History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Restoration
The Restoration period, during the reign of King Charles II from 1660 to 1685, is justly celebrated for its satiric comedies. Relative to English Renaissance theatre, these comedies are characterized by looser mores, especially of a sexual nature. Young and brilliant gallants dominate the stage and the women, played by actresses, unlike the previous generation when women were played by boys, are alluring and often promiscuous. While in Shakespearian comedies, authoritarian old men are mostly respected, old men in Restoration comedies are often rakes, fools, or both. In "The country wife", Sparkish complains of modern poets in this way: "their predecessors were contented to make serving-men only their stage-fools, but these rogues must have gentlemen, with a pox to ’em, nay, knights; and, indeed, you shall hardly see a fool upon the stage but he’s a knight. And to tell you the truth, they have kept me these six years from being a knight in earnest, for fear of being knighted in a play, and dubbed a fool." "The peculiar form of 'character' found in Restoration comedy is in origin not English, but French. Though Ben Jonson's influence predisposed the Restoration dramatists to the character, he did not supply the models for it. These were furnished by Molière. Molière's art was in turn influenced by that of the 'précieuses', who, after serving an apprenticeship in the social portraiture of the salon, had introduced the portrait into fiction" (Baldwin, 1915 p 78).
The Puritan-minded attitude against the period of Charles II’s reign was expressed in this way by Mark Twain: “it takes a Cromwell and some thousands of preaching and praying soldiers to raise the standards of English official and commercial morals to a respectworthy altitude, but it takes Charles II only a couple of years to pull them down into the mud again” (Autobiography recorded in 1907, published in 2010, p 409). Likewise, puritan-minded critics in the 19th and early 20th centuries were often repulsed by the themes addressed in Restoration comedy as follows. "The result of the depraved taste of its patrons on the drama was to make it equally depraved, and to bring forth a coterie of dramatists who, for brilliancy of dialogue, for wit, humor and construction, have rarely, and for obscenity and immorality, certainly never been equaled. With these men, virtue is but a name, which serves as a cloak to hide the most revolting sins. Vice exists only in those who are discovered. Nothing is reprehensible save exposure. Stupidity, not wickedness, is condemned. Marriage is not a sacred rite but a convenience and an inevitable forerunner of crime" (Golden, 1890 p 159). “Dryden, Congreve, Wycherley, Cibber, Farquhar, Vanbrugh, Sedley, Steele: these are names that mean much in the history of the drama. The post-Restoration drama had not, indeed, the solid qualities of the Elizabethan, and had but little of its grandeur of aim; it was overlaid with licentiousness to an extent that is unforgivable; but it atoned for this in some measure by sheer brilliance and audacity of wit. As was but natural under these conditions, comedy was its best outcome the poetic drama had become stilted in form and altogether unreal in sentiment, or, at any rate, must seem so to us today“ (Sharp, 1909 pp 54-55).
“The English comedy of manners may be defined as a comedy of wit and fashion representing the life of a small, brilliant, aristocratic society which prided itself on regarding all the problems of life from a purely intellectual and non-moral standpoint. It aims at being brilliant, heartless and anti-sentimental. The least breath of romance will immediately tarnish the glittering mirror of its wit...It was dear that the centre of the new kind of comedy must be the man of wit and fashion as he was conceived by the courtiers of Charles II...The first and obvious method of making such a person an effective stage character was to contrast him with the false pretenders to wit...He might also be appropriately contrasted with men of an older generation, who would puritanically condemn or clumsily share his pleasures...To place beside the ideal wit an equally witty and graceful woman, who could meet him on his own ground and with his own weapons, could reply to his music with an equally enchanting drain of her own, and finally, without any trace of romance or sentiment, at once conquer him and yield to him- such was the goal towards which a whole school of dramatists was half consciously groping in the reign of Charles II. To disentangle these motifs from the old elements of Jonsonian humour and boisterous horseplay and from such new attractions as heroic poetry was the work of a whole generation. Sir George Etherege has rightly been given the leading place among the pioneers, but Dryden and Sedley both deserve to be ranged alongside him in this work” (Pinto, 1927 pp 257-260). “But for all that, Shakespeare’s fools had more wit than any of the wits and critics nowadays,“ the fool complains in Shadwell’s “The woman-captain” (1679). “The phrase ‘comedy of manners’ refers to a comedy form reflecting the life, thought, and manners of upper-class society, faithful to its traditions and philosophy. It is intellectually and dispassionately conceived, in the nature of a detached commentary, in which the only moral considerations are sincerity and fidelity to the facts of the society represented. The attitude of the playwright is, at least theoretically, unpartisan, although it is difficult for a latent flavor of satire to be kept out entirely. Characters may emerge into complete individuality, but more often universal traits give way to those types into which the world of fashion inclines to reproduce itself. Dialogue is naturally of more than ordinary importance, for the leisure of this world promotes the cultivation of verbal smartness, and this smartness dialogue must display, even if at .the expense of naturalness. And lastly, one feels a certain idealization of the whole picture, a heightening of values, a seasoning of effects, an acceleration of tempo” (Sawyer, 1931 pp 3-4).
William Congreve edit
The main dramatist in the Restoration period is William Congreve (1670-1729), whose comedies include "The old bachelor" (1693), "The double-dealer" (1693), "Love for love" (1695), and "The way of the world" (1700), characterized by stunning wit, sharp repartees, cynical outlooks, egotism losing control, man-woman relations based on sex appeal, justly celebrated and comparable in quality to the best of Molière for acute observations on foibles and follies.
“The Way of the World has a perfection of style that makes it, from whatever standpoint it is viewed, one of the great plays of the English language” (Rubinstein, 1928 p 59). It “is in reality a bitter satire though the weapon of the author is still a foil elegantly handled. The character of Lady Wishfort is almost too loathsome for comedy; but Witwoud is as diverting as he is original- a man afflicted by a perfect cacoethes of feeble repartee’: ‘I cannot help it, madam,’ he says, ‘though ’tis against myself.’“ (Ward, 1875 vol 2 pp 588). “Lady Wishfort, with her vain attempts to conceal the ravages of time, is a fit character for comedy. Though she is an old woman of fifty-five, she has the cravings of youthful passion and is eager to secure a husband. Nothing can be more amusing than the panting impatience of the old lady when she hears of the impending visit of Sir Rowland…There is dramatic irony here, for the real identity of Rowland is known to the audience but not known to the lady...Here is a servant, already married and married to her own maid servant, making love to Lady Wishfort” (Biswas, 1960 pp XXXII-XIII). "Lady Wishfort’s characterization is more wellrounded than that of persons resembling her in earlier comedy. Congreve displays her in as wide a variety of moods as possible. He elaborates her spirited relations with her maids, her patronizing indulgence of and final disgust with her untutored nephew, her ardent romantic friendship with Mrs. Marwood. His ridicule of Lady Wishfort’s elderly caprices Congreve spices with a touch of contemporary satire, recording the fact that her closet-library contains Prynne and The Short View of the Stage, and emphasizing her horror of 'filthy plays' and 'obscene play-books'.” At all times, with his usual good humor, Congreve contrives to soften the conventional follies of the old coquette. He endows her with abundant animation, a gift of shrewd, cutting irony, and a keen sense of humor which extends even to a perception of her own decayed charms, her 'arrant ash-colour' complexion and her painted face cracked 'like an old peeled wall'. At best, the portrait is revolting" (Lynch, 1926 p 211). “Nothing happens, nothing moves, positively from one end of The Way of the World to the other, and the only reward of the mere spectator is the occasional scene of wittily contrasted dialogue, Millamant pitted against Sir Wilful, Witwoud against Petulant, Lady Wishfort against her maid. With an experienced audience, prepared for an intellectual pleasure, the wit of these polished fragments would no doubt encourage a cultivation of patience through less lively portions of the play, but to spectators coming perfectly fresh to the piece, and expecting rattle and movement, this series of still-life pictures may easily be conceived to be exasperating, especially as the satire contained in them was extremely sharp and direct...The whole play brightens up after the entrance of Millamant, and probably that apparition is delayed too long. From this point, to the end of the second act, all scintillates and sparkles; and these are perhaps the most finished pages, for mere wit, in all existing comedy. The dialogue is a little metallic, but it is burnished to the highest perfection; and while one repartee rings against the other, the arena echoes as with shock after shock in a tilting-bout” (Gosse, 1924 pp 123-124). “Witwoud, indeed, is the very triumph of coxcombry, with Petulant for his engaging foil. He never opens his lips without an epigram, and in his extravagant chatter climbs to the topmost height of folly...Mrs Marwood and the Fainalls, though the deeper seriousness of intrigue inspires them, are drawn with a perfect surety of skill and knowledge” (Whibley, 1912 pp 153-154). "Millamant’s very flippancies are charged with meaning. It is plain that her excessive gaiety is forced. She talks very fast and is afraid of pauses, fearful lest the realities of love may somehow rudely intrude upon the pretty decorum of this beau monde. The social mode makes no allowance for the sympathies of lovers. In those inarticulate silences that check now and again the flashing current of her raillery, Millamant is wistfully pleading with Mirabell to accept her love without the shame of a confession and to permit her to remain in appearance imperious, brilliant, heartless, the finest of fine ladies" (Lynch, 1926 p 204). "Each character is defined by an individual distinct language, but five major characters especially reveal Congreve's achievement. Anthony Witwoud, like his forebears Brisk of The Plain Dealer and Tattle of Love for Love, attempts the refinement of fashionable speech. Lady Wishfort's language reveals her as excessive, extreme passions, and socially aberrant- a prisoner of her own eccentric individualism. Fainall, in some ways the most interesting character of the play, is a malicious wit who speaks the language of gentlemen, but who reveals a destructive perverse ill-will based on a cruel cynicism concerning the conditions of human existence. These three characters derive from, but are not entirely defined by the older humours tradition, which Congreve reinvigorates and makes dramatically powerful. Mirabell and Millamant are true wits; their speech is informed by intelligence, irony, self-awareness. Although they are themselves laughable at times, in the main they are sympathetic, and by their awareness of the ways of the world (and a certain degree of luck), they are able to escape ever-present dangers" (Kaufman, 1973 p 412). Knight (1962) pointed out the bisexual nature of the very names of Mirabell (male with a female-type name) and Millimant (female with a male-type name) (p 135), this critic like many men preferring to contemplate the latter and to be biased against the former. Nettleton (1914) described Millamant as "Congreve's most brilliant character creation" having "commanded Hazlitt's eulogy and George Meredith's tribute to the 'perfect portrait of a coquette'. They had been anticipated, however, by an earlier critic, her lover Mirabell: 'I like her with all her faults; nay, like her for her faults. Her follies are so natural, or so artful, that they become her; and those affectations which in another woman would be odious, serve but to make her more agreeable' (I,2). She enters with a flash, and goes off in a blaze of wit. Even amid the ceaseless pyrotechnics of Congreve her departure seems like the extinction of a brilliant rocket. Yet Millamant is an artificial creation beautiful and fragile as Dresden china. She has the wit, but not the humanity, of Shakespeare's Beatrice" (pp 130-131). Dobrée (1924) was especially attuned to the character of Mrs Fainall. "She remains loyal to Mirabell, and even helps him in his advances to Millamant (what profound psychology is here!), but at the same time her heart aches at not being loved by her husband. 'He has a humour more prevailing than his curiosity, and will willingly dispense with the hearing of one scandalous story to avoid giving an occasion to make another by being seen to walk with his wife,' she says with an affectation of lightness. But how bitter it is! How full of unnecessary pain is the way of the world!" Of Millamant's bargain with Mirabell before marriage, Dobrée exclaims: "And this is commonly considered the behaviour of an arrant coquette! In reality it is a vision of the conflict in all marriage, of the desire to maintain one's own personality fighting vainly with the desire to love wholeheartedly. Her appeal has all the earnestness of real life about it, it is vocal of all the hopes and fears of lovers when they see the bright face of happiness tarnished with the shadow of possible disillusion. It must not happen that they are very proud of one another the first week, and ashamed of one another ever after. Each of them has seen the rocks which bring most marriages to ruin, and will strive to avoid them. And this was to a Thackeray 'a weary feast, that of banquet wit where no love is!' (pp 140-146). "Very important in Congreve's management of the bargaining scene as well as in the whole treatment of the love-affair is the irony. On one plane it is the irony of lovers doing the opposite of what is expected of them, namely, haggling over rights and privileges and working out itemized contracts. On another plane, there is the ironic contrast between the unimportance of many (not all) of the minutiae discussed and the real importance of the deeper implications. If the details are trivial, the realism of the lovers is not trivial; and there is a real wistfulness intensified by and yet, at the same time, protected from sentimentality by the humor in Millamant's exclamation: 'Let us be as strange as if we had been married a great while, and as well-bred as if we were not married at all'. Thus Congreve has Mirabell and Millamant approach all issues through teasing and banter. They are aware of each other's faults, as they well may be, for they are also aware of their own. The amusing little scene in Act I in which Mirabell says 'I like her with all her faults nay, like her for her faults,' is significant. Mirabell is laughing at his mistress and also being ironic about his infatuation for her. Note the climax, in which he says of her frailties: 'they are now grown as familiar to me as my own frailties, and in all probability in a little time longer I shall like 'em as well.' To like her faults risks the sentimental, but the risk is completely countered by the playful, and yet shrewdly realistic, statement of his devotion to his own faults. His love is real, but he remains ironically perceptive" (Brooks and Heilman, 1945 p 447).
"The outline of the main plot of Love for Love, Congreve apparently derived largely from Fletcher’s The Elder Brother (1625). In both plays a father tries to make an older brother give up his inheritance in the interests of a foolish younger brother. The older brother at first agrees, then refuses, and ultimately contrives to outwit his father and brother. Fletcher’s Charles does not, like Valentine, feign madness, but has pedantic obsessions, and insists on talking astrology while his father eagerly and impatiently, but futilely, presses him to sign the deed. Charles and Valentine have, too, the same motive for wishing to keep their estates, for both are in love and cannot marry if disinherited. Charles’ rival in love is his brother, Valentine’s his father. Both heroes have devoted servants who help to restore their fortunes" (Lynch, 1926 p 191). The play “is a very amusing comedy, containing a considerable variety of characters. Among these the preference will perhaps be given to Jeremy, one of those witty ‘gentlemen’s gentlemen’ whom Congreve bequeathed to Sheridan and to modern comedy at large. The would-be astrologer Foresight seemingly carries us back to an earlier age of the drama; but the belief in palmistry and astrology had by no means expired before the days in which freethinking began. Several of the other characters are highly diverting; but it is again to be regretted that part of this play is of a nature to exclude the whole from general reading. Nor can one help remarking that the unselfish constancy of the lover Valentine is regarded as a miracle even by its object, Angelica” (Ward, 1875 vol 2 p 587). “It was upon Valentine, the lover of Angelica, that Congreve lavished all the resources of his art. There is a nobility of phrase and thought in Valentine’s encounters with his father, Sir Sampson, which may be called Shakespearean in no mere spirit of adulation. In these passages, Congreve rises to a height of eloquent argument, which gives a tragic force to his work” (Whibley, 1912 p 151). "Love for Love's success was well merited, for in it wit is married to grace of diction. Valentine, a young spendthrift who is lucky in love, has had many successors in English comedy, among them Young Honeywood in Goldsmith's Good Natured Man and Charles Surface. His wit does not stop with his assumption of madness. In a way that curiously recalls Hamlet, 'he uses his folly like a stalking-horse and under the presentation of that he shoots his wit.' Jeremy, his witty servant, takes after his master, as do Sheridan's Fag and David. Jeremy, who 'waited upon a gentleman at Cambridge,' cites Epictetus, Seneca, Plato, and Diogenes in a single speech, as readily as Fag alludes to Jupiter's masquerades in love. The ceaseless showers of wit fall alike on master and man. Sir Sampson Legend, Valentine's father, is a vigorous portrait of the crusty father. Scandal is the familiar confidant of Restoration comedy, not too busy to neglect his own intrigue. Foresight, 'pretending to understand astrology, palmistry, physiognomy, omens, dreams, &c,' though in point of fact not an anachronism, seems dramatically a Jonsonian character, out of place amid Congreve's beaux and belles. Miss Prue, an admirable example of the Restoration perversion of the ingenue, is essentially of the same type as Wycherley's Mrs Pinchwife and Miss Hoyden in Vanbrugh's Relapse. Miss Prue has some admirable scenes, one where Tattle initiates her into the mystery of saying one thing while meaning the opposite another with her sailor suitor Ben, whose awkward advances lead to a mutual disagreement which anticipates the scene of Tony Lumpkin and Miss Neville" (Nettleton, 1914 pp 125-126). Dobrée (1924) was finely attuned to the felicity in the depiction of Angelica, particularly in the part where she extols the merits of the uncertainty in human relations. "This is not the observation of a jilt, of a baggage without sensibility, but of a woman who has known and suffered, who has been disappointed in her early estimate of things. It is the weary cry of the knower who realizes that happiness may not be sought for or grasped, and that joy must be snatched as it flies" (p 137). Angelica “is one of the most delightful of all comic heroines; refined and distinguished in nature, she refuses to wear her heart upon her sleeve, and her learned young spark, with his airs of the academic beau, has to deserve her, or seem to deserve her, before she yields to his somewhat impudent suit. If she tricks him it is only when she finds him tricking her, and the artifice in neither case is very serious. No, Angelica is charming in her presence of mind and lady-like dignity, and reigns easily first among the creations, not only of Congreve, but of post-Restoration comedy down to Goldsmith. She is the comic sister of Belvidera, and these two preserve that corrupt and cynical stage from moral contumely. One minor character in Love for Love deserves special attention. Ben Legend, the ‘absolute sea-wit’ is the founder of a long line of stage-sailors, of whom he is the earliest specimen” (Gosse, 1924 p 64). Downer (1950) pointed out the resemblances between the sexes in regard to delaying matrimony and ensuring personal freedoms. “The fine lady subscribes to much the same code. Profiting by the new importance which increasing freedom has given to women of the upper classes, her greatest pleasure is to keep as many lovers as possible in suspense for as long as possible. She will not marry without establishing elaborate precautions for the preservation of her 'dear liberty', and she will never admit to any man's superiority in wit” (p 199).
In "The double-dealer", “the resemblance between the intrigue of Congreve’s Maskwell and that of Tartuffe in Tartuffe (1664) may well be emphasized. Maskwell has Tartuffe’s gift for securing blindly devoted friends. Lord Touchwood is like Orgon in his attachment to Maskwell. As Orgon promises his daughter, Touchwood promises his niece to the villainous intriguer. And at the moment when Maskwell’s treachery would have been con¬ firmed to anyone who had eyes to see, Touchwood rashly disinherits his nephew and makes Maskwell his heir (V,1), as Orgon, at a similar crisis, disinherits his son and places his fortune at the disposal of Tartuffe (III,7). On the other hand, Maskwell’s love intrigue with Lady Touchwood does not parallel that of Tartuffe with Elmire. The prudent Elmire, with her fine dignity and her reticent composure, respected and loved by her stepchildren and ordering her household by admirably harmonious methods, is, indeed, a type of woman never to be met with in Restoration comedy. Elmire has no notion of playing the only role open to a step-mother in Restoration comedy, the role of cuckolding her husband. In her place we have three intriguing wives, who divert a considerable portion of the action of The Double-Dealer into channels of intrigue unknown to Molière” (Lynch, 1926 p 185). The Congreve play “is undoubtedly one of the best comedies in our dramatic literature; yet unhappily this praise cannot be substantiated, since the nature of the plot forbids description. Congreve claims complete originality for this plot, which is constructed with the utmost skill, and declares his desire to have been to make it as strong as possible because it was single. He has certainly shown that no kind of comedy is in reality so effective as that in which the action is one, although presenting unexpected turns to the very last The characters are not many, but well distinguished; the interest however concentrates itself on two of the most effective pictures of villainous cunning and evil passion ever conceived by a comic dramatist- Maskwell and Lady Touchwood. Neither of these exceeds the proportions befitting a comedy; but the execution cannot be said to fall short of the conception in real power- especially in the case of Maskwell, the key to whose system of conduct is furnished by the motto of the play borrowed from Terence: he tells the truth to both sides and yet cheats them both. In the writing, one is struck by the wonderful lightness and naturalness of the dialogue as well as by the brilliancy of wit shown in repartee, in which The Double-Dealer likewise abounds. It should be added, that although there are episodes in this comedy of the most blameworthy character, the issue of the main plot is entirely on the side of virtue; the defeat of the artful Maskwell and the shameless Lady Touchwood furnishes in truth one of the most powerful dramatic illustrations of the cheering and wholesome maxim, which the stage at least may fairly be allowed to enforce, that truth will out at last“ (Ward, 1875 vol 2 pp 586-587). Dobrée (1924) was especially impressed by the main character, Maskwell. "There is something tremendous about him. He has a cold completeness, an absolute detachment from good, that is masterly, 'For wisdom and honesty, give me cunning hypocrisy; oh, 'tis such a pleasure, to angle for fair-faced fools,' he says, and his ingenious ingenuousness is as daring in conception as it is convincing in the execution" (p 128). But for Palmer (1913), Maskwell maintains himself too much in a single emotional vein, "for the most part, Maskwell walks through the play disguised in heavy eyebrows and a scowl” (p 180). "Congreve...identifies Mellefont with the conventional rake-hero by his relationships with Brisk and Careless, by his impending marriage, and by his ability to come up with a carefully thought out plan to stop his aunt. He is given the appearance of a fine gentleman, a truewit; other characters treat him as one, and he usually talks like one. But here the similarities end, for he is never allowed to act the part. He is endowed with the minimal necessary features to be recognized as a truewit, but he is not developed as one, for in the plot he is also a gull" (Corman, 1974 p 359). “The Double Dealer contains some excellent characters. Sir Paul Plyant, with his night-cap made out of a piece of a scarlet petticoat, tied up in bed, out of harm's way, and looking, with his great beard, like a Russian bear upon a drift of snow, is wholly delightful and Lady Froth, the charming young blue-stocking, with her wit and her pedantry, her affectation and her merry vitality, is one of the best and most complex characters that Congreve has created. Her doting affection for her child, ‘poor little Sappho’, mingled with her interest in her own ridiculous verses, and set off by her genuine ability and power, combine to form a very life-like picture...A fault in the construction of The Double Dealer is that Lord and Lady Froth are not sharply enough distinguished from Lord and Lady Touchwood. In Cynthia, Congreve produced one of those gracious and honest maidens whom he liked to preserve in the wild satiric garden of his drama” (Gosse, 1924 pp 43-44). “Lady Froth is a sort of feminine counterpart of Brisk. But in saying that we leave much unsaid. She has been termed ‘one of the best and most complex characters that Congreve has created’. Congreve’s success was extraordinary in portraying so extremely silly a woman in such a fashion that she becomes positively attractive. It is intended that we shall join with Cynthia in laughing at Lady Froth. And so we do. Welaugh at her pedantic pretensions, her egotism regarding her absurd verses, her romantic idealization of that solemn coxcomb, her husband, her ecstatic raptures over her ‘adored Mr Brisk’. Yet her unfailing good humor and eager enthusiasms enlist our sympathies in her behalf, her naive confidences disarm our ridicule, her parental pride in the small Sappho who at the tender age of nine months ‘has a world of wit, and can sing a tune already’ quite warms our hearts. Some of the finest scenes in The Double-Dealer are those in which Lady Froth, in her encounters with Brisk, brings all these qualities into play and assures us in her own picturesque way of her very human reality” (Lynch, 1926 pp 208-209).
