Slick Filth: A Story of Robert Walpole and Henry Giffard, to Which is Appended the Farce of The Golden Rump

Written by Erato
Review by Misty Urban

The impetus for the 1737 Licensing Act that severely censored the London stage was The Golden Rump, a play said to be so outrageously obscene that Sir Robert Walpole pushed through his pet bill without much debate. Walpole presumably introduced the Act to bring an end to plays satirizing his corrupt influence over the government of George II, and at the time, some suspected he wrote The Golden Rump himself to achieve this end. Erato’s clever “novelette” imaginatively “reconstructs” the text of this never-recovered play and tells the story of its creation as confessed by playwright Henry Giffard, who claims he was forced into colluding with Walpole as he wrote The Rump and brought it before the king. In revenge Giffard “prints” the play in full, since the Licensing Act restricts only performance, not publication.

The book, published in hardback, is designed to follow the conventions of 18th-century print, including headers, typesetting, and grammatical quirks like the use of the long “s” (the one that looks like an “f”). The choice breathes life into Giffard’s narrative of dramatic ploys and double-dealings and makes the text of The Golden Rump read like a play true to the time in its barely veiled political satire. The play’s plot revolves around a magician, Polecat, and a high priestess competing for the power to influence and control their kingdom’s governing figure, the Golden Rump, as well as the attractive young Ganymede. In its inventive sexual activity and scatological humor, The Rump gleefully pushes the boundaries of obscenity—though no more than some existing 18th-century literature—and offers a hilarious commentary on the hypocrisies of the historical period. Whether the satire rises to the level of commentary on modern political practices is best left to the reader to decide.