I do! Can't I get back into the garden? >> Oh, no! He comes up those stairs. >> Here, here, here! Can you condescend to stand behind this chimney-board, Sir George? >> Anywhere, anywhere, dear Madam, without ceremony. >> Come, come, Sir. Lie close-- - >> I could not go, though 'tis upon life and death, without taking leave of dear Chargee. Besides, this fellow buzzed in my ears, that thou might it be so desperate to shoot that wild rake that haunts the garden-gate and that would bring us into trouble, dear. >> So, Marplot brought you back then. I am obliged to him for that, I'm sure [laughter]. >> By her looks, she means she is not obliged to me. I have done some mischief now, but what I can't imagine. >> Well, Chargee, I have had three messengers to come all the way to Epsom to my neighbor Squeezum's, whom for all his vast riches, is departing us. But Chargee, I'll be with thee tomorrow before those pretty eyes are open. I will, I will, Chargee, I'll ruse you, I faith. Here Mrs. Scentwell, lift up your Lady's chimney-board, that I may throw my peel in, and not litter her chamber. >> Oh, pray Sir, give it me. I love it above all things in nature, indeed I do. >> No, no, hussy. >> Hold, hold, hold, dear Gardee, I have a, a, monkey shut up there and if you open it before the man comes that is to tame it, 'tis so wild 'twill break all my china, or get away, and that would break my heart. For I am fond onto distraction, next thee, dear Gardee. >> Well, well, Chargee, I won't open it. She shall have her monkey, poor rogue. Here throw this peel out of the window. >> A monkey, dear Madam, let me see it. I can tame a monkey as well as the best of them all. Oh how I love the little miniatures of man. >> Be quiet, mischief, and stand farther from the chimney. You shall not see my monkey? Why sure. >> For Heaven's sake, dear Madam, let me but peep, to see if it be as pretty as my Lady Fiddle-Faddle's. Has it got a chain? >> Not yet, but I will make it one shall last its life-time. Nay, you shall not see it. Look, Gardee, how he teases me! >> Sirrah, Sirrah, let my Chargee's monkey alone, or Bamboo shall fly about your ears. What, is there no dealing with you? >> Pugh, pox of the monkey! Here's a rout. I wish he may rival you. >> Sir, they put two more horses on the coach as you ordered, and 'tis ready at the door. >> Well, I'm going to be Squeezum's executor. Better for thee, jewel. Bye Chargee, one buss! I'm glad thou hast got a monkey to divert thee a little. >> Thank, dear Gardee. Nay, I'll see you to the coach. >> That's kind, adod. >> Come along, impertinence. >> Egad, I will see the monkey now! [Screaming] Oh Lord, oh Lord! Thieves, thieves, murder! >> Dam'e, you unlucky dog! 'Tis I, which way shall I get out, show me instantly, or I'll cut your throat. >> Undone, undone! At that door there. But hold, hold, break that china! >> Mercy on me! What's the matter? >> Oh, you toad! What have you done? >> No great harm, I beg of you to forgive me. Longing to see the monkey, I did but just raise up the board, and it flew over my shoulders, scratched all my face, broke your china, and whisked out of the window. >> Was ever such an unlucky rogue! [ Music ]



In 1728 Franklin and Hugh Meredith conspired to start a newspaper that would compete with Andrew Bradford and his The American Weekly Mercury. Franklin mentioned their intentions to a journeyman seeking employment named George Webb. Samuel Keimer in turn learned from Webb about Franklin and Meredith's enterprise and labored to launch his own newspaper, Pennsylvania Gazette before Franklin and Meredith. The first issue of Keimer's Gazette appeared December 24, 1728. Franklin describes the events in his Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1791):

I requested Webb not to mention it; but he told it to Keimer, who immediately, to be beforehand with me, published proposals for printing one himself, on which Webb was to be employ'd. I resented this; and, to counteract them, as I could not yet begin our paper, I wrote several pieces of entertainment for Bradford's paper, under the title of the Busy Body, which Breintnal continu'd some months. By this means the attention of the publick was fixed on that paper, and Keimer's proposals, which we burlesqu'd and ridicul'd, were disregarded. He began his paper, however, and, after carrying it on three quarters of a year, with at most only ninety subscribers, he offered it to me for a trifle; and I, having been ready some time to go on with it, took it in hand directly; and it prov'd in a few years extremely profitable to me.[1]

"The Busy-Body" was intended to suppress Keimer's readership by bolstering Bradford's sales of The American Weekly Mercury. "The Busy-Body No.1" appeared February 4, 1729; "The Busy-Body No.32" ended the run abruptly on September 25, 1729, the same week that Franklin and Meredith bought the failing Pennsylvania Gazette from Keimer.


Since the 1790s, it has been widely held that Franklin wrote the first four letters in "The Busy-Body" series, contributed to numbers five and eight, while Breintnall wrote the remaining twenty-six (Albert Smyth, II, 100n. in Tolles, 247). Marginalia on the issue of The American Weekly Mercury from February 18, 1729 held by the archives of The Library Company of Philadelphia (most likely made by Franklin) suggest that, "The Busy Body was begun by B.F. who wrote the first four Numbers, Part of No. 5, part of No. 8, the rest by J. Brintnal [sic]."[2] Franklin's Autobiography is the primary source of our knowledge that it was Breintnall who took over "The Busy Body." [1]


No. 1

The first article in "The Busy-Body" series was written by Benjamin Franklin and published February 4, 1729. In "The Busy-Body no. 1" Franklin establishes the character of the anonymous Busy-Body as a self-declared "Censor Morum", or a critic of morals.

With more Concern have I continually observ'd the growing Vices and Follies of my Country-folk. And tho' Reformation is properly the concern of every Man; that is, Every one ought to mend One; yet 'tis too true in this Case, that what is every Body's Business is no Body's Business, and the Business is done accordingly. I, therefore, upon mature Deliberation, think fit to take no Body's Business wholly into my own Hands; and, out of Zeal for the Publick Good, design to erect my Self into a Kind of "Censor Morum"; proposing with your Allowance, to make Use of the Weekly Mercury as a Vehicle in which my Remonstrances shall be convey'd to the World.[3]

"The Busy-Body No.1" was the lead-off article of Andrew Bradford's The American Weekly Mercury the week that it appeared. The letters stayed at the front of the publication for 32 weeks.

No. 18

"The Busy-Body No. 18" was written by Joseph Breintnall. Published on June 19, 1729, No. 18 is notable for its inclusion of the poem, "A plain Description of one single Street in this City." The poem, which offers a glimpse into colonial Philadelphia in 1729, is attributed to Breintnall, though the narrative persona of The Busy Body only names the author of the poem as "a Friend." [4] The poem describes a progressive walk down Market Street in the city of Philadelphia, from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River. "A plain Description of one Single Street in this City" opens with an account of the Market Street docks and the nearby homes of merchants. The poem then goes on to describe local landmarks of colonial Philadelphia, including the courthouse, the "Stocks, Post and Pillory," and the Quaker Meeting House that once stood at the intersection of Market and Second. The poem also catalogs some of the various tradesmen's shops that once populated this central street.


  1. ^ a b Franklin, Benjamin. "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  2. ^ ""The History of the Life and Character of Benjamin Franklin."". "The Universal Asylum and Columbian Magazine." (V, 5). 1790.
  3. ^ Franklin, Benjamin. "The Busy-Body, No.1". Benjamin Franklin Papers. February 4, 1729. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  4. ^ Leo Lemay, J.A. (2013). The Life of Benjamin Franklin, Volume 1. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 233–335.

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