In "The old bachelor", Congreve’s first comedy, “the writing is already excellent, and distinguished especially by its lightness from anything that had preceded it in the post-Restoration drama. In most of the leading characters, there is however nothing original; it would be easy to find prototypes of Heartwell, who pretends to be a misogynist but is in reality a victim to female wiles, of the blustering coward Captain Bluffe, and of the demure but deep Mrs Fondlewife. Yet these together with a number of other characters furnish an abundant variety, and the action is both brisk and diverting. Morally, both the plots of which the play is composed are objectionable” (Ward, 1875 vol 2 pp 585-586). In the view of Nicoll (1928), "brilliancy characterizes the whole of 'The old bachelor'; the wit rises and falls with a continual vivacity...Wholly immoral as it is, it yet clothes that immorality with a profusion of wit that assuredly disarms, as it must in that age have disarmed, what one can only style the moral sense" (p 229). Likewise, Armstrong (1913) was repelled by the play’s “nauseous sensuality” (p 130). Canby (1916) was repulsed by the presentation of “a cynical outlaw from sexual morality, and two young rakes who pursue libertinism in its most ardent forms. In the rollicking atmosphere of the play these characters are no longer, as in real life, mere evidences of barbarism or degeneracy. The young author partly succeeds in imposing upon us his conception of the libertinism he was depicting. Nevertheless, this attempt to make attractive the grosser attributes of the rake is clearly unfortunate. The ugly blackness of word or deed shows through the rose of the spot-light. The writer has applied literary heightening to life of a kind better left to the realist. His romantic view of sporting-life has led him to attempt a gilding of dirt” (p 15). The more positive Nettleton (1914) praised Congreve as "the wittiest and perhaps most graceful writer of English comedy"...and praised "The old bachelor" for "vividness of characterization and vitality of phrase...Its characters were largely conventional, yet even Captain Bluffe, a cowardly blusterer anticipated in the first English comedy, Ralph Roister Bolster, has a certain vividness and individuality. Fondlewife recalls Wycherley's Pinchwife, and Heartwell, the 'surly old bachelor', pretending to slight women, secretly in love with Silvia, has some touches of Manly, while some of the characters of the underplot suggest Jonsonian humours" (pp 122-123). “We were entertained with The Old Bachelor, a comedy of deserved reputation. In the character which gives name to the play, there is excellently represented the reluctance of a battered debauchee to come into the trammels of order and decency: he neither languishes nor burns, but frets for love. The gentlemen of more regular behaviour are drawn with much spirit and wit, and the drama introduced by the dialogue of the first scene with uncommon yet natural conversation. The part of Fondlewife is a lively image of the unseasonable fondness of age and impotence” (Steele, 1709 The Tatler no 9, April 28). “Here, as often in Restoration comedy, there are two groups of characters, the ‘wits’ who claim our sympathy and the ‘gulls’, the dull ones. The conclusion is not a triumph of good over evil, but of the keen over the stupid. Both sides may be equally bad, but that does not count in the play. The ‘wits’, whatever they may lack, do at least possess grace and style. They are never nonplussed and retain a certain attractiveness whatever they may do” (Evans, 1950 pp 92-93). In this “comedy, there is a necessary circumstance observed by the author, which most other poets either overlook or do not understand, that is to say the distinction of characters. It is very ordinary with writers to indulge a certain modesty of believing all men as witty as themselves, and making all the persons of the play speak the sentiments of the author, without any manner of respect to the age, fortune, or quality of him that is on the stage Ladies talk like rakes, and footmen make similes. But this writer knows men, which makes his plays reasonable entertainments, while the scenes of most others are like the tunes between the acts: they are perhaps agreeable sounds, but they have no ideas affixed to them” (Steele, 1710 The Tatler no 193, July 4). The play "belongs to another genre. And yet, despite the fact that many of the characters are ancient stage properties, and more than one of the situations must have been well known to the audience, the whole is treated with a freshness that leads new life and distinction" (Summers, 1955 p 264). Likewise, Dobrée (1924) emphasized the link between Congreve's style and Ben Jonson's or even Shakespeare's. Of "The old bachelor", he wrote that "Congreve's skill as a manipulator of pure frolic is immediately seen; he could handle farce as well as anybody. The timid Sir Joseph Wittol, with his cowardly protector, Captain Bluffe, provides unceasing amusement. We are clearly in the realm of Elizabethan comedy, and Bluffe, the braggadocio, has a long ancestry through Bobadil and Parolles to Thraso" (p 127). “The direct influence of Wycherley is strongly marked. Hartwell is only the Plain Dealer in another form Fondlewife, in certain aspects, had already appeared as Gripe in Love in a Wood and as Pinchwife in The Country Wife. Wittol and Bluff are as old as comedy itself...It contains some admirable single scenes. The first in the second act, where Sharper persuades Sir Joseph Wittol to pay him one hundred pounds for an imaginary service is of the very first order. The character of Vainlove, ‘one of love’s April fools’, with his cynical sensibility, is brought into excellent contrast with the peevish frivolity of Belinda, and wins, without deserving it, the steady affection of Araminta. The Fondlewife and Letitia business has become disconcerting to our refinement, but is carried on with the utmost vivacity and impudence. It has to be admitted, on the other hand, that the fragments of the play do not coalesce, that the perfection of the language very imperfectly conceals or clothes the roughness of the sentiments” (Gosse, 1924 pp 30-31).
Oliver (1912) dismissed Congreve's (and Wycherley's) plays as "filthy" (p 25). Likewise, Nettleton (1914) complained of "a tone of subtle but pervasive immorality" throughout Congreve's works (p 123). Downer (1950) was particularly upset at the behaviour of older women, including “Lady Wishfort and the other eager, ugly old women of Restoration comedy” (p 239). According to him, “Restoration comedy was indecent in its language, excessive in its profanity, and immoral in the tendency of its plots” (p 232). In the view of Henley (1921), Congreve's plays "are marked by such a deliberate and immitigable baseness of morality as makes them impossible to man. Wycherley has done more vilely to loftier altitudes of filthiness. But neither Wycherley nor Vanbrugh has any strain of the admirable intellectual quality of Congreve" (p 184). Likewise, Ward (1875): “though [Congreve's plays] are not uniformly devoid of moral purpose, not one of them can be acquitted from the charge of gross and intentional indecency, and of a deplorable frivolity of tone. The good-breeding of Congreve was no sufficient safeguard against his falling in with the worst tastes of the age which delighted in him; but he is at least free from the brutality of Wycherley, and seems less coarse even to a modern reader than either Vanbrugh or Farquhar” (vol 2 p 585). "The critics of the early nineteenth century were loud in his praises; Lamb gave him his full due, and even Macaulay could not withhold his admiration. Only Leigh Hunt tempered his enthusiasm, perhaps merely to balance Hazlitt's fine tribute. 'The Way of the world,' Hazlitt wrote, 'is an essence almost too fine and the sense of pleasure evaporates in an aspiration after something that seems too exquisite ever to have been realized'" (Dobrée, 1924 p 121). Yet the latter commented that "mingling with this harsh world which enables us to understand Leigh Hunt's comment that 'there is a severity of rascality in some of his comedies that produces upon many of their readers far too grave an impression', we have the world of the Froths, the Plyants, and Brisk. This is the very culmination of social tomfoolery" (pp 128-129). Dobrée is puzzled by the enormous variety of personages, seeming to belong to different worlds, but the reason is that Congreve drew a picture of universal comedy. Charles Lamb (1775-1834), cited in Matthews (1895), stated that "the Fainalls and the Mirabels, the Dorimants and the Lady Touchwoods, in their own sphere, do not offend my moral sense; in fact, they do not appeal to it at all. They seem engaged in their proper element. They break, through no laws or conscientious restraints; they know of none. They have got out of Christendom into the land— what shall I call it?— of cuckoldry,— the utopia of gallantry, where pleasure is duty, and the manners perfect freedom. It is altogether a speculative scene of things, which has no reference whatever to the world that is. No good person can be justly offended as a spectator, because no good person suffers on the stage. Judged morally, every character in these plays- the few exceptions only are mistakes— is alike essentially vain and worthless. The great art of Congreve is especially shown in this, that he has entirely excluded from his scenes,— some little generosities in the part of Angelica perhaps excepted,— not only anything like a faultless character, but any pretensions to goodness or good feelings whatsoever" (p 152). Lamb was misled by the mores of his own times into disbelieving that such licentious behavior ever occurred. Likewise, Dunham (1836 vol 3) was misled into thinking that “the school of comedy [Congreve] may be said to have formed has no foundation in actual life, but derives its charm exclusively from the perfection of an artificial style...Perhaps, we ought to add that the world would have nothing to regret in the total banishment of these comedies from the playhouse, since, whatever may be their merits, it is impossible to disguise their immorality” (Dunham, 1836 pp 249-250). Likewise, Canby (1916) stated that “credulity strains at accepting as literally true a world where morality is scarcely believed in, where men are esteemed only for their skill in gallantry, and the folly of fools is measured by their deficiencies in the arts of libertinism. And in spite of the proved laxity of the times perhaps credulity is right” (p 5). The notion that Restoration comedy is artificial, Wilson (1937) wrote, "is entirely inaccurate. Far from being artificial, Restoration comedy was purely realistic, because it devoted itself to studying and portraying contemporary society. Nor can it be called fundamentally immoral. The function of comedy is not to preach. It is rather, as Schlegel pointed out, "to sharpen our powers of discrimination, to make us shrewder and to give us a knowledge of the world, so that we do not fall into trouble through ignorance" (p 115). “The general tone of good breeding, if it does not purify the pervading atmosphere of profligacy at any rate prevents it from becoming offensive. In verbal impropriety and double entendre Congreve is even worse than Wycherley, but his plays are far from giving the same impression of a thoroughly obnoxious state of society. It is true that the pursuit of women seems the sole business of the men, and the pursuit of men the business of half the women but the universal passion is so pleasantly variegated with extraneous humours and oddities that it is far from producing the monotony of a modern French novel...Congreve excels not only in dialogue, but in painting a character by a single speech. How thoroughly we realize the inward and outward man of old Foresight the omen-monger, from a single passage in Love for Love!” (Garnett, 1909 pp 136-138). "Congreve excelled his contemporaries in his literary force and in his pointedness and conciseness of style. His judgment of effect was sure, and his readiness of illustration led to dialogue that was both fluent and natural" (Strang, 1903 vol 1 p 233). "Love for Love and The Way of the World are generally considered the supreme achievements of the comic spirit in England. At any rate, they are the best examples of comedy of manners in the language” (Gassner, 1968 p 59). “Anyone who preserves the memory- as who does not?- of the brilliant scene in which Millamant makes her first appearance in The Way of the World cannot fail to be impressed by the way in which the dialogue of this scene is related to Suckling’s dialogue. Here Congreve presents a contest in raillery, more flexibly managed than the dialogue of the earlier dramatist but, nonetheless, depending for its effectiveness on a very similar interplay of similitudes. It will be recalled, likewise, that in the only two interviews of any importance between Cynthia and Mellefont in The Double-Dealer, the lovers engage in ingenious discussions of the nature of marriage, supporting their conclusions by illustrative similitudes, in the style of the wit encounters of Suckling’s platonic lovers. It is a striking fact that the triumph of Congreve, the greatest artist of Restoration comedy, must be explained partly in terms of his renewal and perfection of a dialogue pattern already well established in the drama of Suckling” (Lynch, 1926 p 78).
"The way of the world" edit
Time: 1700s. Place: London, England.
Text at https://archive.org/details/dli.bengal.10689.21535 http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Way_of_the_World https://archive.org/details/williamcongreve00conguoft https://archive.org/details/williamcongreve0000cong_k2d8 https://pdfcoffee.com/the-way-of-the-world-william-congreve-pdf-free.html
Three persons wait outside a chocolate-house to speak with Petulant, who does not wish to see them. They eventually go away angrily. He dismisses this: "Anger helps complexion, saves paint," he says. Fainall thinks he understands this attitude: "This continence is all dissembled; this is in order to have something to brag of the next time he makes court to Millamant, and swear he has abandoned the whole sex for her sake." Petulant's rival, Mirabell, warns him he may one day cut his throat for courting her, but Petulant is unimpressed and taunts him by announcing that Mirabell's uncle, Sir Rowland, has arrived near the house of Lady Wishfort, Millamant's aunt and Fainall's mother-in-law. "You and he are not friends; and if he should marry and have a child, you may be disinherited, ha!" he laughs. Lady Wishfort is Mirabell's enemy for having falsely pretended to love her. In St. James' Park, Fainwell accuses Mrs Marwood, his mistress, of preventing Mirabell from marrying Millamant, so that Lady Wishfort's fortune might come to her. Fainwell's wife, hating her husband's sight, lets the two walk on ahead, to which Mirabell comments: "You should have just so much disgust for your husband as may be sufficient to make you relish your lover." "You have been the cause that I have loved without bounds," she retorts, "and would you set limits to that aversion of which you have been the occasion?" To win Millamant, Mirabell has invented the existence of Sir Rowland, actually his servant, Waitewell, but Mrs Marwood, wishing to keep Mirabell as her lover, conveys the plot to Fainwell, who fears he is about to lose his wife's fortune to the one who cuckolds him. Mrs Marwood also intends to reveal the plot anonymously to Lady Wishfort in the form of a letter. Meanwhile, Lady Wishfort wishes Millamant to marry her nephew, Wilful Woudwit. To ruin Mirabell's chances with Millamant, Mrs Fainwell seeks to compromise her by locking her in a room with Wilful and have them discovered, but this ploy fails. She intends to keep up her relations with Mirabell with conditions. "Trifles," she asserts, "as liberty to pay and receive visits to and from whom I please; to write and receive letters, without interrogatories or wry faces on your part; to wear what I please, and choose conversation with regard only to my own taste; to have no obligation upon me to converse with wits that I don't like, because they are your acquaintance, or to be intimate with fools, because they may be your relations." Meanwhile, the supposed Sir Rowland inveigles himself into Lady Wishfort's favor, though she cautions him. "But as I am a person, Sir Rowland," she says, "you must not attribute my yielding to any sinister appetite or indigestion of widowhood; nor impute my complacency to any lethargy of continence." However, her enthusiasm is cooled after reading Mrs Marwood's letter, revealing Sir Rowland as an impostor. He denies it, swearing the letter is an invention devised by Mirabell. He offers to fight him in a duel, but she prevents that, fearing for her reputation. Nevertheless, the disguised servant's tricks are discovered by Fainwell and Mrs Marwood and he is sent to prison, though quickly set free again by Mirabell. Meanwhile, Mrs Marwood informs Fainall of his wife's adulterous relation with Mirabell. Learning this, Lady Wishfort is thankful for her intervention. "Well, friend, you are enough to reconcile me to the bad world," she asserts, "or else I would retire to deserts and solitudes and feed harmless sheep by groves and purling streams." But when Mrs Marwood and Mrs Fainall accuse each other of adultery, she no longer knows what to think. To get as much money as he can, Fainwell attempts to negotiate a settlement so that his mother-in-law, Lady Wishfort, may be prevented from marrying. "Next, my wife shall settle on me the remainder of her fortune, not made over already; and for her maintenance depend entirely on my discretion," he adds. He also wants part of Millamant's fortune, forfeited by her disobedience in contracting herself against Lady Wishfort's consent to Mirabell, who is forced to resign his marriage contract with her. But Fainall and Mrs Marwood are both thwarted, first by a servant, witness to their adulterous relations, next by the existence of a marriage contract between Mrs Fainall and Mirabell before she married Fainall, so that her property is reverted to Mirabell. This sum is restored to her after he secures Lady Wishfort's consent to marry Millamant.
"Love for love" edit
Time: 1690s. Place: London, England.
Because of his dissolute life, Valentine has incurred the displeasure of his father, Sir Sampson Legend, and his creditors, such as Trapland, whom he manages to hold off by plying him with drink. To pay off all his debts, Valentine is forced to submit to this father's conditions: transferring the right to the family estate after his death to a younger brother back from sea named Ben. But Mrs Frail, aunt to Angelica, a rich heiress whom Valentine courts, has learned that there is talk of marriage between Ben and Prue, a girl bred in the country and daughter to her brother from a previous marriage, Foresight. She sarcastically comments: "Well, if he be but as great a sea-beast as she is a land-monster, we shall have a most amphibious breed. The progeny will be all otters." She confides to Foresight's wife that she hopes to wheedle Ben away from Prue. Ben and Prue are left together to see whether a match is possible between them. Having met the more polished Tattle previously, she is unhappy over Ben's rough behavior. "I don't know what to say to you, nor I don't care to speak with you at all," she admits. At this, Ben becomes angry. "Oons, I'll marry a Lapland witch as soon, and live upon selling contrary winds and wrecked vessels," he says. Despite this unfortunate start, without inquiring further, Sampson and Foresight agree to marry the two the following night. Sampson is then told that Valentine is sick in bed and has begun to speak madly, which he interprets as a trick to defer signing the conveyance. Meanwhile, Valentine's friend, Scandal, aims to sleep with Foresight's wife. Scandal suggests to the gullible husband that he has begun to look sick. Foresight believes him. "Good night, good Mr Foresight," the hopeful Scandal says to himself, "And I hope Mars and Venus will be in conjunction while your wife and I are together." When he starts to flirt with her, she pretends to be shocked; does he know of no honest woman? He answers: "Yes, faith, I believe some women are virtuous too; but 'tis as I believe some men are valiant, through fear. For why should a man court danger or a woman shun pleasure?" She does not. Meanwhile, Ben has found a more congenial companion in Mrs Frail, who warns: "Ay, but, my dear, we must keep it secret till the estate be settled; for you know, marrying without an estate is like sailing in a ship without ballast." But when Sampson is unable to force Valentine to sign the transfer, Mrs Frail rejects Ben. After quarreling with his father about Prue and thinking he is to possess Mrs Frail, Ben is stunned at hearing her cry out: "Oh, see me no more,- for thou wert born amongst rocks, suckled by whales, cradled in a tempest, and whistled to by winds; and thou art come forth with fins and scales, and three rows of teeth, a most outrageous fish of prey." Although to most people, Valentine appears mad, this is not Foresight's opinion, who sees in him a great prognosticator. Angelica discovers this pretended madness and is disappointed at finding him a fake. "I thought your love of me had caused this transport in your soul," she says to Valentine, "which, it seems, you only counterfeited for mercenary ends and sordid interest." She tells Sampson about her desire of marriage, which he misinterprets as being intended for his own person, all the more when she suggests that their seeming match may serve to force Valentine out of his madman's disguise. Meanwhile, Prue has an eye to marry Tattle, but he dismisses that idea. "Fie, fie, you're a woman now," he says, "and must think of a new man every morning and forget him every night." He is led to believe he may marry Angelica in disguise, but instead is tricked into marrying Mrs Frail, who in turn thought she was about to marry Valentine. On hearing of his father's match with Angelica, Valentine recovers his senses and asks his pardon, finally admitting his apparent madness was contrived. When hearing no encouragement from Angelica, he at last agrees to sign: "I have been disappointed of my only hope, and he that loses hope may part with anything." Finally convinced of his love towards her, she tears up the paper.
"The double-dealer" edit
Time: 1690s. Place: London, England.
Mellefont will become the heir of his uncle, Lord Touchwood, unless the latter begets children. Although Mellefont intends to marry Cynthia, Sir Plyant’s daughter, he is harassed by Lady Touchwood’s love and thus in danger to be disinherited by his own issue. Receiving no encouragement from him, a frustrated Lady Touchwood contents herself instead with Maskwell, his double-dealing friend. Submitting himself to Lady Touchwood’s desire to prevent Mellefont’s marriage, Maskwell tells her sister, Lady Plyant, that Mellefont only pretends to love Cynthia while his true aim is her stepmother. In front of her husband, Lady Plyant pretends to be affronted. Mellefont’s dismay in being told that he must no longer hope for Cynthia’s hand in marriage is mitigated by Maskwell’s revelation that the break-up is the result of a plan formed between himself and Lady Touchwood, who has promised to use her fortune so that he can obtain Cynthia, whom he pretends to love. Meanwhile, Lady Touchwood tells her husband that his nephew flirts with her. “Death, I’ll have him stripped and turned naked out of my doors this moment, and let him rot and perish, incestuous brute!” Touchwood exclaims. To further his own ends, Maskwell proposes to Mellefont that he present himself this evening at Lady Touchwood’s bedchamber, where he will observe her in bed with him and thereby have her at his mercy. “Let me adore thee, my better genius,” Mellefont enthuses. He is more genuinely helped by his other friend, Careless, to whose charms Lady Plyant has succumbed. To please her new lover, she now favors the love-match between Mellefont and Cynthia. But by mistake, she hands over to her husband Careless’ love-letter meant for her. Nevertheless, Plyant’s anger is disarmed when his wife pretends to have deliberately given him the letter to test him. That evening, as planned, Mellefont surprises Lady Touchwood about to go to bed with Maskwell, who rapidly escapes. To soften Mellefont, she pretends to shed penitential tears, but then, seeing her husband enter, alerted by Maskwell to undo his pretended friend, she pretends to repulse his advances. Touchwood draws his sword and rushes at Mellefont, but is restrained by his wife. Mellefont is thereby forever blown away from his uncle’s eye in favor of the deceitful Maskwell, his new heir and thus likely to gain Cynthia. “You oppress me with bounty,” the hypocritical Maskwell says to Touchwood, “my gratitude is weak and shrinks beneath the weight, and cannot rise to thank you.” To allay Mellefont’s suspicions, Maskwell next reveals to him the likelihood with Touchwood’s help of his winning Cynthia’s hand in marriage and therefore advises him to steal away with her at once. But before Maskwell can carry her away himself, his plot is discovered by Careless. The advised Cynthia is about to warn Touchwood of Maskwell’s treachery when they hear him quarrel with Lady Touchwood, angry after learning of his intention to marry Cynthia, who advises Touchwood to overhear them while hidden behind a curtain. To calm her rage, Maskwell seeks to defend himself. “But could you think that I, who had been happy in your loved embraces, could ever be found of an inferior slavery?” he asks rhetorically. “O poison to my ears!” Touchwood exclaims. He angrily chases off his wife and contritely joins his nephew’s hands with Cynthia’s. “Unwearied nights and wishing days attend you both; mutual love, lasting health, and circling joys tread round each happy year of your long lives,” he wishes them.
"The old bachelor" edit
Time: 1690s. Place: London, England.
Vainlove explains to Bellmour he is pursued by two women he wants nothing to do with: Silvia, in her turn pursued by the woman-hating old bachelor, Heartwell, and Laetitia, wife to the “mongrel zealot”, Fondlewife, because Vainlove hates love whenever forced on him. For his part, Bellmour tells his friend, Sharper, that although he rescued Sir Joseph Wittol from robbers in the street, the frightened poltroon ran away before thanking him or even knowing who the rescuer was. Sharper seizes the opportunity by pretending to Wittol that he himself was the rescuer who lost 100 pounds during the scuffle and so expects him to reimburse the sum. The frightened Wittol promises him the money that afternoon in the form of a letter of credit. Though engaged in other amours, Vainlove and Bellmour have time to visit Araminta and Belinda, two coquettes willing to jeer at their proffered loves, while Heartwell does the same with Silvia. After discovering Wittol has handed over the money, his so-called protector, Captain Bluffe, is angry at him and requests him to tell Sharper that he wants the money back, but he is unwilling to. Although Sharper thanks him for the accepted letter of credit, the two nevertheless quarrel. Sharper cuffs him while Bluffe stands rigid with fear. “Captain, will you see this?” an affronted Wittol asks. “Won’t you pink his soul?” “Hush, ’tis not so convenient now. I shall find time,” he answers. Instead, he continues to stand still while Sharper kicks him twice. When Heartwell attempts to seduce Silvia, she wants to be married first. Driven by lust, the old bachelor is forced to accept. “An old fox trapped!” she laughs with her servant. Meanwhile, Bellmour, with the help of his friend, Setter the pimp, disguises himself as Spintext the Puritan, to gain easy entry into Fondlewife’s house and seduce his wife. “I wonder why all our young fellows should glory in an opinion of atheism when they may be so much more conveniently lewd under the coverlet of religion,” he comments to Setter. Recognizing she has been cheated by Vainlove, Laetitia at first resists Bellmour’s advances, but then kisses him. ”What am I doing!” the bewildered wife asks herself while the adroit Bellmour asks to be led to her bed because he feels a fit coming on. While sauntering in St James’ park, Wittol and Bluffe accost Araminta and Belinda but are interrupted in their quest by the arrival of Sharper. “My blood rises at the fellow,” Bluffe admits to Wittol. “I can’t stay where he is and I must not draw in the park.” They leave. “And see the owls have fled as at the break of day,” Sharper quips. He and Belinda leave the field for Araminta and a Vainlove ready for another assault, but he is still unsuccessful, not the case with Bellmour lying in Laetitia’s bed, though forced to a quick escape towards an adjoining chamber by the arrival of Fondlewife and Wittol. With her husband about to enter the next room, Laetitia pretends to have been indecently touched by Wittol. “Out of my house, thou son of the whore of Babylon, offspring of Bel and the dragon,” the affronted husband cries out to the retreating Wittol. Since he still wants to enter the room, Laetitia tries to fob him off by saying that Spintext lies on her bed with the colic, but he discovers a lewd book of his. While the adulterer explains that Fondlewife arrived just in time to avert cuckoldry, Laetitia hangs around his neck to be forgiven, protecting from view the infatuated Bellmour who kisses her hand. After she pretends to faint, Fondlewife yields. “I won’t believe my own eyes,” he affirms. Still disguised as a member of the clergy, Bellmour marries Silvia to Heartwell and then reveals the secret of his identity to her, mollifying her disappointment to the false marriage by promising to find her another husband. To cheat Wittol of more money, Setter pretends to Sharper that Araminta is willing to marry him. The befooled Wittol hands him gold to favor his design on her, as does Bluffe when he thinks Araminta willing to marry him. Both are cheated when Setter arranges that Wittol marry Silvia, to Heartwell’s joy for being released from bondage, and Bluffe to Silvia’s servant. Bellmour consents to marry Belinda, but Araminta prefers to wait before marrying Vainlove to see whether their friends’ marriage will succeed.
William Wycherley edit
The nearest to Congreve's strong wine is William Wycherley (1640-1715) and "The country wife" (1675).
With Victorian disdain, Ward (1875) viewed “The country wife” as follows: “in its plot (which seems indebted to two of Molière’s comedies for its groundwork) reaches the extremity of the revolting; yet one cannot wonder at the revived popularity the play enjoyed upon the stage. For not only is it written with considerable spirit, besides being seasoned with that cynicism which is Wycherley’s most peculiar element, but it contains one character- of the false ingénue type- which naturally lends itself to the art of a good actress of a particular kind. But it was indeed a ‘frank age’ which could tolerate such a play in any form or under any circumstances” (vol 2 pp 579-580).
With neo-Victorian disdain, Wilson Knight (1962) viewed “The country wife” as an exhibition of “shameless indecency” (p 136). Similar was the view of Nettleton (1914): "in The Country Wife, Wycherley reveals at once perhaps the height of his dramatic power and the depth of his moral degradation. Borrowing from Molière's Ecole des Femmes [School for Wives] something of the general situation for his main plot, he transformed the real ingenue Agnes into Mrs Pinchwife, whose nominal purity at the outset is due to lack of opportunity to sin. The progress of her corruption when she is transferred from the country to the fashionable world of London is detailed without sympathy either for the degraded wife or for the dishonoured husband. Homer, who prosecutes his vices through an assumption perhaps the most atrocious in all Restoration comedy, is Wycherley's real hero. Ingenuity is prostituted in the service of animal license. From Molière's [School for Husbands], Wycherley took the device of making an unsuspecting lover the bearer of a love letter to another, but in his hands the mild deception of a would-be husband becomes grim tragedy, when Mrs Pinchwife makes her husband the bearer to Horner of the message of his own dishonour. And when, at the end of the play, Pinchwife remains unconscious of the ruin wrought, and the curtain falls to a mocking dance of cuckolds, one sees the gulf between even the lowest decadence of Elizabethan drama and what the Restoration age termed comedy" (pp 79-80). The offended Agate (1944) upbraided that “Wycherley’s coarseness of language is neither here nor there- even Macaulay was not troubled about a matter of fashion. But the coarseness of mind is more difficult to overlook. There is hardly any pretence that the satirist does not enjoy the state of things satirized; indeed, it is obvious that he revels in it. Congreve saved our faces with some polite pretence as to passion; there is none in Wycherley, whose characters are given up to uncontrolled appetite. No moral laws are broken in this play, not because it takes place in fairyland, but because its author has no conception of morality” (p 25). “The debt to Molière is considerable, yet despite these derivations the spirit and much of the conduct of the play are original. The tone is coarse in the extreme, but behind the lewdness one has the impression of a strong, sardonic mind. One feels that one is in the presence of the satirist of Restoration comedy though an incomplete satirist. The satirist should be one who does not accept the values of the society which he condemns. Wycherley’s motives are not so integrated. It is contempt rather than moral condemnation which he expresses. Most often one feels that there is a sardonic mind which knows all that is most obscene in his age, and contrives somehow to despise it and indulge in it simultaneously” (Evans, 1950 p 90).
Saner views have prevailed. The play "compressed all that his forceful character had shown him in Restoration society. It is the one play in the whole period equal to The Way of the World in completeness of expression. It is a masterpiece, and here Wycherley did attain unity of atmosphere. It is a staggering performance and never for one instant did he swerve from his point of view. From beginning to end Wycherley saw clearly what it was he wanted to do, for now he understood that the real point of interest in Restoration society was the sex question. He took scenes from [Molière's The School for Wives] and [The School for Husbands], but the theme throughout is the failure to rationalize sex. Horner, the principal figure, takes a leaf out of the 'Eunuch' of Terence, and declaring himself impotent, devotes himself to living up to his name. From this we get the whole gallery of Restoration figures: the jealous man who is proved wrong to be jealous, the trusting man who is a fool to be so trusting; the light ladies concerned for their honour, the gay sparks devoted only to their pleasure, the ignorant woman seduced, the woman of common sense baffled, the only triumphant figure Horner himself, the type of all that is most unselectively lecherous, and who seems to derive such a sorry enjoyment from his success. We never laugh at Horner, just as we never laugh at Tartuffe, though we may on occasion laugh with each of them. Both are grim, nightmare figures, dominating the helpless, hopeless apes who call themselves civilized men" (Dobrée, 1924 pp 93-94).
The play “is not only skilfully planned and exceedingly well written, but it is not devoid of the gravity of true satire. Indeed, it is in this play, the dramatis personae of which include not a single truly virtuous personage, that we perceive Wycherley to have passed beyond the careless art of Etherege, which contents itself with merely picturing the age in its wantonness and folly, and to have entered the more sombre regions of satire, in which these things are referred for contrast and reprobation (even if unconsciously) to the normal standards of men of decent life” (Schelling, 1912 p 144). "Wycherley is generally regarded first and foremost as a writer of witty dialogue, and secondly as a clever creator of character. But in this play he proves himself also a brilliant dramatist. The three plots are interwoven with such skill that they blend perfectly into a composite whole and lead up without the least irrelevance to the ultimate climax" (Wilson, 1937 p 119).
“We can profitably read Horner as a picaro, as a con man in the world of sex...The basic rule of picaresque art is that the picaro’s victims remain offstage or deserve what happens to them...Sir Jasper Fidget and Pinchwife...only too obviously ask for what happens to them” (Heilman, 1978b p 205). "Horner is the leading rake of the play- a maker of cuckolds, hence a giver of horns to husbands. By pretending impotence, he gains the freedom of all boudoirs, and, safe from husbandly suspicion, acquits himself right gallantly. His paramours include Mrs Pinchwife, Mrs Squeamish, Mrs Dainty Fidget, and that most remarkable wanton, Lady Fidget, who has so much honor in her mouth that she has none elsewhere...Wycherley fun of the usual fools, such as Sparkish and Sir Jasper Fidget, but the drift of his satire is against anyone and anything which is opposed to the tree and open playing of the venereal game, against surly husbands who keep charming wives locked up; against foolish women who make much of their honor; against the nice institutions and customs of society which hamper the devotees of Venus, against everything, in short, which went then or now by the name of respectability"(Wilson, 1948 pp 161-163).
Pinchwife “is represented to be one of those debauchees who run through the vices of the town and believe when they think fit they can marry and settle at their ease. His own knowledge of the iniquity of the age makes him choose a wife wholly ignorant of it and places his security in her want of skill how to abuse him. The poet, on many occasions where the propriety of the character will admit of it, insinuates that there is no defence against vice but the contempt of it and has, in the natural ideas of an untainted innocent, shown the gradual steps to ruin and destruction which persons of condition run into without the help of a good education how to form their conduct. The torment of a jealous coxcomb, which arises from his own false maxims, and the aggravation of his pain by the very words in which he sees her innocence, makes a very pleasant and instructive satire” (Steele, The Tatler no 3, April 16, 1709).
The play "is perhaps the most amusing treatment of jealousy in the English language and Mistress Margery Pinchwife is an ingenue who has not often been surpassed” (Gassner, 1968 p 59). “Miss Peggy (or Mrs Margery Pinchwife) is a character that will last for ever, I should hope and even when the original is no more, if that should ever be, while self-will, curiosity, art, and ignorance are to be found in the same person, it will be just as good and as intelligible as ever in the description, because it is built on first principles, and brought out in the fullest and broadest manner” (Hazlitt, 1819 p 76).
"The character of Sparkish is quite new, and admirably hit off. He is an exquisite and suffocating coxcomb; a pretender to wit and letters, without common understanding, or the use of his senses. The class of character is thoroughly exposed and understood; but he persists in his absurd conduct so far that it becomes extravagant and disgusting, if not incredible, from mere weakness and foppery. Yet there is something in him that we are inclined to tolerate at first, as his professing that ‘with him a wit is the first title to respect' and we regard his unwillingness to be pushed out of the room, and coming back, in spite of their teeth, to keep the company of wits and raillers, as a favourable omen. But he utterly disgraces his pretensions before he has done. With all his faults and absurdities, he is, however, a much less offensive character than Tattle" (Hazlitt, 1819 p 77). “Sparkish is so absorbed in himself that he is practically unaware of other people. That is why he allows Harcourt to court Alithea before his face: all he can think of is his own image of himself as a person so sophisticated that he is immune to jealousy...Pinchwife illustrates the traditional respectable view of marriage, which is as selfish and more harmful than the fashionable libertinism travestied by Sparkish...Marriage, for him, is purely a sexual and financial arrangement...He is a would-be wit because the worldly wisdom on which he prides himself is actually a mechanical suspiciousness, and it enables him to outwit no one but himself...Alithea has indeed allowed social convention to exert too much force on her since she is about to sacrifice her life’s happiness to a strained ideal. Moreover, her devotion to honor turns out to be, in part, a rationalization for a selfish motive. She finally reveals that she favors the fool over the wit because she fears that a wit would be jealous and domineering” (Rogers, 1972 pp 64-70).
Palmer (1913) pointed out that the sexual innuendoes in "The country wife" include physical facts unlike many other plays of this and other periods (p 132), as when Mrs Squeamish cries out to Horner: "Oh, lord, I'll have some china too. Good Mr Horner, don't think to give other people china, and me none; come in with me too." “Since china is really refined and decorated earth, it is an appropriate symbol for sexuality of people like Lady Fidget” (Rogers, 1972 p 59).
Victorian writers were offended by the output of this author: "Wycherley...was admirable for the epigrammatic turn of his stage conversations, the aptness of his illustrations, the acuteness of his observation, the richness of his character-painting, and the smartness of his satire; in the indulgence or practice of all which, however, the action of the drama is often impeded, that the audience may enjoy a shower of sky rockets...We are not instructed by the sense of Wycherley, nor swayed by his judgment, nor warmed honestly by his spirit; his unblushing profligacy ruins all" (Doran, 1888 pp 222-223). In the view of Golden (1890), William Wycherley was "a vicious but remarkably powerful comic dramatist, is in his dramas and his life a fit exponent of the corrupt and superficial Court of Charles II. In his plays we meet with strong characters, acting and speaking naturally we might almost say too much so. His satire is keen and his wit cynical and merciless. He uncloaks vice, it is true, but less with a purpose of rendering punishment than of furnishing amusement...The Country Wife, as Wycherley wrote it, is an appalling and vicious picture of a certain phase of Restoration life" (pp 175-176).
“The general characteristics of Wycherley as a dramatist may I think be summed up as follows. His merits lie in the vigour with which his characters are drawn, the clearness with which they stand out from one another, and the naturalness with which he both constructs his plots and chooses his language. His wit is less sparkling and spontaneous than that of Congreve or of Vanbrugh; he is, as Leigh Hunt says, somewhat heavy as well as brawny in his step, and he lacks in general the gaiety of spirit which is the most charming phase of comic humour. On the other hand, he excels in satire of an intenser kind; his sarcasms are as keen as they are cruel and the cynicism of his wit cannot prevent us from acknowledging its power. But while he ruthlessly uncloaks the vices of his age, his own moral tone is affected by their influence to as deplorable a degree as that of the most light-hearted and unthinking of contemporary dramatists” (Ward, 1875 vol 2 pp 578-579). "Rivalling Congreve in the comedy field was William Wycherley (1640-1715), the typical Restoration dramatist, master of repartee, the point of which was never dulled by any oversensitiveness or prudery" (Strang, 1903 vol 1 p 233).
"The country wife" edit
Time: 1670s. Place: London, England.
Text at https://archive.org/details/dli.bengal.10689.21535 http://www.bibliomania.com/0/6/274/1876/frameset.html https://archive.org/details/dli.ministry.07168 https://archive.org/details/williamwycherley00wychuoft
As Horner is followed by a quack doctor, he mutters to himself: "A quack is as fit for a pimp as a midwife for a bawd; they are still but in their way both helpers of nature." When the doctor is asked whether he did as required, he answers: "I have undone you for ever with the women, and reported you throughout the whole town as bad as an eunuch, with as much trouble as if I had made you one in earnest." Given the rumors circulating on Horner's impotence, Jasper Fidget confidently leave wife and sister at his lodging, but before Horner can explain his true condition, both women leave disgusted. Horner is surprised to learn of Pinchwife's marriage. "From such a whoremaster as you," he says to him, "One that knew the town so much, and women so well". Pinchwife defends himself by saying he made sure to marry a country wife. "’Tis my maxim, he’s a fool that marries; but he’s a greater that does not marry a fool," he states. "What is wit in a wife good for, but to make a man a cuckold?" Horner saw Pinchwife at a play with a woman. He and his rakish friends, Harcourt and Dorilant, guess by Pinchwife's blushing that the woman in question was his wife, Margery. Pinchwife foolishly slips out the information that his wife was much admired at the play. He ushers her out as company arrives. To Pinchwife's disgust, a man-about-town, Sparkish, extravagantly praises Alithea, his wife-to-be and Pinchwife's sister, before Harcourt's very face. Pinchwife tries to prevent their speaking together, but is hindered by the foolishly confident Sparkish. At last, Alithea runs towards Sparkish to disclose that Harcourt insulted his wit, which at last arouses him, until she declares he only made trial to be satisfied of her virtue for his sake. Jasper's wife, Lady Fidget, arrives to take Margery to the play along with Dainty Fidget and Mrs Squeamish, which Pinchwife prevents by saying she has the smallpox: an ineffective ploy because they all have had it and consider themselves immune. Jasper invites Horner to follow them, who, taking Lady Fidget apart from the rest, whispers to her his true condition, a far more pleasing prospect to her now. To prevent the worst, Pinchwife insists on having his wife disguised in man's clothes, while Harcourt requests Sparkish to reconcile him to his future wife, the best method for friends to remain so. Despite Alithea's concern about Sparkish's honor, he retorts still with confidence: "That he makes love to you is a sign you are handsome, and that I am not jealous is a sign you are virtuous." When Pinchwife complains again of Sparkish's indulgence, he replies: "I love to be envied, and would not marry a wife that I alone could love; loving alone is as dull as eating alone. Is it not a frank age?" Harcourt and Dorilant notice how pretty Pinchwife's companion is, the former blurting out how much she resembles the woman he saw at the play and loved at first sight, a word which gladdens Margery. To Harcourt she is: "more beautiful than a poet’s first mistress of imagination." "Or another man’s last mistress of flesh and blood," Horner counters sarcastically, who kisses the disguised woman several times on pretense of giving the woman a kiss on his behalf, a deed enthusiastically followed by Harcourt and Dorilant. While Pinchwife goes out to find a coach, Horner takes the disguised Margery away, who returns a little later running back with her hat full of oranges and dried fruit under her arm, a sight which makes the husband rub his forehead, wearing he has become a cuckold. In preparation of their wedding ceremony, Sparkish presents Alithea to a man he thinks is Harcourt's brother and a chaplain but is actually Harcourt himself, not a chaplain. Meanwhile, Pinchwife's thorough interrogation reveals that Horner did no more than force his tongue between Margery's teeth. Nevertheless, Pinchwife insists on her writing Horner an insulting letter to discourage him in the future. He dictates a very insulting one, which she mitigates in softer tones. Meanwhile, Jasper catches his wife, Lady Fidget, at Horner's house. She pretends to look for china pieces. While she is in the adjoining room and Horner on the way, Jasper calls out to warn her: "My Lady Fidget! Wife! He is coming in to you the back way" to which she answers: "Let him come, and welcome, which way he will." Pinchwife later discovers his wife writing to Horner a second letter, one that he never wished to see. He angrily draws his sword on her, but is prevented from doing harm by Sparkish, who invites him to his wedding dinner. When Pinchwife returns, Margery lies by saying she wrote the letter on behalf of his sister. "Because, lest Mr Horner should be cruel, and refuse her," she explains, "or be vain afterwards, and show the letter, she might disown it, the hand not being hers." Pinchwife decides Horner should marry his sister, for that might prevent his cuckolding him. He leads away what he thinks is Alithea but is actually his wife disguised, towards Horner's house, with a parson to follow soon after, then shows the letter to the disappointed Sparkish, who angrily repudiates the disillusioned Alithea. When Pinchwife arrives to marry Alithea to Horner, Margery, unwilling to lose him, discovers her true feelings, at which Pinchwide offers to draw his sword on Horner, but is prevented by Harcourt and eased in mind when Jasper and others explain Horner's supposed impotence, so that all may end happily with a dance of cuckolds.
George Etherege edit
George Etherege (1635-1692) was charmingly bubbly with "The man of mode" (1676).
Richard Steele (1711) was offended by the mores displayed in "The man of mode": “I think nothing but being lost to a sense of innocence and virtue can make any one see this comedy without observing more frequent occasion to move sorrow and indignation than mirth and laughter. At the same time, I allow it to be nature, but it is nature in its utmost corruption and degeneracy” (The Spectator, no 65, May 15). Doran (1888) was likewise offended by the mores displayed in Etherege's plays, "so debased is the nature of these people, however truly they represent, as they unquestionably did, the manners, bearing, and language of the higher classes. How they dressed, talked, and thought; what they did, and how they did it; what they hoped for, and how they pursued it; all this, and many other exemplifications of life as it was then understood, may be found especially in the plays of Etherege, in which there is a bustle and a succession of incidents, from the rise to the fall of the curtain. But the fine gentlemen are such unmitigated rascals, and the women- girls and matrons- are such unlovely hussies, in rascality and unseemliness quite a match for the men, that one escapes from their wretched society, and a knowledge of their one object, and the confidences of the abominable creatures engaged therein, with a feeling of a strong want of purification, and of that ounce of civet which sweetens the imagination" (p 207). More Victorian dismay towards the play’s licentiousness is expressed as follows. The play «presents a very admirable picture- perhaps the best extant of the qualities that were held to constitute the fine gentlemen, fops, and wits, of Etherege’s day. The portraits, no doubt, are accurate; and the reception which the audience gave to the comedy may he accepted as the popular acknowledgement of its fidelity to existing traits and manners. But what a state of society must that have been in which such principles were adopted, and such abandoned courses were followed by men occupying influential positions in the world of fashion! The fine gentleman of the piece is so sunk in the lowest depths of debauchery that his expressions are frequently revoltingly coarse and vulgar, and his actions are invariably dishonourable…Its finery is a wretched glitter of affectation, and the vivacity is unmitigated heartlessness. The fop, alone, is a creature who keeps to his part with a consistency that is not disagreeable, because we expect to find him a fool, and we are not disappointed...Whatever justification there might be offered for satirising the vices of the court, it is quite impossible to extend it to a play in which those vices are presented upon the stage in the most fascinating dress, and palliated by the wit of the characters instead of being held up to scorn and disgrace” (Dunham, 1836 pp vol 3 pp 179-180).
Other critics are enchanted by the dramatic characters. The play "is, I think, a more exquisite and airy picture of the manners of that age than any other extant. Sir Fopling himself is an inimitable coxcomb, but pleasant withal. He is a suit of clothes personified. Dorimant (supposed to be Lord Rochester) is the genius of grace, gallantry, and gaiety. The women in this courtly play have very much the look and air (but something more demure and significant) of Sir Peter Lely’s beauties. Harriet, the mistress of Dorimant, who ‘tames his wild heart to her loving hand', is the flower of the piece. Her natural, untutored grace and spirit, her meeting with Dorimant in the Park, bowing and mimicking him, and the luxuriant description which is given of her fine person, altogether form one of the [masterpiece] of dramatic painting" (Hazlitt, 1819 p 68). “Etherege’s hero, Dorimant, superlatively well-bred, witty, engaging, is the finest of all fine gentlemen in Restoration comedy. We may perceive in the character of Dorimant the fine flowering of Restoration culture, a culture rooted in the curious artifices of ‘preciosité’ and still controlled by its mannerisms...Dorimant, Harriet, and the young people of fashion among their friends enforce their own wit at the expense of the fools of the play...Among those who “want” wit, according to Lady Townley’s standard, are Lady Woodvil and Old Bellair, both of whom make themselves ridiculous in exhibiting old-fashioned notions about society, the madly jealous mistress, Loveit, and, most important of all, that ‘pattern of modern foppery’, Sir Fopling Flutter” (Lynch, 1926 pp 177-180).
"The Man of Mode is the brightest, gayest, wittiest comedy produced in the Restoration proper. In its brittle, polished way, it is great. Less satiric than the best of Wycherley, less humorous than the best of Shadwell, less witty than the best of Congreve, it is nevertheless nearly perfect as an example of brisk, clever, comedy of manners...The dominant note of the play is social satire. The dramatis personae are neatly divisible into the accepted and the rejected, or the admired and the scorned. Admirable from the point of view of Restoration society are: Dorimant, the complete gentleman, gay, careless, witty, gallant, and completely amoral, and his shadows. Medley and Bellair; Harriet, Emilia, and Bellinda, emancipated jillflirts who enjoy the game of love as much as the rakes do; and old Lady Townley, who is the very spirit of well-bred urban sophistication. Scorned as inferior are: Sir Fopling, a would-be Dorimant, whom nature made a complete ass and fashion an egregious francophile; Old Bellair, a silly, doting, country gentleman; old Lady Woodvil, the country mouse to Lady Woodvil’s town mouse; and Mrs Loveit, whose great failure is her inability to be nonchalant when Dorimant jilts her" (Wilson, 1948 pp 163-164). “What distinguishes The Man of Mode is Dorimant’s almost ruthless pursuit of power over women, his dedication to a life of libertine pleasure” (Corman, 2000 p 62). “Although Dorimant’s professions of love do not differ in form or content from one conquest to the next, they nevertheless make each addressee believe she is special” (Gill, 2000 p 197).
"One of the structural devices of 'The man of mode' is the opposition of private and public scenes. Before the arrival of Sir Fopling in the middle of the play, most scenes are private ones in which the major characters, Dorimant, Loveit, and Harriet, are seen (and heard) facing the private mirror of their dressing room. They are all getting ready for the public meetings (in the Mall, at Lady Townley's masquerade, in her drawing-room). Seeing and being seen in public (and conversely, not being seen in private) comprised that society's major activity, and Sir Fopling, who only exists when seen, can understandably rejoice that 'all the world will be in the park tonight' (III.2), even if he also wishes that this world be only that of the happy few ('Tis a pity there's not an order made that none but the 'beau monde' should walk here,' III, 3, p 79)" (Ogée, 1989 p 87). In "The man of mode", "two points are striking: its extremely slight intrigues and its emphasis on display of character...Within this almost static plot we find four loci of interest: (1) Fopling, who has no necessary connection to any other part of the play; (2) Dorimant's affairs with Loveit and Bellinda; (3) The courtship of Dorimant and Harriet; (4) The marriage of Young Bellair and Emilia. For these last two, Lady Woodvill, Old Bellair, and Lady Townley provide some slight interconnections, but the parental opposition is utterly pro forma: Old Bellair gives in to his son's marriage and accepts his own disappointment with hardly a murmur, while Harriet's mother is so charmed by Dorimant (posing as Mr Courtage) that she drops her objections to him. Seldom has the course of true love run so smooth. Indeed, the story is incredibly thin, and its pieces are only loosely patched together. Not only is Fopling irrelevant to the action, but the Young Bellair-Emilia plot has little factual connection to the two involving Dorimant, which in turn are almost independent of each" (Hume, 1972 p 2). "The female characters in the play each present the libertine with a call to love. In mounting progression he breaks through each definition, because each is false, until he comes to the final true challenge, which is Harriet's. We are presented successively with love as simple appetite or commodity (Molly the true-bred whore) whose appeal the fastidious Dorimant has long since outgrown, love as power over the other and the attempt to arrest nature's mutability by outworn language and oath (Mrs Loveit), love as deception and self-deception (Bellinda), and finally love as self-knowledge and surrender to Fate (Harriet)" (Zimbardo, 1981 p 380).
"Etherege produces his happiest work in The Man of Mode or Sir Fopling Flutter, a veritable monument to frivolity. Its hero Dorimant is an erotic who is as witty as he is unscrupulous; Sir Fopling Flutter, newly come from France, is the 'dernier cri' of fashionableness; and the women carry no impedimenta of modesty. Even the charming Harriet who wears down the resistance of her Dorimant to the point of marriage is an unconventional heroine" (Gassner, 1954a p 306). “Harriet and Young Bellair, pretending to talk and to behave as though they were falling in love, are an exquisite study in artifice” (Palmer, 1913a p 85). "Etherege's dramatic masterpiece is unquestionably 'The man of mode'...Sir Fopling Flutter lately arrived piping hot from Paris, with six footmen with French names, with French phrases at his tongue's end, and French dances at the tips of his toes, is one of the most notable character types of Restoration comedy. He is an ancestor of Lord Poppington, Sir Courtly Nice, and many other fops. The Man of Mode reflects the usual contempt for the country. Dorimant asserts to Harriet as the highest proof of his affection that to be with her he could live in the country 'and never send one thought to London'. But Harriet cannot believe the incredible: 'Whate'er you say,' she rejoins, 'I know all beyond High Park's a desert to you, and that no gallantry can draw you farther' (V,2). She herself, however, is even willing to be 'mewed up in the country again . .. rather than be married to a man I do not care for'. Many of Harriet's scenes are typical of Etherege's piquant dialogue, such as that in which she makes light of Dorimant's advances (IV,i), or the one (III,i) where she and Young Bellair pretend love to deceive their parents, a situation not unlike that in Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer, where Tony Lumpkin and Miss Neville deceive Mrs Hardcastle by pretended billing and cooing...The intrinsic value of Etherege's work is lessened, to be sure, by obvious dramatic defects. He is weak in plot construction and in dramatic action; lacking deep emotional power, he glosses over shallowness with a superficial veneer of easy flippancy; he turns comedy, from lashing vice with ridicule, to laughter at sin as well as at folly" (Nettleton, 1914 pp 75-76).
Sir Fopling Flutter "merely apes the smartness of the time" and is set in contrast with Dorimant, "the man of true wit and perfect fashion" (Palmer, 1913a p 85). “In The Man of Mode...we seem to have a more elaborate attempt at character in the hero, ‘the freshest fool in town’, but (to borrow a phrase from Dryden’s excellent epilogue)‘there goes more to a substantial ass’ than a mere caricature of manners such as this. Sir Fopling, however, may perhaps deserve remembrance as one of the eldest of the long family of would-be-Parisian English fops owned by our comic stage” (Ward, 1875 vol 2 pp 566-567). Dobrée (1924) compared Sir Fopling Flutter with Vanbrugh's fop in "The relapse" (Lord Foppington): "The ostensible hero of the play, Sir Fopling Flutter, has little to do with the action. He is the most delicately and sympathetically drawn of all the fops in the great series of coxcombs. He is in himself a delight, presented from pure joy of him, and is not set up merely as a target for the raillery of wiser fools. Unlike Vanbrugh's Lord Foppington, he has no intellectual idea behind his appearance. He exists by his garments and his calèche; there is, as it were, no noumenal Flutter...Moreover, all the people around him enjoy him as much as Etherege himself so evidently did. Life would be the duller without him, and so his existence is justified. He must even be encouraged...Sir Fopling is not for a moment the fatuous ass Vanbrugh's Lord Foppington becomes...He presented and avoided awakening the critical spirit. Sir Fopling was to him what a rare orchid is to an enthusiastic gardener, a precious specimen, and the finger of satire must not be allowed to touch him...To attempt to deduce a lesson from him is as fruitful as to seek a symbol in a primrose, a meaning in the contours of a cloud" (pp 73-75).
"The man of mode" edit
Time: 1670s. Place: London, England.
Lady Townley and her niece, Emilia, are apprehensive after learning that old Bellair has obtained lodgings in the house where they live, Emilia being the mistress of his son and his cousin, because the father wishes his son to marry Harriet Woodvill, a woman of greater fortune. To cheer up his glum-looking son, old Bellair assures him: "A wife is no curse when she brings the blessing of a good estate with her." He ushers out his son on his way towards Harriet. Meanwhile, two mistresses of a young rake named Dorimant, Bellinda and Mrs Loveit, confer together. With Dorimant's approval, Bellinda misleads her rival by saying she saw him at a play flirting with a masked woman. When Dorimant enters, an angry Mrs Loveit accuses him of treachery, to which he retorts: "I am honest in my inclinations, and would not, were't not to avoid offence, make a lady a little in years believe I think her young, willfully mistake art for nature, and seem as fond of a thing I am weary of as when I doted on't in earnest." Despite these witticisms at her expense, she wishes to keep him. In turn, he accuses her of flirting with Sir Fopling Flutter, a man of mode, but one she hates. For her part, Harriet has no wish to marry young Bellair any more than he does, and so they join hands in agreeing to pretend loving each other until they can get out of it. Dorimant next visits Lady Townley and Emilia, followed by Flutter, all the clothes of the latter being of French make. To free himself from Mrs Loveit, Dorimant assures Flutter that the woman likes him. To help young Bellair, Harriet intends that her mother see her with Dorimant. "She concludes if he does but speak to a woman she's undone- is on her knees every day to pray heaven defend me from him," she says. As mother and daughter pass by, Dorimant recognizes Harriet as the masked woman at the play and speaks with her a second time in front of her nervous mother. To make Dorimant jealous, Mrs Loveit intends to flirt with Flutter, which alarms Bellinda, who tries to dissuade her from that. Mrs Loveit assures her that her strategy is sound. "'Tis the strongest cordial we can give to dying love," she avers, "it often brings it back when there's no sign of life remaining. But I design not so much the reviving his, as my revenge." When she advances to flirt with Dorimant, he backs away, suspecting a counter-plot. Notes his friend and bawd, Medley: "But I have known men fall into dangerous relapses when they have found a woman inclining to another." At a dance, Dorimant, wearing a disguise because of his reputation as a rake, pretends to fall in love with Lady Woodvill's old-fashioned views. He criticizes the young. "They cry a woman's past her prime at twenty," he declares disapprovingly, "decayed at four-and-twenty, old and insufferable at thirty." She agrees. "The depraved appetite of this vicious age tastes nothing but green fruit, and loathes it when 'tis kindly ripened," she says. At the same party, old Bellair dances up to Emilia, unaware yet of his son's relation with her. Meanwhile, Dorimant begins to feel an attraction to Harriet in earnest, but she gently rejects his advances. After lying in bed with Dorimant, Bellinda is nevertheless still anxious of losing him. She enjoins him to see Mrs Loveit only in public places. Meanwhile, young Bellair has grown convinced that Harriet loves Dorimant. "Why, she's never well but when she's talking of you," he tells Dorimant," but then she finds all the faults in you she can. She laughs at all who commend you; but then she speaks ill of all who do not." Bellinda is afraid a footman will betray her relation with Dorimant to Mrs Loveit, finds it is not so, but then finds Dorimant visiting her. Still wearied of her, Dorimant gives Mrs Loveit her letters back, but yet she manages to hold on to him still. When Bellinda sees them together, Dorimant grows pale and can only escape pitifully. Young Bellair and Emilia marry in secret just as his father arrives to marry him to Harriet. Dorimant hears of this and offers his service. As old Bellair and his son encounter Smirk the chaplain, the latter is sure the father must be mistaken, for he has just married his son to another woman. On learning this, old Bellair offers Emilia his hand, but it is Emilia his son married. When Dorimant sees Mrs Loveit and Bellinda arrive together, he becomes all the more anxious. To Lady Woodvill's astonishment, Mrs Loveit reveals that her daughter has been suspiciously been near Dorimant all this time. Yet Mrs Loveit and Bellinda now see they have lost Dorimant altogether. Instead, he promises to visit Harriet and her mother in the country. "The first time I saw you," he says to Harriet, "you left me with the pangs of love upon me, and this day my soul has quite given up her liberty."
John Vanbrugh edit
The writings of John Vanbrugh (1664-1726) achieved their maximal impact in "The relapse" (1696).
In typical Victorian fashion, Ward (1875) opined that "it would be difficult to point to a more recklessly immoral play than Vanbrugh's, notwithstanding the triumphant assertion at the close of the strength of female virtue in the character of the wronged and tempted wife. Her faithless husband goes scotfree for his sins; and there is no excuse for the unblushing effrontery of the picture. But it must be allowed that after the first scene has in hastily but not ill-written blank-verse exposed the situation, the prose dialogue of the remainder moves with contagious gaiety and spirit. The bye-plot of Lord Foppington (the ennobled Sir Novelty), his brother Tom Fashion, their joint bride Miss Hoyden and her father Sir Tunbelly Clumsey, is one of the most amusing things in later English comedy, and is well known to have been reproduced by Sheridan in his A Trip to Scarborough. Lord Foppington is in a word the best fop ever brought on the stage— unsurpassed and unsurpassable, and admirable from first to last. The ‘natural sprauts’ of his lordship’s ‘brain’ entitle him to a preeminence which in its kind seems to me beyond cavil" (p 500).
Dobrée (1924) compared Vanbrugh unfavorably with Congreve, but nevertheless praised "The relapse" as truly original, mostly in regard to the delineation of Lord Foppington: "If not quite delicate enough for fantasy, erring too much on the side of exaggeration, yet Lord Foppington succeeds in convincing by consistency with himself. Neither Leigh Hunt who called him 'the quintessence of nullification' nor Hazlitt who wrote of him as 'the personification of the foppery and folly of dress and appearance in full feather', quite do him justice. For at bottom he is a very sound man of business, and it is this that makes him a creation of Vanbrugh's and not a mere imitation of Sir Fopling, Sir Courtly, and Sir Novelty. He deliberately aims at absurdity because it pays, and he is proud to be the leader of the coxcombs because they form 'so prevailing a party'. All this is well carried out. One never knows what he is going to say, but once spoken, one realizes it is the only thing he could have said" (p 156). More debatable are Dobrée's comments on the sexual mores depicted in Vanbrugh's plays. "The persons of his plays commit adultery with the full knowledge that they are acting contrary to their own morality, and in consequence there is sometimes an atmosphere of lasciviousness which destroys the comic. Berinthia's surrender to Loveless is a sufficient example" (p 157). Downer (1950) was likewise offended because “the vulgarity of action and smuttiness of speech...are the more prominent in 'The relapse' for being mingled with morality” (p 236). Its “moral is vicious” (p 233).
Nettleton (1914) praised Wycherley's characterization, notably Lord Foppington in comparison with Cibber's "Love's last shift" (1696) where the character appeared under the name of Sir Novelty Fashion. "From Cibber, Vanbrugh has taken the general idea of the fop and some specific touches. In Cibber, Sir Novelty is described as 'one that heaven intended for a man; but the whole business of his life is to make the world believe he is of another species' (Act I). Cibber's character amuses for the moment; Vanbrugh's has permanent vitality" (p 134). "Lord Foppington...is a most splendid caricature: he is a personification of the foppery and folly of dress and external appearance in full feather. He blazes out and dazzles sober reason with ridiculous ostentation. Still I think this character is a copy from Etherege’s Sir Fopling Flutter, and upon the whole, perhaps, Sir Fopling is the more natural grotesque of the two" (Hazlitt, 1819 p 82).
Against Lord Foppington, "Vanbrugh opposed Worthy, the kind of man whom he called 'the beaux' antipathy, for they agree of nothing but walking upon two legs'. Now Worthy, who puts virtue in danger by nearly contriving to seduce Amanda, is not exactly a model human being, but he is a man of sense and honour such as his creator admired and may very well have been. In short, Vanbrugh despised affectation. He liked masculinity in life as much as in art" (Whistler, 1939 p 33). "Worthy's sudden repentance and apparent reformation near the end of Act V has always been the most troublesome problem for readers and critics of Vanbrugh's The Relapse. Throughout the play, Worthy, along with Berinthia, expresses those libertine tenets which inform the essentially amoral world of The Relapse until he suddenly becomes an admirer of female virtue when the chaste Amanda repulses his advances in the famous near-rape scene...My contention is that Vanbrugh intends Worthy's repentance to be read ironically...If Worthy does not know 'how long this influence will last', the audience, having witnessed Loveless' relapse, should realize that it will be short-lived...The masque's cynicism is as realistic as Worthy's momentary purity is unrealistic insofar as the former, but not the latter, accurately reflects human nature in The Relapse" (Malek, 1983 pp 353-357). "Worthy has no thought of giving up philandering and being true to his wife...The Amanda plot thus hardly has the circular structure often claimed for it, with Worthy taking over the robe of virtue as worn by Loveless in the first act: the robe that he offers to wear is 'that of love'...He has reached an accommodation designed to keep his desire eternally alive...to prefer the virtuous Amanda to the willing Berinthia" (Drougge, 1994 p 514).
"Sir Tunbelly Clumsy is the right worshipful and worthy father of so delicate an offspring. He is a coarse, substantial contrast to the flippant and flimsy Lord Foppington. If the one is not without reason ‘proud to be at the head of so prevailing a party ’ as that of coxcombs, the other may look big and console himself (under some affronts) with being a very competent representative, a knight of the shire, of the once formidable, though now obsolete class of country squires, who had no idea beyond the boundaries of their own estates, or the circumference of their own persons. His unwieldy dulness gives, by the rule of contraries, a lively sense of lightness and grace : his stupidity answers all the purposes of wit. His portly paunch repels a jest like a wool-sack: a sarcasm rebounds from him like a ball" (Hazlitt, 1819 p 83).
"The relapse" edit
Time: 1690s. Place: London, England.
Repenting past adulteries, Loveless promised his wife, Amanda, that he will never again relapse. Being destitute, Fashion applies to his older brother, Lord Foppington, for more money, but is neglected and ignored. Angry at this ill treatment, Fashion learns from Coupler, a disreputable matchmaker, that his brother intends to marry a country heiress, Hoyden, daughter to Sir Tunbelly Clumsey. Distrusting Foppington's intention to pay him, Coupler offers the "plump partridge" to Fashion instead, who will court her under the name of his older brother. When Amanda's widowed cousin, Berinthia, visits her, Loveless immediately lusts after her despite his promise to the contrary. Meanwhile, Foppington visits Loveless, and, mistakenly thinking Amanda susceptible to his charms, flirts with her. An enraged Loveless stabs him, but only causes a superficial wound. Later Amanda herself is courted by the debonnaire Worthy, who, aware of Loveless' courtship of Berinthia, asks her help in securing his love, which she accepts to do. At night, Loveless enters Berinthia's room and takes her by the hand. She protests against this intrusion, but in a very low voice. Meanwhile, Fashion presents himself to Clumsey and his daughter as if he were his elder brother. He impatiently asks Doctor Bull, the chaplain, to marry them, which he agrees to do. A little later, the real Foppington arrives at Clumsy's house and the cheat is discovered, at which time Bull is forced to acknowledge the previous marriage. At last Worthy after much effort assails Amanda with vehemence, but, though aware of her husband's relapse, she rejects him as her lover.
Colley Cibber edit
With "Woman's wit" (1697), Colley Cibber (1671-1757) exploited his best talents. Cibber also wrote "Love's last shift" (1696) and "Love makes a man" (1700). In "Love's last shift", Loveless, a spendrift, abandons his wife, Amanda, and then receives false news of her death. In love's last attempt to reclaim him, she stays loyal and wins him back. "Love makes a man" is an amalgam of two plays by John Fletcher and Philip Massinger: "The elder brother" (1625) and "The custom of the country" (1619). Carlos steals from his younger brother, Clodio, the woman he means to marry just before their wedding ceremony. The elder brother loses Angelina during a sea-storm but recovers her after rejecting the love of Louisa, who threatens to kill but then changes her mind.
"The two plots of 'Woman's wit' are entirely dissimilar in tone and dramatic handling, and, moreover, have no essential connection with each other. The main plot, which gives the name to the piece, is in the Restoration manner, while the sub-plot, which deals with the Rakishes, is in the mould of the minor late Elizabethans. In its portrayal of manners it belongs to the type represented by the plays of Brome, marked by coarseness rather than finish, and implying about the same standard of morals...The situation on which the main action is based is original and highly dramatic, but in order to maintain the intrigue Cibber has had to use incidents which are marked by improbability and dramatic blindness to such an extent that the action becomes wearisome. Cibber seems to be groping for something different from the conventional Restoration intrigue. His conception is worthy of more success than he attained, but he lacked the dramatic skill and experience to carry it out. Some of the character drawing is good. Longeville and Lovemore are rather decent young men, but are no doubt too sentimental for success on the stage at this time. The Rakishes are overdrawn and farcical. The women, with the exception of Leonora, are lacking in the spontaneity and wit demanded of seventeenth and early eighteenth century heroines, and like the men are possibly too sentimental. Leonora is the intriguer and is the best drawn and most important personage in the play. Her downfall is the result of her own character and conduct, and in the disapproval of her character and actions Cibber has repeated, to some extent, views he expressed in his first play...From the point of view of the reformation of the stage it must be confessed that Woman's Wit was not of great importance. The moral tone of the main action is high; at least virtue is rewarded and vice disgraced, and there are no amours carried on" (Croissant, 1912 pp 47-48).
In Leigh Hunt's opinion, Cibber "possessed in his person a great flow of animal spirits; and though they were not delicate or informed enough to give him sentiment, or elevate him above a certain pitch of coxcombry himself, yet they were sufficiently genial-blooded and good-natured to be extremely pleasant as well as continuous. Pope's mistake about him, or rather wilful change of tone (for he had done justice to his Careless Husband) is well known; as well as the recoil which he has suffered from his own satire in consequence" (1949 edition p 159).
"Woman's wit" edit
Time: 1690s. Place: London, England.
Emilia loves Lovemore who is smitten with Leonora, whom Longville, Emilia's brother, considers disloyal. To warn Lovemore against Leonora, Longville proposes to flirt with her in his hearing and he accepts. Their talk is interrupted by the arrival of Leonora's mother, Lady Manlove, whom Longville has difficulty in ridding himself of politely, because of her flirting talk and squeezing of hands. Their talk is eventually interrupted by the arrival of Jack Rakish, pursued by his father, Major Rakish, for robbing him of 500 pounds. Longville and Lovemore succeed in disarming Major Rakish before he stabs his own son with a sword. Longville's suspicion proves correct when he pretends to flirt with Leonora, but when she convinces Lovemore that he truly loves her, the two friends quarrel. Longville's distress increases when Lady Manlove takes hold of him and flirts some more. For her part, Emilia's friend, Olivia, hopes to marry Longville but is distressed after hearing rumors concerning his fondness for Lady Manlove. "Bless me," Emilia declares, "can you be jealous of him and a stale widow?" "He is a man," Olivia retorts, "consequently a thing that's vain and loves to be admired." To discover more, the two women decide to visit the widow. Meanwhile, Lovemore's quarrel with Longville degenerates into to challenge to a duel. Longville accepts the challenge but hands him only an unloaded pistol, pretending to be struck by a bullet as help arrives. To settle the matter, Longville requests him an hour to prove his innocence, which Lovemore accepts. Olivia's fears turn toward Lady Manlove's daughter when she declares Longville to be her lover. To prove it, Leonora proposes that they each write a letter to him for a rendez-vous at the same time. Olivia writes that she desires to see him at her father's house, while Leonora writes that she desires to see him at an Indian house. To cheat Olivia of her love, Leonora changes Olivia's letter to read that their meeting should take place at another house: Mrs Siam's. To cause even more mischief, she sends her own letter to Lovemore instead of Longville as if by mistake. Still intent on getting his money back from his son, Major Rakish proposes that they fence together for it. As they cross swords, the major treacherously flings his wig at him and pockets up the sum. A distraught proposes to better his fortunes by marrying Lady Manlove, but the aghast major wants her for himself and so proposes to give him back the 500 pounds if he abandons that design. But when Jack retorts he now wants 1,000 pounds, the father declares he will get nothing. To cheat her son, little Johnny, of his inheritance, Lady Manlove proposes to send him off to France in the charge of a priest, but her plot is undermined when the son wants to marry Lettice, one of her maids. Lady Manlove receives the attention of Jack as her suitor, though the man is mostly intent on retrieving the 1,000 pounds from his father. To win her on his side, his rival-father rightly declares the son has no money, whereas he himself lays 1,000 pounds at her feet to show his earnestness. But she shows her preference by handing the money over to Jack. To ingratiate himself further in the family, Jack befriends Johnny and promises to help him win Lettice. "Now let's take one cheering flask before the parson does his business," Jack proposes. "Then get drunk, break windows, maul the watch, and bed our new married wives in the roundhouse." At the Indian house, Leonora puts on a mask to accost Longville as a stranger while taking care to let Lovemore see her true self. Thinking himself cheated yet again, Lovemore quarrels with Longville as Emilia arrives with the jilted Olivia. Leonora triumphs in the confusion and is on her way out when the suspicious Emilia locks the door unseen and takes out the key. Leonora is forced to unmask, Longville amazed at seeing her here when he expected Olivia. Leonora's cheat is revealed when the two men compare their letters. Meanwhile, Jack proposes to marry Lady Manlove. She accepts until learning that he is ready to abandon her if his father signs a paper assuring him of 400 pounds for life. To win her on his side, Jack reveals that he helped Johnny marry Lettice but is able to annul the marriage. True to his word, the ceremony was performed by a gentleman disguised as a parson, and so the happily married major agrees to sign his son's paper.
John Crowne edit
Comedic success achieved by John Crowne (1641-1712) reached its height in "City politics" (1683).
"Crowne sets his play in the Naples of 1616-1620, ruled by Spain under a viceroy...The Whiggish Podesta (Paulo) and his gang are men of no principle other than self-interest, and their real desire, despite their cant about 'liberty' and such is for wealth, honors, and land. They seize any opportunity to advance themselves, even at the expense of their allies and indeed, if necessary, of their families. In the first act, the bricklayer, seized by the authorities, offers to compound: 'A word with you, sir [to the Governor], in private. Procure me a pension, I'll come over to your party' (I.ii). In the last act, the Podesta, tricked into believing that he is to be made Lord Treasurer, is told that he will be expected to sacrifice his fellow conspirators. The Podesta replies 'Ay, and my father too, if he were alive; he should hang 'em all'...Another aspect of the danger represented by the Whigs is their monomaniacal insistence on the letter, but not the spirit, of the law. The insistence, repeated in the stubborn manner of Shylock, that 'what we do is according to law' (I.ii), warns of a mulish legalism which in fact disguises the attempt to subvert the law...Crowne is able to define sharply the nature of the Whig rebellion through another element of the play's comedy. He utilizes the conventional dramatic action of the horning of the cit, but modifies this action to define more clearly its political implications. The old, impotent Podesta and Bartoline feel that they own and have the right to rule their zestful young wives, but because of their impotence (which is gleefully emphasized in the play), the young women turn to those who can, in Florio's words, 'pay [their] nightly pension well' (V,iii). Florio mocks Whig principles: 'Our principles are: he is not to be regarded who has a right to govern, but he who can best serve the ends of government. I can better serve the ends of your lady than you can, so I lay claim to your lady'" (V,iii) (Kaufman, 1982 pp 72-74).
"City politics" edit
Time: 1610s. Place: Naples, Italy.
Florio is heartily glad Paulo Camillo has just been elected chief magistrate of the city, because he should have freer access to Paulo's wife, Rosaura. Yet Florio has a surprising rival, Craffy, Paulo's son from a previous marriage. When Florio cries out against incest, Craffy retorts: "I don't think it is any more incest to lie with the same woman my father does than to drink in the same glass, or sit in the same pew at church." In his view, "marriage-promises" are only "churchmouth-glue". Though not the viceroy's choice of chief magistrate, Paulo asks the governor of the city whether he may be knighted by him, but the governor refuses to introduce him. Florio enters Paulo's house pretending to be sick and near death and to regret the cause: past debaucheries. But when Paulo leaves to perform civic duties and then returns without warning, Florio is caught in his wife's embraces. However, the crafty Rosaura pretends Florio is fainting from an apoplectic fit and then leads him away to cuckold her husband. Recognizing Florio's success, his acquaintance, Artall, enjoys the same favors with Lucinda, young wife of an old lawyer, Bartoline, marked by a defective speech after losing all his teeth, who thought her safe in the house of the sober Paulo. A messenger from the viceroy sends Paulo word to avoid raising the militia unnecessarily, but since his knightship was refused, he dismisses him. Paulo requests Bartoline's advice to fight against the viceroy, while the latter requests from him the same service. The lawyer accepts the money from both sides, provided they keep the secret from public knowledge. To fool Florio all the more, Florio pretends to have heard of the arrival of a French fleet. "Six of the principal commanders lurk disguised as pilgrims about Mount Vesuvio to burn the town by night," he warns. Paulo pretends he already knows about it and prepares to raise the militia. To fool the inexistent invaders, he goes off disguised as a bricklayer while his wife welcomes Florio. However, the adulterous couple are interrupted by a drunk Craffy, who attempts to seduce the woman despite being told her husband is sleeping nearby in his bed, actually the disguised Florio. All three are surprised by the arrival of Paulo and a bricklayer in military gear. Craffy knocks his father down while Rosaura conveys Florio away. Still fearing the French, Paulo orders for a regiment from the militia. "I'll have a sentry at every door in my house, two at every post of my bed, and one under my bolster," he declares. A sober Craffy eventually renews his suit towards his stepmother, but is surprised on his knees by his father. To save face, he pretends to ask for his blessing. Still pretending he is near death, Artall asks Bartoline to act as executor. The unsuspecting husband accepts, recommending Lucinda to take him to bed. "Come, chake yish poo genkleman, and lay him upon our bed, and cover him warm, and shit by him, and, gee hear? chalke goly to him," Bartoline requests. Meanwhile, Craffy has discovered Florio's illicit relation with Rosaura and alerts his father of this matter. "A whore and a rascal are associated in that room; I mean, your wife and Florio are there joined in one close abominable bond of lewdness, and cuckold you, as if they were to be hanged if they did not despatch it in a minute. The sight has shot me to my soul, my soul!" However, Paulo is distracted by the arrival of Bartoline, who thinks Artall is Florio near death and leads them to the wrong room, permitting Florio to escape with Rosaura but interrupting Artall's intent. Nevertheless, a client of Bartoline surprises Artall in the arms of Lucinda and reveals that information to the husband, yet Artall is not worried, knowing Bartoline takes him for Florio. When Paulo interrogates Craffy further concerning his wife's conduct, he persists in telling the truth, but then denies it when Rosaura insinuates he may eventually have his way with her. In Paulo's opinion, this about-face shows madness in a son, so that he orders him locked inside a room in his house. To promote Florio's adulterous relations, a friend of his makes Paulo believe that the viceroy intends him for the post of lord treasurer. Paulo is conveyed to his own house, which he mistakes for the viceroy's court, where he is surprised to find his son, escaped from the room by picking the lock. The governor and his guards enter next, securing Paulo's entire faction for disturbing the city with agitations. With Craffy's help, the governor discovers Florio in Rosaura's arms and hears Bartoline express the lawfuless of the faction's right of arms, an opinion directly contrary to the one voiced to the viceroy. Florio is accused of letting in the French, as Artall is by another false witness, the latter at last revealed as himself. The governor orders the arrest of all concerned.
Charles Sedley edit
Charles Sedley (1639-1701) came to the fore with "Bellamira" (1687), unusually concise in form for a Restoration comedy, with short scenes and sentences, whose main source is Terence's "The eunuch" (161 BC). Sedley also wrote “The mulberry garden” (1688) about two father disagreeing on how to raise their daughters. During Commonwealth times, the severe Puritan, Forecast, fares worse than the indulgent Cavalier, Everyoung.
In "Bellamira", "Sedley follows his source "more closely than any English comedy had followed a classical model since Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors and Jonson's The Case is Altered followed their Plautine sources a century earlier...Keepwell and Lionel are typical of the New Comedy lover whose sights are set exclusively on one woman, unlike the typical Restoration rake whose object is to bed as many women as possible...Furthermore, he adds a critical portrait of a rake in Cunningham, a character with no counterpart in Terence...Unlike the typical Restoration rake...Cunningham is mocked throughout...Sedley not only mocks rakish behavior, he questions the entire philosophy behind it. In justifying his betrayal of Keepwell, Cuningham sounds like Horner: 'A pious citizen that goes to church twice a day will play the knave in a bargain; a lawyer take your fee, and for a good sum of money, be absent when your cause is tried; a parson marry you to a great fortune without a license; they are all rogues in our way, and I confess woman is my weak side.' Sedley...adds pathos to the [rape] by having Isabella enter the stage after the attack and express her sorrows; her counterpart in Terence doesn't appear on stage after Gnatho brings her to Thais' house...Eustace, hearing of the rape before knowing his relationship to Isabella, seems shocked by Lionel's boldness; he peppers his friend with questions before concluding with a mild rebuke: 'Twas something a harsh way" (III,v). And while this is a gross understatement, his attitude contrasts with that of Antipho in the original, who, after hearing of the rape, asks: 'What's been done about our dinner?'" (McGinnis, 2013 pp 21-31).
"Isabella has from childhood repeatedly been the object of kidnap, purchase, and enforced possession. She has wandered from Jamaica to Spain, and to London. She is rescued from her life of slavery by a prostitute, Bellamira (whose motives are, however, mercenary). And although Isabella achieves the closest approximation to a romantically satisfying marriage in the play, her bridegroom is making amends in marriage for having raped her. This is, manifestly, a worldly and cynical play. There is no moral horror about rape, but neither is it portrayed with any gloating salacity. As in so many other Restoration plays, rape is used to portray the anomalies of power far more than to exploit the delights of lustful violence. What the play does is reverse the social roles of the prostitute and the gentlewoman. The prostitute emerges as the figure of true social power: power without the contradiction and self-deception with which Behn invested the power of Angelica Bianca in The Rover. Whereas the gentlewoman is enslaved and raped, the prostitute is a skilled exploiter of the monetary and sexual interests that are the ruling principles in life. Bellamira is repeatedly described as exercising monarchic power over her keeper, and at the end of the play she and he agree to support the decayed gentleman, Smoothly: the gentleman's place is sustained not by his ancestral estate, but by the benevolence of a successful prostitute. Rape here manifests a realignment in the distribution of social power" (Hughes, 2005 p 234).
"“Bellamira” "has exactly the qualities that The Mulberry Garden lacked: organic unity, vigour and sustained interest. The silly heroic element which disfigured the earlier comedy has entirely disappeared and the whole is written in admirably easy and lucid prose with a fine racy flavour...Acute observation of contemporary life combined with the study of the classics and of Shakespeare, of which this play bears obvious signs, have borne fruit in a comedy of manners which is worthy to be ranked beside the best work of Wycherley and Etherege, and only falls below the dazzling achievements of the mature Congreve. The words 'coarse and atrocious' seem singularly inapplicable to such a play, and can only be explained as representing the criticism of an age which was quite unable to understand or appreciate the purely intellectual and non-moral view of life which the authors of the comedies of manners expressed in their plays...But whereas the comedies of these authors are concerned chiefly with the slightly affected atmosphere of the drawing-rooms and boudoirs of fine ladies, Sedley’s play is a comedy of manners that deals rather with the bohemian world of the tavern and the 'demi-monde', and yet retains the fine aristocratic flavour which is essential to the type" (Pinto, 1927 pp 266-276).
Time: 1680s. Place: London: England.
Merryman scolds Keepwell for spending too much money on his mistress, Bellamira. His friend retorts that he cannot help himself. He worriedly confronts her at her house with the impression that as he waited for her to open the door, he heard a man leap out from her window down to a boat, but she denies any wrongdoing and requests a favor of him: to leave town and stay out of the way so that Dangerfield may honor his promise of giving her as a servant, Isabella, a childhood friend her mother kept after the girl was kidnapped. Despite knowing Dangerfield lusts for her, Keepwell agrees. Meanwhile, Merryman encounters Cunningham, who informs him that he was the man who leapt into the boat. Dangerfield’s servant, Smoothly, is on his way to Bellamira’s house to deliver Isabella when she is spotted by Keepwell’s brother, Lionel, who wants to see more of her, all the more so in that he once knelt beside her in a Spanish church. Merryman guesses who he means and in a jest proposes that Lionel present himself as the female eunuch he is to deliver to Bellamira, Keepwell’s gift to counter Dangerfield’s. To Merryman’s surprise, Lionel accepts the plan and is introduced at once as such in Bellamira’s house, where he attends to her everywhere. Meanwhile, Cunningham courts Merryman’s ward, Thisbe, with whom the latter sleeps. Cunningham received her letter asking him to come over, but she denies having sent any such letter. She soon discovers that Merryman forged the letter just to rid himself of Cunningham while drinking among his friends. In the street, Merryman encounters Bellamira in a man’s clothes, who, to expose Dangerfield’s cowardice, proposes to rob him of his money, which they promptly do. Meanwhile, an overjoyed Lionel encounters a friend, Eustace, and reveals the reason of his content. “This is the happiest day of all my life,” Lionel says. He explains that once the servants are out of the way and Isabella is in her bed, he barred the door and walked towards her. “What then?” Eustace asks. “Can you ask and know me?” Lionel answers. “You ravished her then?” Eustace asks. “What else?” Lionel counters. Nonplussed, Eustace invites him to his house so that he can change his eunuch’s clothes. Later, Eustace and Cunningham cross by chance in the street Thisbe at the hands of two bailiffs arresting her for unpaid debts. Cunningham proposes to deliver her by overpowering the bailiffs, but Eustace chooses the more peaceful way of handing over to them the full amount, telling Thisbe that he does so on behalf of a friend of hers without revealing who. When Keepwell returns from out of town, he learns to his amazement that Isabella has been raped. He angrily confronts Pisquil the eunuch, who knows nothing of any rape, only that he gave his clothes to his brother and Merryman in exchange for his. Keepwell is dumbfounded and does not know what to think but heads towards Merryman’s house, where he catches a glimpse of a woman walking in the next room and wants to discover who she is. To avoid compromising Bellamira, Merryman pretends to have received a challenge from Dangerfield for delivering the eunuch so that Keepwell leaves to settle the matter while Bellamira goes over to see Eustace whom she suspects to be Isabella’s brother. Eustace is overjoyed at discovering his sister’s whereabouts but then horrified at discovering she is the woman Lionel raped. Unable to obtain what he wanted of Bellamira, Dangerfield demands his gift back, but she refuses and is supported by Eustace, who, when he encounters Lionel in Merryman’s company, draws his sword to kill him for raping his sister, but is prevented from doing harm by Merryman. Eustace is mollified after learning that Lionel intends to wed her, only the latter promised to marry a rich goldsmith’s daughter, a difficulty lifted away when it is discovered that Cunningham has just married that woman. Isabella agrees to marry her ravisher, Thisbe agrees to marry Merryman after Eustace informs her that man was the one who saved her from the bailiffs, and Keepwell agrees to keep Bellamira after being convinced that Dangerfield poses no threat. “My belle and I will lead a married life,/” he intones, “Bating the odious names of man and wife,/In chains of love alone we will be tied/And every night I’ll use her like a bride.”
Thomas Shadwell edit
The main achievement of Thomas Shadwell (1641-1692) is "Epsom Wells" (1672). Shadwell also wrote “The virtuoso” (1676) in which Longvil and Bruce court Clarinda and Miranda in secret from their uncle, Sir Nicholas Gimrack, a lying and superstitious pseudo-scientist while being hounded by Lady Gimrack who lusts after both. In Shadwell’s “A true widow” (1676), Bellamour tells how men may best enjoy women: “The women of this town, if you don’t take care of your outside, will never let you be acquainted with their insides.” (Act 1, scene 1) When he woos Isabella with no promise of marriage, she resists: "Isabella: I scorn a fortune with the ruin of my honor. Bellamour: It is but herding with a another sort of people, leaving the melancholy hypocrites for the gay, cheerful sinners, the envious for the envied.” (Act 3, scene 1). When Isabella’s widowed mother, Lady Cheatly, cheats her blackmailing steward by asking another suitor of hers, the coxcomb sporting Prig, to disguise himself into a parson and pretend to marry them (Act 4, scene 1).
In "Epsom Wells", “the scene is laid at the fashionable watering-place of the time, and the personages at least pretend to respectable social status. It is full of action, intrigue, cross-purposes, and mistakes, much facilitated by the custom of the time for ladies to wear masks out of doors” (Hand Browne, 1913 p 264). Nicoll (1928) found that although the so-called "coarseness of [Epsom Wells"] is very revolting, one cannot fail to appreciate its manifest talent. It is true that marriage is at a premium, that nothing seems to exist in its world but the fine art of cuckolding, yet the conversation, on the whole, comes very near in refinement to the Congreve strain. One can only wish that the atmosphere of the piece were not so debased. In this atmosphere we see the reverse of the heroic. In the very years that heard the most glorious rants of love and honour, the same audience listened to the query of Raines: 'Art not thou a villain to cuckold this honest fellow, and thy friend, Ned?' and to the answer of Bevil:'Gad, it’s impossible to be a man of honour in these cases.' Out of the two contrarieties must a picture of the time be wrought" (p 193). “The most amusing character is Clodpate, the London-hating country-gentleman, well defined in the dramatis personae as ‘a hearty, true English coxcomb’. But this play can hardly be described as more than a comedy of manners—while its coarseness is utterly revolting” (Ward, 1875 vol 2 p 574). Nettleton (1914) was more positive, considering the play as "a lively picture of contemporary life. The characters include a pair of deceived husbands, Mrs Jilt, who runs the gauntlet of gallantry with many stumblings, Clodpate, a stupid country justice, who is captured by Mrs Jilt's crafty catering to his known aversion to London, Kick and Cuff, bullies whose function is to assault unprotected women, and Rain and Bevil, two fast Londoners, who are won to marriage, after many amours, by Lucia and Carolina. Some chance passages in the opening scene illustrate the general tone towards wine and women: 'We should no more be troubled at the fevers we get in drinking than the honourable wounds we receive in battle'; 'we live more in a week than those insipid-temperate fools do in a year'; 'is it not better to let life go out in a blaze than a snuff?' 'Well, the sin's so sweet, and the temptation so strong; I have no power to resist it'" (pp 84-85). "The whole comedy is very just, and the low part of human life represented with much humour and wit” (Steele, 1709 The Tatler no 7, April 26).
“In the manner of Jonson, [Shadwell] builds several of his characters upon the idea of the humour, a main trait or eccentricity which rules the possessor in all his actions...His plays of humour emphasize character rather than plot, not the character of the normal representative man, but that of the eccentric man, the man who throws aside all pretences to normality in his desire to excel in that for which he is neither temperamentally nor physically fitted” (Borgman, 1928 p 251). In particular, Wilcox (1964) pointed out the similarities between Shadwell's "Epsom Wells" and the plays of Jonson. "Raines and Bevil, together with Carolina and Lucia, provide the social norm of Restoration wits of both sexes. Kick and Cuff are cowardly pretenders to the rank of gentlemanly rakes. The two subplots introduce a gulled country justice and two London citizens, who have the surprising experience of making their cuckolding the source of their dominance over their wives. As usual in English comedy after Jonson, the shams of social pretenders are contrasted with the manners of the socially secure. Thus Shadwell was still a grandson of Ben, even when "humors" were dropped" (p 120).
But Shadwell changes Jonson’s poetic expressions into mundane ones. “Somewhat similar to the passage in which Littlewit displays his wife’s beauties to Winwife is the episode in which Bisket and Fribble vie with each other in calling the attention of Kick and Cuff to the attractive qualities of their wives. The foolish husband in Bartholomew Fair praises his love’s ‘strawberry breath, cherry lips, apricot cheeks, and soft velvet head’ and urges his friend to kiss her; likewise, the citizens in Epsom Wells exhibit their wives’ ‘delicious” eyebrows’, ‘pretty, plump, red lips’, ‘sweet breaths’, ‘stately’ foreheads, ‘fine, round, small white’ hands, and tell them to kiss their newly made acquaintances...The main plot, in general outline, bears a closer resemblance to She Would If She Could than to any other play. Etherege’s second venture, which Shadwell in his preface to The Humourists called 'the best comedy that has been written since the restoration of the stage', was first produced in 1668, on which occasion Mrs Shadwell appeared as Lady Cockwood. In this comedy, Sir Oliver and Lady Cockwood go to the city for practically the same reasons that Mr and Mrs Woodly betake themselves to the Wells. As Lady Cockwood pursues Courtal, so Mrs Woodly makes advances to Bevil. The two young men, Courtal and Freeman, are anxious to become acquainted with Ariana and Gatty who flirt with them while masked in a manner similar to that pursued by Lucia and Carolina during their first encounter with Raines and Bevil. In each play, the men exact promises for a later meeting from the women. Both Lady Cockwood and Mrs Woodly, in order to discover the state of their gallants’ affections, counterfeit letters to the men in the girls’ names. Lady Cockwood is angered when she hears from Sentry that Courtal because of an important engagement- the anticipated interview with Gatty- cannot meet her in Gray's Inn Walks. Mrs Woodly, after sending the letter to Bevil, goes to the rendezvous and becomes enraged upon discovering his love for Carolina. Because of the rebuff, Lady Cockwood tells her husband that Courtal 'misconstruing [her] civility, in most unseemly language, made a foul attempt upon [her] honour'. Impelled by jealousy, Mrs Woodly also confides to her husband that Bevil again had the impudence to solicit [her] virtue. Lady Cockwood resorts to this device in order that Sir Oliver shall hate Courtal and justify her banishing him from the house; Mrs Woodly, on the other hand, desires a duel, hoping that either her husband or former lover will be killed. At the close of Etherege’s comedy, Ariana and Gatty agree to admit Courtal and Freeman in the quality of servants, but finally seem willing to comply with Sir Joslin's suggestion that they hasten the wedding ceremony. In Epsom Wells, Lucia and Carolina, after seeing what failures Bisket, Fribble, and Woodly have made of matrimony, receive Raines and Bevil for a couple of servants 'upon good behaviour'. Bevil, however, feels assured that 'one fortnight's conversing' with him and his friend 'will lay such a scandal upon ’em, they’ll be glad to repair to marriage'...Marriage is the theme which unites the various threads of the plot of Epsom Wells, The four groups of characters: Mr and Mrs Woodly; Bisket, Fribble, and their wives, Clodpate and Mrs Jilt, Carolina, Lucia, Raines, and Bevil combine to present an unfavorable picture of the wedded state...In many respects, Epsom Wells is the best of Shadwell's first four comedies. The action is rapid and lively, and is not clogged with scenes in which humour-characters tediously parade their eccentricities. Although Clodpate, with his hatred for London, is as consistently drawn as Crazy or Sir Positive, he does not obtrude himself so tiresomely as do those characters from the earlier comedies. The dialogue is sprightly; nevertheless, as usual in Shadwell's plays, it is frequently coarse” (Borgman, 1928 pp 153-159).
Dobrée (1924) compared Shadwell's comedies with Dryden's. "Langbaine, writing of Shadwell, said: 'I like his comedies better than Mr Dryden's, as having more variety of characters, and those drawn from the life, I mean men's converse and manners and not from other men's ideas, copied out of their public writings'. But these very reasons immediately show Dryden to have been the better writer, for he clove to the idea, whereas Shadwell only gave the outward seeming of men in comedy that professed to be purely humouristic. Yet in one important respect they remain alike as writers of comedy: they saw life from no particular angle. Both accepted simply and unaffectedly the attitude of their day, and invoked common sense to repress exaggerations which made life uncomfortable...Neither has anything startling to communicate in the way of ideas: the whole difference lies in the manner, for whereas Dryden's fine virility and good taste produced solid works of art, Shadwell's dullness defeated even laughter. In truth, as Dryden said, his rival could 'do anything but write'. Hasty Shadwell, who scorned to varnish his good touches o'er, had, in contrast with Dryden's avowed costiveness, a fatal facility which forbade distinction in word or phrase. He often said things not worthwhile, he was prolix and prosy, clumsy and flabby, he had certainly not learned the final art, the art to blot." But to a less puritanical mind, Shadwell is funnier than Dryden, more in the manner of Wycherley. Some critics are offended when the licentious are witty.
In contrast, Walter Scott (1821) judged the overall work more favorably. “I think most of Shadwell’s comedies may be read with great pleasure. They do not, indeed, exhibit any brilliancy of wit, or ingenuity of intrigue; but the characters are truly dramatic, original, and well drawn, and the picture of manners which they exhibit gives us a lively idea of those of the author’s age. As Shadwell proposed Jonson for his model, peculiarity of character, or what was then technically called humour was what he chiefly wished to exhibit; and in this it cannot be denied that he has often succeeded admirably” (p 444).
"Epsom Wells" edit
Time: 1670s. Place: Epsom, Surrey, England.
Two Londoners, Raines and Bevil, discover two masked London ladies, Carolina and Lucia, who wish to be rid of the attentions given them by Kick and Cuff, two local townsmen. After scaring the bumpkins away, Raines and Bevil insist on seeing the women’s faces, who accept provided the men do not be follow them at this time. The men agree and are suitably impressed with the faces they see. Bevil heads out to cuckold his friend, Woodly, and Raines to cuckold his friend, Bisket, when the latter invites him to play cribbage with his wife. Raines and Bevil receive a challenge from Kick and Cuff to fight a duel, actually a fake message sent by Carolina and Lucia to test the courage of their new suitors. Lucia is soon courted by a country justice of the peace, Clodpate. She refuses to marry him because of her desire to remain in London, but pretends that Carolina is interested in him. Carolina receives Justice Clodpate’s attentions while being pursued by Woodly, but is no more interested in them than her friend was. When Raines meets Mrs Bisket, her frisky neighbor, Mrs Fribble, insists on playing a three-hand game. When Bevil visits Mrs Sarah Woodly, they are interrupted by her husband, so that Bevil is forced to hide in the bedchamber. Woodly grows amorous towards his wife, but with Bevil nearby, she convinces him to wait till night-time. After this scare, the lovers are further interrupted by a visit from Mrs Jilt, a widow intending to be married, so that Bevil, fearing to be late for the duel, rushes off to Raines in the field where they meet Carolina and Lucia again, who, after giving them their names and addresses, observe what the two will do as Kick and Cuff appear by chance. The astonished pair back away again, as Carolina, afraid of bloodshed, admits the women's ruse. Meanwhile, Sarah discovers from her servant about Bevil’s encounter with Carolina at the same time as Mrs Jilt reveals her own intrigue with him. To attract Clodpate to marriage, Mrs Jilt pretends to love town life. Sarah confronts Bevil about his intrigues. Though cornered, he pretends to have discovered her own secret assignation with a lover. But she reveals the letter he thought to have received from Carolina is a forged one written by herself. He lost the letter on the way and, by chance, Woodly picks it up and walks over to discover who Carolina is meeting only to find Bevil with his wife, though masked from view. Fortunately for Sarah, Bevil prevents her from unmasking. On the bowling green, Bisket and Fribble wager that their wives are the most alluring, with Kick and Cuff acting as judges. To increase their chances of winning, Bisket and Fribble each insist that their wives kiss their judges on the mouth. Later, tired of being dominated by Bevil and Raines, Kick and Cuff decide to attack them but are beaten away by both and threatened to be arrested by Justice Clodpate. Mrs Jilt next tries her luck with Raines, but fails. Based on what they think to have discovered, Woodly and Sarah warn Carolina and Lucia about Raines and Bevil, including matters relating to Sarah’s forged letter. In the Woodlys’ hearing while in hiding, Raines explains to Carolina about the letter when he found Sarah instead of her. Thus, the Woodlys discover each other’s treachery, so that an incensed Woodly challenges Bevil to a duel. To rid herself of Clodpate’s continued attentions, Lucia invents a story whereby Carolina is to be taken away by her brother intending to marry her off. To rescue her, he must meet her in a graveyard. Meanwhile, the Fribbles quarrel. She hits him; he then beats her down and encourages Bisket to do the same with his own wife. But Mrs Bisket beats away both her husband and Fribble with a stick. To avenge themselves against Clodpate, Kick and Cuff rob him and tie him up inside a sheet in the graveyard, from where he escapes only to learn from his servant of Carolina’s trick. To avenge herself, Sarah invites by letter Raines to her lodging and forges a letter so that Bevil may meet her enraged husband. She flirts with Raines and tells her husband that Bevil intends to protect her against his rage, hoping that one at least will kill the other. They draw swords. Bevil disarms him and shows him the letter he received, by which Woodly discovers his wife’s trickery. After a night of drunkenness, Bisket and Fribble discover their wives in bed with Kick and Cuff and call a constable to expose them to the law. Satisfied with Mrs Jilt’s professed hatred of a London life, Clodpate marries her, only to find out that she never intended to leave London at all. Desperate to be set free, he agrees to rid himself of her by paying a large sum before discovering that the parson was false and the hour not canonical. In a rage, he sends Kick and Cuff off to jail when the constable brings them before him. Hating each other, the Woodlys agree to separate and dance to celebrate their divorce.
Aphra Behn edit
The highest success of Aphra Behn (1640-1689) was achieved in the two parts of "The rover" (1677 and 1681). "Many of the characters and sizable chunks of Behn's dialogue come from Thomas Killigrew's 'Thomaso' (1654)" (Carlson, 1995 p 519).
In "The rover part 1", at the end of Act I, the most serious impediment to Hellena's success in taming Willmore is introduced: Angelica Bianca...Angelica represents a threat to Hellena's success by offering not only an alternative to Willmore but also an alternative to Hellena's way of love...Angelica finally confronts Willmore with his faithlessness in IV.ii. He is astonished that she should have expected him to be converted. The long scene where Hellena' s expectations are contrasted with Angelica's (we will consider Hellena later) ends with Angelica's realization that ‘I am not fit to be beloved’, [so that she resolves to avenge herself but then backs off], ￼saying 'Live to undo someone whose soul may prove/So bravely constant to revenge my love.’ Hellena in a way provides Angelica's revenge. She resolves to be ‘bravely constant’ and demands the same of Willmore, thus destroying his characterization as the rover...Hellena's wit, apparent in her management of Willmore and Angelica, leads Willmore closer to marriage than he had ever been before” (Musser, 1979 pp 21-23).
"As [The Rover part 1]'s very first scene makes clear, Florinda, Hellena, and Pedro all intend to disobey their absent father...Florinda refuses to marry the old, rich man of her father's choosing; Hellena refuses to enter a nunnery as her father intends; and Pedro also plots to subvert his father's plans for Florinda by insisting on an immediate marriage to his supposed friend Antonio, who is actually his rival for the attentions of Angelica Bianca, the beautiful courtesan...The result is a complex of power relations in which each tries to dominate the others. Thus, Florinda considers Hellena 'an impertinent thing' because she wants to know as much as Florinda about love...In addition to their own conflicts, both pretend to advocate the marriage between Florinda and the old, rich Vincentio that the father has arranged. But Florinda, already in love with Belvile, rejects the proposal. Here Hellena strenuously supports her sister because she is also advancing her own interests...Their long courtship and the muted language of a seemingly impossible relationship, as opposed to Willmore and Hellena's love at first sight and witty verbal assaults, mark Florinda and Belvile's mutual love...Don Pedro's desire is so like and unlike the other two men's that it perverts both. This negation of desire is evident in his relationship manqué with Angelica Bianca, the famous courtesan...In revising her source, Behn seems intent on removing her same-generation female leads from a patriarchal hierarchy that labels them either good or bad, feminine or masculine. Killigrew's Angelica Bianca is, for instance, a patriarchal model of the good whore who passively accepts her doubly subservient place as both female and prostitute...Behn's Angelica, on the contrary, appears based on a fraternal model of female subjectivity and independent agency. Just like Hellena, Florinda, and Lucetta, she ignores patriarchal strictures and exhibits no remorse" (Szilagyi, 1998 pp 438-447).
In The Rover part 1, "Willmore accuses Angelica of avarice, but this line of attack ultimately falls away: the latter portion of the play highlights the rake-hero's- rather than the courtesan's- pursuit of wealth. In The Rover part 2, by contrast, finance plays a central role in the courtesan's character arc. Targeted throughout the play for her greed, La Nuche does not assert her intention to renounce her commitment to money until late in the fourth act. Returning home after having refused Willmore's advances a few scenes earlier, La Nuche regrets her rejection of the rake-hero and argues with her bawd, ultimately faulting Petronella for instilling in her the greed that has prevented her from being with Willmore...[saying]: 'Now I am yours, and o'er the habitable world will follow you, and live and starve by turns as fortune pleases'...After having spent much of that play refusing the heiress' attempt to secure an engagement, Willmore ultimately gives in...Unsympathetic to affection, Petronella cares only about profit, and she spends much of the play attempting to foster such a single-minded commitment in La Nuche. Even in Act Four, Scene Three, when La Nuche informs Petronella of her intention to be with Willmore, Petronella remains unmoved by the courtesan's talk of love. Instead, the bawd responds to the courtesans announcement by reminding her of the importance of wealth" (Pfeiffer, 2013 pp 7-13).
Of "Mrs Aphra Behn, Ward (1875) "would rather say of her as little as possible, and leave her to the infamy bestowed on her by Pope, as on the type of the worst profligacy of the Restoration drama" (p 571). Doran (1888) was likewise offended by the mores displayed in Behn's writings. "She might have been an honour to womanhood; she was its disgrace. She might have gained glory by her labours, but she chose to reap infamy...There is no one that equals this woman in downright nastiness, save Ravenscroft and Wycherley; but the latter of these had more originality of invention and grace of expression. To these writers, and to those of their detestable school, she set a revolting example...With Dryden she vied in indecency, and was not overcome. To all other male writers of her day she served as a provocation and an apology. Intellectually, she was qualified to have led them through pure and bright ways; but she was a mere harlot, who danced through uncleanness, and dared or lured them to follow. Remonstrance was useless with this wanton hussy" (p 239). The unsavory masculine nature of Fitzgerald (1882) was also offended. "From the year 1671 to the end of the century, we shall find the sort of dramatic sewage that poured across the stage was swelled by diligent contributions from Mrs Aphra Behn. A score of plays attest her diligence and her unsavoury, unfeminine nature" (vol 1 p 188).
"The rover, part 1" edit
Time: 1650s. Place: Naples, Italy but belonging to Spain.
During carnival time, Florinda and her sister, Hellena, frolic in the guise of gypsies. Florinda greets Belvile, her lover, whom she instructs on how to take her away from the house of her brother, Pedro, who wants her to marry a wealthier man, Antonio, the viceroy's son. Hellena greets Willmore, a man with a roving disposition, and they devise on how to get her away from a convent. Meanwhile, the masked Pedro has an eye on Angelica, a courtesan, until intercepted by Antonio, against whom he draws his sword for scorning Florinda. In the ensuing brawl between Spaniards and Englishmen, Willmore fights off Antonio, who attacked him for removing Angelica's picture on her balcony, a sign she belongs to him. Impressed by Willmore's manner, Angelica yields her charms to him for free, after which the masked Hellena is mortified to hear Willmore brag to Belvile: "Does not my fortune sit triumphant on my brow?" Willmore next flirts with Hellena, to Angelica's surprised anger. To test his constancy, the disguised Florinda offers Belvile a jewel, but he refuses it. She leaves it with him, who sees it is her picture. At night while waiting for Belville in her garden, Florinda is disgusted at seeing Willmore arrive drunk: "Sweet soul, let me salute thy shoe-string," he says, "why, thou may'st be free with me, I'll be very secret. I'll not boast who 'twas obliged me, not I, for hang me if I know thy name." "Heavens!" she exclaims, "What a filthy beast is this!" They struggle bodily as Belvile enters, both men beaten away by Pedro's servants. After being berated by Belville for his rowdiness, Willmore meets Antonio in front of Angelica's house again and they fight him with swords. Antonio is hurt, but officers of the law seize Belvile by mistake, set free by his rival, to whom he would least be obliged. As a result of his wound and as a return for this favor, Antonio asks Belvile to impersonate him while challenging Willmore to a duel, which Belvile believes is for the sake of Florinda, but is actually for Angelica's. Belvile and Willmore fight with swords, but are interrupted by Florinda. Pedro is so impressed by this show of bravado that he offers to the false Antonio (Belvile) his sister's hand, whereby Belvile reveals himself apart to the relieved Florinda, but this plot is marred by Willmore, who amiably greets Belvile, so that Pedro takes his sister back again. Enraged at being insulted by the man she had just slept with, Angelica confronts Willmore, who, on learning of Hellena's fortune, wishes to go off with her, while Hellena herself enters disguised as a man to spy on him. Willmore discovers her disguise but thinks she is only his gypsy and ignores her. Seeking to escape once more from her brother, Florinda hides in the house of Blunt, recently cheated by a whore and willing to avenge himself on her as a reprensative of her sex: "I will smile and deceive thee, flatter thee, and beat thee, kiss and swear, and lie to thee, embrace thee and rob thee, as she did me, fawn on thee, and strip thee stark naked, then hang thee out at my window by the heels, with a paper of scurvy verses fastened to thy breast, in praise of damnable women," he threatens. But when she names Belvile and gives him a ring as a pledge of her truth, he releases her. Blunt next receives the rowdy visit of Belvile and Willmore, who wish to speak with him. Not satisfied with the answers to their questions, Belvile and Willmore break down Blunt's door and then mock him until Belvile recognizes Florinda's ring. They are accompanied by Pedro, who watches the masked Florinda enter without recognizing her, but goes away after hearing a rumor about her flight from his house. While Belvile and Florinda go off to marry, the vengeful Angelica enters and aims a pistol at Willmore's breast, but is prevented from shooting him by Antonio. However, when Antonio recognizes who the man is, no less than his rival, he aims the pistol back at him, but is prevented in turn by Angelica. When Pedro next discovers Belville married with Florinda, he accepts her choice at last, as a form of revenge against Antonio for sending another man to fight in his place. He also accepts his other sister's choice of marrying Willmore. Concludes Hellena: "I have considered the matter, brother, and find the three hundred thousand crowns my uncle left me (and you cannot keep from me) will be better laid out in love than in religion, and turn to as good an account."
"The rover, part 2" edit
Time: 1680s. Place: Madrid, Spain.
After the death of his wife, Hellena, Willmore the rover is again "for woman in abundance". He heads straight for a courtesan, La Nuche, despite the presence of his rival, Carlos. In the ensuing brawl, Englishmen beat off the Spaniards, Willmore impressing a gentlewoman, Ariadne, with his martial feats. On hearing about Blunt and Fetherfool's intentions on courting two rich but deformed Jewish women, Willmore disguises himself as a mountebank to fool the men. Though Ariadne is contracted to marry her cousin, Beaumond, nephew of the English ambassador, neither love one another, she with her eye on Willmore, though he is still with La Nuche. Blunt and Fetherfool draw lots on who will get the giant of the Jewesses, who the dwarf. The little one considers their suitors dumb. "No, my little diminutive mistress, my small epitomy of womankind," Blunt assures her, "we can prattle when our hands are in, but we are raw and bashful, young beginners; for this is the first time we ever were in love: we are something awkward, or so, but we shall come on in time, and mend upon encouragement." Fetherfool ceremoniously kisses the big one thanks to a ladder, but she is not impressed when he mentions he may become her man. "My man? My mouse. I'll marry none whose person and courage shall not bear some proportion to mine," she promises. To spite La Nuche for her mercenary interests, the undisguised Willmore intends to court the giant, too, but when Ariadne, disguised as a man, proposes to take her away, he draws his sword on her, an altercation disrupted by her intended, Beaumond. On the following night, Beaumond mistakes Ariadne for La Nuche. While the latter scolds Beaumond, Willmore saunters towards Ariadne in her true shape, content to leave Beaumond in the arms of the courtesan, though Willmore warns her: "I'm none of those spirits that can be conjured into a wedding-ring and dance in the dull matrimonial circle all my days." Before he can get to her, Willmore visits La Nuche, but the impatient Beaumond breaks her door down and offers her a pearl necklace and diamond pendants, against which Willmore cannot hope to compete: "Look ye, sir, will not these pearls do better round my neck than those kind arms of yours?" she asks, "These pendants in my ears than all the tales of love you can whisper there?" Disgusted, Willmore leaves her for Ariadne, with Beaumond ashamed of his rival's generosity. Meanwhile, the disguised Ariadne encounters Beaumond, who, not recognizing her, counterfeits his friend's voice and by such means takes her away. The disappointed Willmore next encouters the disguised La Nuche, and, not recognizing her, attempts to seduce her, with no result, so that he wanders back towards Ariadne again, though Beaumond counters this move once again. At the same time, Fetherfool and Blunt lose their prizes to two other Englishmen. Blunt also loses the treasure in jewels he thought to have secured from La Nuche's defecting bawd, while Fetherfool must be clystered for having swallowed pearls he absconded from the giantess. After much confusion, Beaumond at long last agrees to marry Ariadne, while Willmore agrees to stay a little longer with La Nuche.
John Milton edit
Although Restoration tragedies are generally weaker than Renaissance or Caroline ones, and weaker than Restoration comedies, some generate considerable power, of which "Samson agonistes" (1671) by John Milton (1608-1674) is the prime example. Samson's story is derived from the Biblical Book of Judges 16:23-31, "agonistes" being derived from a Greek word meaning "the struggler".
William Wordsworth declared that “Comus is rich in beautiful and sweet flowers, and in exuberant leaves of genius, but the ripe and mellow fruit is Samson Agonistes. When he wrote that, his mind was Hebraized. Indeed, his genius fed on the writings of the Hebrew prophets” (cited in Smith, 1905).
"As we compare his poem with the story out of which it rose, we become aware that there are certain important details in the myth which simply did not interest the poet and of which he could make no use. He cares nothing for the riddle or the exploit that suggested it. He does not mention the three hundred miserable foxes sacrificed for Samson's horrible revenge. He says nothing of the first wife at Timna, who, with her father, was burned alive by the angry Philistines. He chooses to forget that when surrounded in a house of entertainment by his enemies at Gaza, Samson spent the early hours of the evening with a harlot before rising at midnight to carry off the city gates. But the most surprising of all Milton's omissions is the incident at the very heart of the story, the attempt of Dalila to extract Samson's secret from him by her feminine wiles...To him, the surrender of the weary hero to his nagging wife severed the solemn and secret bond between him and his Maker, who up to this point had been his patron and assistant...Thus in contrast to the tone of the Book of Judges, a sense of high seriousness reigns over all. Milton made this alteration in character in compliance with that law of tragedy by which the transition of the hero from a high estate to misery is typical of the very substance of the drama, as is that subsequent transition by which the hero is restored to a nobler eminence than had originally been his. He is not released from the punishments that have come upon him, but is reserved for a destiny higher than any he had known before...In the Book of Judges Manoah speaks but once after the Prologue. He accompanies his son to Timna, eats of the honey, and then appears no more, until he comes to claim the body of Samson at the end. His personality is not marked in any way whatever. But Milton makes of Manoah the most important person, save Samson himself. He is the first person to appear to the Chorus as they stand by the recumbent body of their friend, tells of his plan for ransoming Samson from the Philistines, and of his hope for a happier future. At the end of the drama he returns to the scene, and remains till the conclusion. Except for the public officer, who is absent from the scene for a moment, he is the only person who enters a second time. On his return he tells of his hope that the ransome plan may succeed. It is he who hears the distant applause as Samson performs before the Philistines. It is he who hears the crash of the theater. It is he who receives the messenger, and remains, as it were, in charge until the final chorus. It is he who sounds the note of triumph and resignation...No less remarkable is the poet's treatment of Dalila...In Judges...nothing whatever of her personality or her motives is revealed...As Milton makes no use of her devices for catching Samson unaware, mentioning only (though repeatedly) the shaving of the seven locks of hair, it becomes clear that her entire conversation with Samson, as set forth in Samson Agonistes, originates with Milton. And a very fine characterization it is. In her penance she pleads, in succession, her female weakness, her wifely desire to hold him as exclusively her own, knowing how easily he was fascinated by women, and finally her religious and civil duty to church and state. Her return again and again to the plea for pardon, and her plausible arguments for forgiveness, may be meant as an illustration of the torment that her husband had had to endure in his wedded life with her. Samson, who calls her a hyena, spares no words in denouncing her treachery, and sends her off with a dubious pardon...But the most notable development is the transformation (for such indeed it is) wrought by Milton in the character of Samson himself. It is the 'reversal' of which we have so many examples in this kind of tragedy. Oedipus is a notable case in point. Instead of the conceited ruffian of the Book of Judges, Samson is now revealed to us as an altered and penitent man, aware that his folly in disclosing his secret was an act of sinful disloyalty to the God of Israel, whose chosen and favored representative he was brought into the world to be. Again and again Samson acknowledges that he alone is responsible for the misfortunes that have overtaken him...That which [Milton] took from the ancient Hebrew tradition he ennobled. Over the Athenian manner which he adopted he shed his own solemn magnificence. He illustrated and adorned the dramatic canons set forth by Aristotle, whose words he quoted on the title page of the first printing of Samson Agonistes. In the sublimities of tragedy he was here consummately at ease, as he was whenever he aspired to attain the highest moods of which poetry is susceptible" (Tinker, 1974 pp 61-76).
In Macauley's view, "Milton, it is well known, admired Euripides highly, much more highly than, in our opinion, Euripides deserved. Indeed, the caresses which this partiality leads our country-man to bestow on 'sad Electra's poet' sometimes remind us of the beautiful Queen of Fairy-land kissing the long ears of Bottom. At all events, there can be no doubt that this veneration for the Athenian, whether just or not, was injurious to the Samson Agonistes. Had Milton taken Aschylus for his model, he would have given himself up to the lyric inspiration, and poured out profusely all the treasures of his mind, without bestowing a thought on those dramatic proprieties which the nature of the work rendered it impossible to preserve. In the attempt to reconcile things in their own nature inconsistent, he has failed, as every one else must have failed. We cannot identify ourselves with the characters, as in a good play. We cannot identify ourselves with the poet, as in a good ode. The conflicting ingredients, like an acid and an alkali mixed, neutralize each other. We are by no means insensible to the merits of this celebrated piece, to the severe dignity of the style, the graceful and pathetic solemnity of the opening speech, or the wild and barbaric melody which gives so striking an effect to the choral passages. But we think it, we confess, the least successful effort of the genius of Milton" (1892 edition p 14). In his view, there is too much satire, not enough lyricism. Nevertheless, before the final catastrophe, Samson displays a passive wrath “with rays more potent than material force” akin to Shakespeare’s Timon or Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus (Knight, 1962 p 107).
"The Grecian drama also offered [Milton] parallels in the noble-minded Prometheus, the victim of despotism, from his fruitless attempts to serve mankind, and in the unhappy Oedipus [at Colonus], whom Fate had sunk in blindness and in misery. We may observe how he follows the course of these dramas...Oedipus departs at a divine summons and Theseus, who had been present at it, relates the catastrophe. In like manner Samson, feeling internally a divine summons, departs, and one who had witnessed his end appears; and narrates it. The visit of Polyneices to his blind father is a parallel to that of Delila to her husband, whose misery she had caused. The opening lines of the Samson so have a resemblance to those of the Oedipus” (Keightly, 1855 pp 323-324). “Neither in the plot nor in the language of the dialogue or the choruses is anything forced, anything inserted that is out of keeping with the incidents of the Hebrew legend, as they might be reconceived for narration by the coolest poetic artist. The poem indeed was offered by Milton to the public simply as a specimen of pure and careful dramatic production after the Greek model" (Masson, 1880 p 670). “The reader of Milton must be always on his duty he is surrounded with sense; it rises in every line, every word is to the purpose. There are no lazy intervals; all has been considered, and demands and merits observation. If this be called obscurity, let it be remembered that it is such an obscurity as is a compliment to the reader; not that vicious obscurity which proceeds from a muddled head” (Coleridge, 1884 edition, p 529).
“On passages such as that in which a fiery indignation brands with lofty wrath...or that in which, in strains of the deepest pathos and of the most thrilling directness, the blind Samson laments his last and least endurable loss- the loss of sight- it is impossible to dwell without feelings of admiration and awe...The metre of the lyrical passages is, as he himself says, ‘of all sorts’ and though these passages are in part full of exquisite rhythmical beauty, the licence of making the use of rhyme occasional only, and the doubtful felicity of some of the rhymes themselves, tend to disturb the general harmony of the effect. In the narrative of the messenger (the force of which is heightened by his previous broken tidings) the epical power of Milton finds an opportunity for full display” (Ward, 1875 vol 2 pp 382-384). “‘Samson: The sun to me is dark/And silent as the moon’...It is by the new life Milton infuses into words mostly familiar, yet without the use of any vivid picture or metaphor, that he gets a most powerful effect. No English poet, I believe, had ever called the sun silent, and the conjunction of the two words is not only new but has a dramatic relevance to the blind speaker. In the monotony of his blindness he must, to be expressive, do more than reiterate the fact of darkness so he translates the visual dark into the aural silent” (Tillyard, 1949 p 101).
Knowlton (1922) agreed with Samuel Johnson's statement that the play lacks a middle part: "not for the world would I lose the portrayal of Dalila, which is scarcely matched in literature. It is tremendously effective, but it is not dramatic in this play. It would go well for an imaginary conversation or for a dramatic lyric, but it is not introduced to cause the catastrophe, through either deed or character, though it might have been made to do so. Likewise, the episode with Harapha does not contribute to the probability or the inevitability of the catastrophe. The giant is distinctly less interesting than Dalila; the employment of him brings about an anticlimax" (pp 334-336). “Dalila is rather subtly characterized. At least, she is so much a woman as almost to leave us in doubt whether or not she is sincere. Perhaps she even deceived herself for a time. She argues so well, indulges so little in sarcasm, makes out such a strong case for herself without too greatly aggravating Samson's distress, is so appropriately humble and so patient with his rough violence, and makes such a reasonable offer to free him from his bondage to the Philistines, that we are inclined to award her the better of the argument” (Baum, 1921 p 360). “It is Manoa's mission to reveal to Samson the religious import of his betraying his secret to Dalila. It is not merely that he is suffering bound and blind in prison, but his defeat means the victory of the Philistine god over Jehova…The encounter with Harapha leaves Samson as despondent as ever; it was no triumph to silence a coward. Death is still the only happy issue out of his afflictions, but it is death accepted passively, not one to be swallowed up in victory...When a messenger from the Philistines comes upon the scene demanding the presence of Samson at the feast of Gaza, the action leading directly to the catastrophe is set in motion” (Tupper, 1920 pp 378-387).
"Samson’s “death-cry is not a hymn of praise to God, but rather to his own strength: ‘Now of my own accord such other trial/I mean to show you of my strength, yet greater; As with amaze shall strike all who behold.’...The validity of private inspiration is established when Samson feels ‘rousing motions’ which encourage him to go to the feast of Dagon in spite of Hebrew laws to the contrary: ‘Yet that he may dispense with me or thee/Present in temples at idolatrous rites/For some important cause, thou needst not doubt.’ The triumphant conclusion proves that this time, as on the occasion of Samson's first marriage, the inspiration is genuine, is God-inspired rather than ego-inspired” (Mollenkott, 1970 pp 90-93).
“Samson, ironically, reaches his nadir after the visits of his ‘comforters’- Manoa and the chorus. The effect of their visits is to dose Samson with more acute awareness of the extent of his crimes against God and his people until he surfeits with despair that anything can alleviate his situation...Samson's regeneration through faith in God (and so implicitly through the pattern of Christ) equates to and shows the way for the Christian's regeneration through faith in Christ and through patterning oneself after Christ. Once the proper response to Samson's experience is made, a sense of fulfillment is there; the 'problem' of the ending is solved. Samson gains consolation in regeneration with the effect being comparable to that of catharsis, though on a higher plane. Milton increases Aristotelian tragedy from purgation to reorientation: catharsis plus ‘right tune’. This movement is partially effected for the chorus at the end of the poem; and this in itself is consoling, for the rhythm of response to Samson by the chorus has been carefully emphasized by Milton, with the implication that the final 'acquisition of true experience' will come” (Sadler, 1975 pp 644-650).
“Chorus: ‘All is best, though we oft doubt/What th’unsearchable dispose/Of highest wisdom brings about,/And ever best found in the close’. To many it may seem quite perverse to see in this final moral of Samson Agonistes anything but a simple acquiescence in the will of an extrinsic and controlling God, who can be trusted after all, in spite of every appearance to the contrary, to look after the men of His election so that they may be fit for the paradise he has prepared for them. I cannot myself confine the meaning to this precise theological idea. I see in Milton little signs of brooding on another life and every sign of an intense concern with the world as it is. His renewed trust in the highest wisdom indicates some sallying out from the Protestant citadel of the individual faith, some renewed faith in the goodness of life as lived now on earth. Samson had, after all, served his country and the tomb Manoa will raise over him is to be a place of social meeting and an inspiration of others’ deeds” (Tillyard, 1949 pp 87-88).
Samson “has been a tremendous military hero but not an effective leader, as evidenced by his own people’s disloyalty..., his own people have grown ‘to love bondage more than liberty’...The second truth about his failure is…that he could be won over by a woman’s temptations…As Samson becomes capable of facing in himself a tremendous sense of guilt, so he proves capable finally of a relentless belief in the existence of that justice which includes within itself the mercy of a chastising Father...A belief in God’s inscrutability is in effect a denial of God’s justice...Dalila is a...passionate, intelligent, life-filled person who is, however, spiritually anchorless and hopelessly adrift...enjoying the role of civic heroine...His second Philistine visitor is [also] hopelessly adrift...Herapha...[Samson] pulls down the pillars on all the Philistines ‘choice nobility’ and on himself. Thus, death, for which Samson had earlier prayed as an escape from shame, is given to him instead as an enactment of his own spiritual liberation and glory, as well as the prophesized freeing of Israel” (Bennett, 1997 pp 228-237).
“The real victory is not so much the overwhelming of the Philistines in the ruins of their own temple. One feels that in any case God will attend to the Philistines. The point of most significance is that Samson, the man who has failed once in a divinely appointed mission, has in some way gained a spiritual victory over his own weakness so that he is now permitted to destroy his enemies as an external witness of it. Still further, the efficacy of the regeneration which he has achieved is sealed by the fact that he is willing to sacrifice his own life in order to prove his inner victory...What could be more dramatically appropriate than that a protagonist who has met ruin by yielding to a certain temptation should now be permitted to win for himself the privilege of atonement by withstanding precisely the same kind of temptation? Indeed, it is necessary that Samson should be tested and assailed by none other than Dalila…Act IV presents precisely the sort of incidents best calculated to excite his dormant faculties and stir him to action. It is particularly significant, I think, that the champion who comes to satisfy a vile curiosity regarding the celebrated enemy is palpably a braggart and a coward. Now that Samson is safely bound with gyves and supposedly tamed at the mill, Harapha enters to cast upon him whatever contumely a narrow brain can conceive…Samson's reaction is characteristic and superb…The catastrophe in Act V is a spiritual achievement and a dramatic triumph...The dramatist's chief glory in Samson Agonistes is not only that he has vindicated the mysterious ways of God to man, but that he has demonstrated through Samson's experiences the admirable dignity of the human spirit, which, being divine though pathetically fallible, may bring terrible suffering upon itself, yet may lay hold upon the Highest Wisdom through struggle” (Curry, 1924 pp 339-350).
"Samson agonistes" edit
Time: Antiquity. Place: Gaza, Palestine.
As the bond-slave to the Philistines, Samson bemoans his present state to the tribe of Dan while resting from hard labors during the festivities meant for Dagon, the Philistine idol-god. To control his considerable strength, he has been blinded by his people's enemies. "O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon/Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse/Without all hope of day!" he cries. His father, Manoa, intends to free him by giving the Philistines ransom money. Samson's wife, Dalila, the Philistine who betrayed him in sleep by cutting off his hair in which his strength lies, delivering him to his foes, accosts him in the hope of being forgiven. She committed that atrocious deed out of fear of losing him, thinking he would afterwards be kept as a prisoner in her arms, not as a bond-slave. Samson accuses her of betraying him for money, which she denies, specifying that she was solicited and threatened by Danite magistrates and princes to deliver him. "And the priest/Was not behind, but ever at my ear/Preaching how meritorious with the gods/It would be to ensnare an irrelegious/Dishonorer of Dagon: what had I/To oppose against such powerful arguments?" she asks pleadingly. "Being once a wife, to me thou wast to leave/Parents and country; nor was I their subject,/Not under their protection, but my own,/Thou mine, not theirs-" he counters, rejecting her advances. "Thy fair enchanted cup and warbling charms/No more on me have power, their force is nulled:/So much of adder's wisdom I have learnt/To fence my ears against thy sorceries." Samson is next visited by Harapha, a Philistine warrior, who grieves at never having had a chance to prove his strength against him. Samson rudely spurns him away, to the consternation of the Danites, who fear worse will befall him. Samson replies: "But come what will my deadliest foe will prove/My speediest friend, by death to rid me hence,/The worst that he can give, to me the best." A public officer then informs Samson he must be put to trials of strength during the festival. At first Samson refuses, then, struck by a new idea, accepts willingly. The Danites soon hear a very alarming sound. Out of breath, a messenger informs them that Samson has pulled down a pillar, crushing to death thousands of Philistines along with himself.
John Dryden edit
Another important tragedy of this period is "All for Love" (1678) by John Dryden (1631-1700), an honorable though inferior reworking of Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" (1607).
"The action, extending in Antony and Cleopatra over ten years, is limited here to one day, the story being taken up just before the final conflict with Caesar. The scene is through- out confined to Alexandria, though there are occasional changes of locality within the town. The number of dramatis personae is greatly reduced, all those members of it who do not further the main design being rejected but to compensate for this and also to provide a parallel conflict of love and honour, two new characters, Octavia and Dolabella, are introduced. All for Love is certainly the most interesting of the many Restoration attempts to regularize Shakespeare, presenting, as it does, the business-like transformation of a vast panorama of decadence, glory, and passion into a display of rhetorical crises and striking, but somewhat mechanically contrived, situations" (Deane, 1931 p 112). "Antony and Cleopatra and All for Love when they are contrasted, only show by the contrast the difference of kind, not the difference of degree, between their writers. The heroic conception has here, in all probability, as favourable exposition given to it as it is capable of, and it must be admitted that it makes a not unfavourable show even without the 'dull sweets of rhyme' to drug the audience into good humour with it. The famous scene between Antony and Ventidius divides with the equally famous scene in 'Don Sehastian' (1690) between Sebastian and Dorax the palm among Dryden’s dramatic efforts" (Saintsbury, 1916 p 59). "Shakespeare keeps Octavia and Cleopatra apart; Dryden, paying toll perhaps to the unity of place, brings them together in what Scott calls a scolding scene. Shakespeare's Antony really mourns the loss of his first wife, and accepts Octavia with good intentions. Shakespeare introduces the defection and final repentance of Enobarbus, and the scene of the drunken carousal on Pompey's galley, but has only a hint of the Dolabella-Cleopatra episode which Dryden makes prominent" (Nettleton, 1914 p 92).
"The difference in aim and method between Shakespeare and Dryden can be seen by comparing the opening speeches of 'Antony and Cleopatra' and 'All for love'. The passage from Shakespeare glows with the character of the man who is speaking. Dryden’s poetry is more consciously elevated, more objective, less personal" (Allen, 1957 p 111). "Dryden's tragedy, even from a dramatic point of view, is, with three or four exceptions, superior to anything produced by his contemporaries. If his Cleopatra is wretched, his Antony is powerfully sketched. The altercation between Antony and Ventidius, though modelled too closely on that between Brutus and Cassius in Julius Caesar, is a noble piece of dialectical rhetoric, while the scene between Cleopatra and Octavia is perhaps finer than anything which the stage had seen since Massinger" (Collins, 1895 p 37). “The character of Antony is drawn with considerable skill; the dominion which passion may acquire over a man is I think exhibited quite as effectively as in Shakespere- but Dryden’s Antony lacks elevation. His Cleopatra is comparatively uninteresting. The writing is very good throughout and the scene to which the author directs attention is undoubtedly admirable. The construction of the play is close and effective and the tone of the whole is sufficiently moderated without deserving the charge of tameness. Within certain limits, there assuredly never was a more flexible genius than Dryden’s. The tasks which he set himself, without properly speaking failing in them, are many and extraordinary; in this instance he cannot be said to rival Shakespeare on his own ground, but he follows him on it without being guilty either of servile imitation or of a competition which can be described as a failure” (Ward, 1875 vol 2 p 515).
"Shakespeare’s art is equal to the occasion; his Cleopatra is daemonic, and at the same time so intensely feminine that the purest and meekest of her sex may see much of themselves in her. She is at once an epitome and an encyclopaedia, and the reader can hardly despise Antony for being the slave of a spell which he feels so strongly himself. Dryden’s Cleopatra wants this character of universality, which, indeed, none but Shakespeare could have given, and Shakespeare himself could not have given if in bondage to the unities. She is a fine, passionate, sensuous woman, a kind of Mary Stuart, interesting, but not to the point at which it could be felt that the world were well lost for her. The inferiority of Cleopatra reacts grievously upon Antony. Shakespeare’s Cleopatra is so grand that her lover is exalted by the admiration which, in spite of her perfidies, she manifestly feels for him. The beloved of such a woman must be heroic, an impression skilfully assisted by the effect Antony produced upon the prudent and politic Augustus. Dryden's Cleopatra can bestow no such patent of distinction. By so much as the chief personages are inferior to their exemplars, by so much also is the puny, starved action of Dryden’s tragedy, restricted to one day and seven characters, inferior to the opulence of Shakespeare's, ranging over the Roman world, crowded with personages, and gathering up every trait from Plutarch that could contribute picturesqueness to its prodigality of incident and sentiment. Nor is Dryden entirely successful in the conduct of his plot. The introduction of Octavia is a happy idea, but she appears at too late a period of Antony's history. The implication that his return to her could have availed him in so desperate an extremity is more contrary to historical truth and common reason than any of the anachronisms for which Dryden derides Elizabethan poets. The intrigue by which Dolabella is made to excite Antony’s jealousy is more worthy of comedy than of heroic tragedy, besides being inconsistent with the manly character of its promoter, Ventidius. This gallant veteran is too fine, for he sometimes seems to indeed a fine creation eclipse Antony and Cleopatra both, and assumes more prominence in the action than Shakespeare would have allowed him. Alexas is the hasty and much marred outline of a character which might have been hardly less impressive had Dryden been at the pains to work out the conception adumbrated in the first act" (Garnett, 1909 pp 94-95)
"The lovers are living out a fantasy of eternity within time and their ideals refuse to recognize the inevitable facts of mutability...Antony explicitly calls a halt to the natural cycle: 'Enjoyed, thou still art new; perpetual spring/Is in thy arms; the ripened fruit but falls,/And blossoms rise to fill its empty space' (Act 3)" (Hughes, 1970 pp 556-557), "mutability best represented perhaps by Spenser's 'Mutabilitie Cantos' but more specifically to a long tradition of Antony and Cleopatra plays in the Renaissance in which this motif is paramount, teaching not the lesson of nihilism but of 'sic transit gloria mundi'" (Canfield, 1975 p 38).
"Ruins: artifacts, emblems, of human grandeur and pride, and also emblems of a moldered grandeur and a blasted pride, somehow, nevertheless, reclaimed by nature, and somehow ennobled and adorned, by nature, in the process. So with Antony, I believe, for no matter how much his innate nobility of character has been impaired by the 'usurping ivy' of an illicit love, he is yet, as the text of the play affirms, a 'noble ruin'...In the end, however, the ivy of lust in which he was caught seems transfigured into a vine of espousal, and the ruins, as well as the remains, of his manhood somehow decked, somehow crowned, and even somehow redeemed by a laurel wreath woven for him by a woman both strumpet and bride; without the verdant growth and circle of Cleopatra's love, Antony would seem a stark and unsightly trunk, or a stark and unsightly ruin. From such a fusion, such a wedding, of motifs we may possibly make the same mixed and complicated discovery that Dolabella confesses himself to have made, when he says, in words that have the force of choral comment, that he too has 'discovered/And blamed the love of ruined Antony', and yet could wish also that he were that same Antony 'to be so ruined'" (Williams, 1984 pp 16-17).
"All for love" edit
Time: Ist century BC. Place: Alexandria, Egypt.
After the naval battle lost against Octavius at Actium, Antony withdraws from life. An old soldier, Ventidius, attempts to rouse him with news that twelve legions have submitted to him as leader for further battles. Though unwilling to abandon Cleopatra, Antony at last says: "And I will leave her; though, Heaven knows, I love/Beyond life, conquest, empire, all, but honour;/But I will leave her." Missing Antony, Cleopatra exclaims against hope any future happiness. "Now come, Octavius,/I have no more to lose! prepare thy bands;/I’m fit to be a captive: Antony/Has taught my mind the fortune of a slave." To hold Antony at all costs, Alexas, her eunuch servant, gives jewels to his officers, including Ventidius, who rejects the gift, yet Antony accepts a bracelet and agrees to see Cleopatra one more time, at which Ventidius moans: "Her eyes do Cæsar’s work." Likewise, Antony moans on their "mutual ruin": "I saw you every day, and all the day;/And every day was still but as the first,/So eager was I still to see you more." To prove how much she loves, Cleopatra shows him a letter from Octavius, allowing her to keep Egypt and Syria, which she is willing to decline provided Antony stay with her. In view of this sacrifice, he yields to her again, at the same time fighting against Octavius' troops in Egypt. A worthy soldier, Dolabello, arrives from Octavius' camp to work out conditions of peace, while Ventidius brings in Octavia, Antony's wife and Octavius' sister, with their children. Antony at first decides he cannot be reconciled with her brother: "For I can ne’er be conquered but by love/And you do all for duty." However, on seeing his children, he yields, promising that "Tomorrow/Caesar and we are one." To counter this maneuver, Alexas counsels his mistress to approach Dolabello, for: "He stands already more than half suspected/Of loving you: the least kind word or glance/You give this youth will kindle him with love:/Then, like a burning vessel set adrift,/You’ll send him down amain before the wind,/To fire the heart of jealous Antony." Dolabello reveals to Cleopatra Antony's imminent departure and his own love, but she rejects any thought of making Antony jealous. Seeing Dolabello smitten and supported by Octavia, Ventidius lies to Antony in saying that Cleopatra bore easily the news of his departure while flirting with the messenger. Antony rejects his view until Alexas confirms the falsehood. Seeing her husband unresponsive, Octavia prepares to go: "So, take my last farewell; for I despair/To have you whole, and scorn to take you half." When Antony sees Cleopatra in company with Dolabollo, both seem false. Meanwhile, Octavius' navy returns. The Egyptian fleet joyfully greet them and betray Antony. Innocent at this turn of events but fearing Antony's desperate anger, Cleopatra flees to her monument. To calm his rage, Alexas lies to him by saying Cleopatra stabbed herself to death, while Ventidius encourages him to engage once more in a soldier's life, so that they can "die warm together". But, thinking Cleopatra dead, Antony will fight no more, "for all the bribes of life are gone away," he says. Instead, he requests Ventidius to kill him, but the soldier turns the sword against himself. Antony attempts to imitate him but misses the heart. He is discovered bleeding by Cleopatra and dies in her arms. In despair, Cleopatra poisons herself along with her two servants from the bite of aspics.
Thomas Southerne edit
Yet another important tragedy of this period is "Oroonoko" (1696) by Thomas Southerne (1660-1746), based on a story written in 1688 by Aphra Behn, the “most substantial revision of Behn's novel [being] an addition of a comic subplot in which two desperate English women hunt for husbands in Surinam” (Vermillion, 1992 p 28).
"In spite of a certain theatricality which is so apparent to us in all Restoration dramatic productions, ['Oroonoko'] is a decided triumph. It is true that Oroonoko himself is rather much of a stock love-and-honour hero, but even admitting that, the sense of tragedy, with the central figure and his one tragic flaw, if weakly carried out, reminds us strongly of the creations of Otway. Imoinda is a delightful picture of a poor Indian maid, a figure interesting as a premonition of those 'noble savages' cultivated by the followers of Rousseau in the eighteenth century. She stands out as a frail flower bent by the rude winds of civilized perversion and vice" (Nicoll, 1928 p 145).
"Aboan "proves himself Oroonoko's equal- at times his superior- in insight and initiaive throughout the play and voices much of its antislavery rhetoric...Southerne subverts one major rationalization he offers or enslavement- the traditional aristocratic justification that slaves are naturally inferior and therefore suited to bondage- by presenting an exceptional, non-aristocratic slave...[a man] who resists the white enslavers who mistreat him, convinces Oroonoko to lead a slave rebellion, and, when that fails, kills himself rather than return to the pain and degradation of bondage. Throughout the play, he displays the courage, eloquence, intelligence, and honor commonly associated with aristocrats, and ultimately demonstrates more initiative than Oroonoko, who, in thrall to his per sonal tragedy with Imoinda, is often passive...Oroonoko is content with his lot after he is reunited with his wife, who was sold into slavery by the treacherous king...Southerne reinforces Aboan's belief in good rebellion throughout the play. Oroonoko twice kills tyrants who abuse their positions of authority and betray his trust: the slave captain who kidnapped and sold him and the treacherous lieutenant governor who promises friendship yet secretly lusts after Imoinda and later tears her from her husband's arms...Aboan's appeals to Oroonoko's personal and domestic concerns incite the prince to anger and action in ways that previous arguments had not. Although Aboan achieves his immediate goal- Oroonoko agrees to lead the uprising- he is unable to realize his larger objective: Oroonoko fights for purely personal reasons; he remains less troubled by the slaves' plight. Ultimately, Aboan, anxious for himself and his fellow slaves, possesses more vision and evinces larger political concerns for natural liberty and civic responsibility than his prince" (Jaher, 2008 pp 51-61).
Time: 1690s. Place: West Indies.
To increase their fortunes, Lucy follows her elder sister, Charlotte, to the West Indies, disguised as a man. Unaware of Charlotte's sex, Widow Lackitt is keen on marrying her. Charlotte informs the widow she is resolved to marry off her sister first. The widow proposes her booby son, Daniel. As Lucy and Daniel get acquainted, he kisses her repeatedly. Though unimpressed by the man, Lucy yet agrees to marry him. The black prince of Angola, Oroonoko, is captured among others by Captain Driver and led in chains as the lord-governor's slave, represented in his absence by his attendant, Blandford. Oroonoko informs Blandford of his marriage with Imoinda, daughter of a white friend of his. Because Oroonoko's father lusted after his wife, he never saw her again, for she was either poisoned or sent far off, as he thinks. By coincidence, the lieutenant-governor loves one of Blandford's slaves known as Clemene, who in reality is Imoinda. When the lieutenant-governor offers to buy the slave from Blandford, he refuses. Meanwhile, an impending revolt is being prepared by black and white slaves at the plantations, but Oroonoko successfully defends the white owners against the slaves. Amid general thanks, Oroonoko is stunned on discovering his long-lost wife among the slaves as well as Aboan, his friend from Angola, who encourages him to raise a force for their freedom. He declines the offer because they were acquired by trade. But when reminded that the lord-governor may wish to take his wife to bed, he agrees to revolt. Now that Lucy is married to her son, Widow Lackitt once again claims Charlotte for herself, but the latter puts her of by claiming that she is already married to a woman living in England, though having arranged to have her poisoned by a friend. Convinced by this fabrication, the widow offers her nevertheless 1,000 pounds in gold and jewels as gifts. Likewise, Lucy is content with money although Daniel no longer cares for her. Amid the commotion raised by the rising of the slaves, Charlotte leaves the gold and jewels to her friend, Stanmore, for safekeeping, then reveals herself as a woman. He is overjoyed and asks to marry her. She accepts and readily favors his cousin's intention to marry the widow. At last confronted with Charlotte's true sex, Lackitt agrees to the match. In the midst of the rebellion, Oroonoko stabs Captain Driver to death. To limit any further damage, the lieutenant-governor offers pardon to all the slaves. Though Oroonoko refuses, the troop of slaves fall on their faces. He only agrees to surrender after Blandford's promise that nothing will be done to him. However, the lieutenant-governor treacherously seizes Oroonoko after he drops his sword and, lusting after his wife, separates her from him. Blandford and Stanmore combine to confront the lieutenant-governor, requesting him to set Oroonoko and Imoinda free. He accepts, but pretends to ignore where Imoinda lodges. After the visitors leave, he takes hold of her, intent on rape, but she removes his sword as the suspicious Blandford emerges from hiding to secure her release. Oroonoko is freed from prison and meets a bleeding Aboan, mistreated by his masters with rods and whips, who requests the means to kill himself. When Oroonoko gives him a dagger, he stabs himself to death. On his way out, Oroonoko crosses Imoinda's path. Disheartened by their masters' treacheries, she proposes to follow Aboan's fate. He agrees but is unable to kill her. She lays her hand on his to give the death-blow. When the authorities arrive, he first pretends to give up then stabs lieutenant-governor and himself to death.
Thomas Otway edit
Thomas Otway (1652-1685) distinguished himself most particularly with "Venice preserved" (1682).
“The story of this tragedy is taken from an anecdotal history entitled La Conjuration des Espagnols contre la République de Venise en 1618, published in 1674 by the Abbé de Saint-Réal. An English translation had appeared in 1675. The finest character in the play, Belvidera, is, however, purely the creation of the poet’s genius; and the scenes between her and Jaffier, the weak but at heart noble conspirator who is persuaded by his wife reveal the plot to the senate, are beyond praise. Jaffier, torn between his passionate affection for Belvidera aud his almost equal devotion to his friends and their cause, presents a signally true picture of the human soul seeking vainly to reconcile contending ideals. His remorse and shame under the stinging reproaches of his dear friend and fellow-conspirator, Pierre, his inability to free himself from the clinging love and fascination with which Belvidera has enmeshed him, his agony of grief on the senate’s breach of its promise to spare the lives of all the conspirators as the reward of his treachery- all these successive phases through which his sensitive, but weak and vacillating, spirit has to pass are depicted with consummate skill and true tragic power” (Batholomew, 1912 p 183). Otway himself pays this able historian the best compliment, not only by adhering to his conduct of the story as far as the dramatic form of the adaptation would suffer him, but by quoting literally whole passages, as in the speech of Renault to the conspirators, to put into the mouths of his characters” (Dunham, 1836 pp vol 3 p 131).
“Otway has followed nature in the language of his tragedy, and therefore shines in the passionate parts more than any of our English poets. As there is something familiar and domestic in the fable of his tragedy, more than in those of any other poet, he has little pomp, but great force in his expressions. For which reason, though he has admirably succeeded in the tender and melting part of his tragedies, he sometimes falls into too great a familiarity of phrase in those parts which, by Aristotle's rule, ought to have been raised and supported by the dignity of expression. It has been observed by others that this poet has founded his tragedy of 'Venice Preserved ' on so wrong a plot that the greatest characters in it are those of rebels and traitors. Had the hero of his play discovered the same good qualities in the defence of his country that he showed for its ruin and subversion, the audience could not enough pity and admire him: but as he is now represented, we can only say of him, what the Roman historian says of Catiline, that his fall would have been glorious had he so fallen in the service of his country” (Addison, 1711 The Spectator no 39, April 14). “The awful suspense of the situations, the conflict of duties and passions, the intimate bonds that unite the characters together, and that are violently rent asunder like the parting of soul and body, the solemn march of the tragical events to the fatal catastrophe that winds up and closes over all, give to this production of Otway's muse a charm and power that bind it like a spell on the public mind, and have made it a proud and inseparable adjunct of the English stage” (Hazlitt, 1820 p 336).
"Otway was able to give a tragedy, 'Venice Preserved', grandiose and sombre in design...The theme of unfortunate love bulks far too large in it, and though Belvidera supplies a necessary element, one cannot always refrain from wishing her away...Otway raises against the smoky back ground of sinister plotters, suspicious friends, and would-be Romans, a stark tragedy of personal friendship, betrayal, and consequent remorse and expiation. Even those hideously masochistic scenes of Antonio, virulent satire against Shaftesbury, serve his purpose as the last twist of the knife and cannot be omitted; and though the play is unrelieved by any element of strong sanity- for like himself, perhaps, all his characters are 'too unhappy to be good', it might have been a tragedy of the first order. As it is, softened throughout by the very eighteenth-century romantic love, incongruous with the other more Elizabethan elements, it must rank well below 'All for Love' in sustained interest (Dobrée, 1929 p 144).
"The essentials of great tragedy, of Shakespearean tragedy, are here. The opposition of character, the struggle of the generous but pliable Jaffier under the conflicting influences of his wife and the steadfast 'Roman' Pierre, the joy and tenderness and ruin that come with his love for Belvidera, are all drawn with a truth of passion in conception and language that reaches the heart" (Thorndike, 1908 p 271). "The play is in theme a Venetian Julius Caesar and in its two principal male characters, Jaffeir and Pierre, we see, as in Brutus and Cassius, a study in political conspiracy as it affects a friendship between two highly contrasted characters...Pierre in particular, on the subject of revolt, has simplicity and force of dialogue, the verse rhythms unstrained and the vocabulary singularly free from the ornate and high-flown rhetoric of the worst type of blank-verse tragedy that succeeded Shakespeare" (Williamson, 1956 p 18). “I have often thought our writers of tragedy have been very defective in this particular, and that they might have given great beauty to their works, by certain stops and pauses in the representation of such passions, as it is not in the power of language to express. There is something like this in the last act of “Venice Preserved,” where Pierre is brought to an infamous execution, and begs of his friend,’ as a reparation for past injuries, and the only favour he could do him, to rescue him from the ignominy of the wheel by stabbing him. As he is going to make this dreadful request, he is not able to communicate it, but withdraws his face from his friend’s ear, and bursts into tears. The melancholy silence that follows hereupon and continues till he has recovered himself enough to reveal his mind to his friend raises in the spectators a grief that is inexpressible” (Addison, 1710 The Tatler no 133, February 14).
"The subject of this play, a conspiracy to overthrew the Venetian oligarchic despotism, is admirably chosen, being both interesting and dramatic. The characters of Belvidera, the heroine who induces her husband to betray the con- spiracy, Jaffier, the traitor, and Pierre, the patriot, are excellently drawn, and have served to maintain the popularity of the piece even into recent times" (Golden, 1890 p 171). "It is one of the "greatest tragedies in modern English drama...The irresolute Jaffeir, standing midway between the tender Belvidera and the iron Pierre, is the centre of dramatic conflict. Rant, bombast, and exaggeration the fundamentals of heroic drama give way to human emotion. Pathos does not sink into bathos, and if Otway's tragedies end in blood, it is wrung from the human heart...Otway could not run the whole gamut of human emotion, but he touched a few notes with the certainty of a master hand. If his tragedies do not inspire awe, they touch the gentler spring of pity. Sincerity, naturalness, and artistic restraint, qualities rarer than ever in Restoration tragedy, are the foundation of Otway's dramatic genius" (Nettleton, 1914 pp 102-103). Leigh Hunt exclaimed: “what a beautiful, most painful, and in some respects disagreeable play is this Venice Preserved! Otway's genius, true as it was to nature, had a smack in it of the age of Charles II, and of the company of Lord Plymouth and the bullies. Sensuality takes the place of sentiment, even in the most calamitous passages. The author debauched his tragic muse; brings her, as he does his heroine, among a set of ruffians; and dresses her in double tears and mourning, that her blushes may but burn and her fair limbs be set off the more, to furnish his riotous imagination with a gusto of contrast“ (1894 edition pp 154-155).
“The three chief characters of Venice Preserved are drawn with great, though perhaps not with equal, skill and vigour. The settled determination of Pierre contrasts effectively with the weakness of Jaffier, who after joining in the conspiracy is persuaded by Belvidera to save the state by betrayal. He afterwards seeks to atone for his act by sacrificing himself for his friend; and at last stabs both himself and Pierre in Roman fashion, thus depriving the scaffold of its double prey. There is to my mind nothing in the terrors of this scene out of accord with the general conception and character of this gloomy tragedy; but the madness of Belvidera and the apparition of the ghosts of Pierre and Jaffier overburden the mind which has already ‘supped full of horrors’. The great and characteristic beauty of Venice Preserved, however, consists beyond a doubt in the exquisite tenderness of the love-scenes between Jaffier and Belvidera, which are justly regarded as unparalleled by anything else in our later drama” (Ward, 1875 vol 2 p 551).
"The impression it leaves on the reader’s mind is stupendous, and that impression is but intensified when it is seen well-acted upon the stage. The characters are finely and delicately handled. The development of Jaffier’s psychology, veering from hatred to desire for revenge, from desire of liberty to active revolution, is an almost perfect study- all confused as it is by his love. Pierre, too, is a beautiful picture of the firm and clear-hearted rebel, steady to the last: 'And Liberty!' he cries, his words expressing his inmost soul, to which Jaffier’s 'Revenge! Revenge!' forms a not unfitting and uninstructive counterpart. What though the other characters are more conventional Priuli, Antonio, Aquilina and Renault— when we have these two for ever before us? Particularly of note are the speeches of Pierre, especially those at the beginning of the play...and that fine outburst in Act iii, when swords are directed at Jaffier...And the ending of the play is magnificent, closing upon the poor misguided Belvidera’s madness and the noble release of Pierre from the ignominy of the gallows. There is something in a poet’s heart always revolutionary, and even though Otway was one of Dryden’s persuasion— a monarchical absolutist in this play he shows his sympathy for souls who struggle up out of the rut of life- out into the spacious sunlight of rebellion. There are firm-hearted, single-spirited Pierres who live today: there are cowardly Renaults, half-conspirators, half-egotistical-libertines: there are gaffers who sway between the ideal of revolution and other ideals: there are Belvideras, too, who, unconscious of the fact, mar men’s ideals and men’s lives. It is truly the highest art that is universal in this way and for all time: and who will deny that Otway has reached the very summit in that regard?" (Nicoll, 1928 pp 154-155). “Otway writes grandly, with a sort of sad, nervous power about a large subject: the ethics of betrayal...In the vacillation of poor, uxorious Jaffeir, there is magnificent irony” (Tynan, 1961 pp 50-51)
"Venice preserved" edit
Time: 17th century. Place: Venice, Italy.
Text at https://archive.org/details/dli.bengal.10689.21535 http://www.bibliomania.com/0/6/275/1878/frameset.html http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/21515 http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/46605 https://archive.org/details/britishtheatre_c15bell
Priuli, a senator of Venice, accuses Jaffier of seducing his only child, Belvidera. Jaffier's friend, Pierre, informs him of the evil intentions of officers-of-law he has met: "They told me, by the sentence of the law,/They had commission to seize all thy fortune-/Nay more, Priuli's cruel hand had signed it." He recommends that Jaffier meet friends of his, for tonight they will speak of "precious mischief" afoot against the state of Venice, no less than a conspiracy: "For thou'rt to mix with men/Fit to disturb the peace of all the world,/And rule it when 'tis wildest." To one of the conspirators, Bedamar, Pierre seems "lovelily dreadful". Pierre daydreams thus concerning their armed revolt: "How lovelily the Adriatic, then,/Dressed in her flames, will shine! Devouring flames/Such as shall burn her to the watery bottom,/And hiss in her foundation!" He introduces Jaffier in their midst. Instead of confidence, the conspirators express distrust of him. As a result, Jaffier offers a pledge: his wife, Belvidera. But the following day, Belvidera is unwilling to serve as hostage of "that assembly, all made up of wretches". Jaffier reveals to her the full extent of the conspiracy, how they will kill her father and the entire senate. She in turn informs him that one of the conspirators approached her bed: Renault, and presumes the worst from that. Distraught at such news, Jaffier tells Pierre about Renault's act, whom he calls a "winter rogue". Jaffier then confronts Renault, suggesting he was nearly wronged as her husband. To rid himself of Jaffier, Renault tells the others he senses "danger in him" and that for their safety they should kill him, a proposal dismissed by Pierre, who wishes to protect his friend. Alone with her husband, Belvidera presses him to reveal the conspiracy to the senate. When the senate meets, Priuli informs them of rumors circulating in the city, how they are all "on the brink of gaping ruin". When called in their presence, Jaffier confirms the rumor and proposes to reveal the entire plot in exchange for clemency to all. The senate agrees. Officers very quickly seize Pierre and the others. To the senate Renault says only this: "Death's the best thing we ask, or you can give." To the conspirators, Jaffier appears as the worst of traitors. To Pierre, Jaffier says: "The safety of thy life was all I aimed at,/In recompense for faith and trust so broken." Yet the senate is foresworn, the prisoners will die: "Nay, cruelest racks and torments are preparing/To force confession from their dying pangs," the aggrieved Belvidera reveals. Jaffier blames Belvidera for this unfortunate turn of events and approaches to stab her, but then desists, pleading with her instead to "fly to thy cruel father, save my friend,/Or all our future quiet's lost forever." Belvidera tells her father that Jaffier carries a dagger for her, "a hostage for his truth". Priului easily yields to his daughter's pleas, but his "ill-timed mercy" comes too late. As Pierre is prepared to be broken on the wheel as a traitor to the state, Jaffier succeeds in stabbing him to death, then stabs himself to death. Even before her husband's death, Belvidera grows disoriented and seems to see her absent husband: "I have got him, father! Oh!/My love! my dear! my blessing! help me! help me!/They have hold of me, and drag me to the bottom!/Nay- now they pull so hard- farewell." In her distracted state, she dies.