England is one of the world’s most politically stable countries. It has been ruled in substantially the same way (by a monarchy and a Parliament) for almost a thousand years. The country’s most traumatic political event, though, occurred in 1640, when Puritan forces overthrew King Charles I, executed him, and ruled under Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell for almost twenty years. In 1660, however, the monarchy was restored, King Charles II assumed the throne, and the complicated system of obtaining power by cultivating royal favor was reinstituted.
The Puritans attempted to radically change English society. They closed the theatres, feeling that they were immoral and promoted promiscuity, blasphemy, and prostitution; they destroyed such religious art as statues and stained glass because they felt they promoted idolatry; they discouraged the freewheeling, daring, sexually playful literature and social organization of the upper classes. Since Puritan theology was centered on man’s sinfulness and on the doctrine of predestination, Puritan society was grim and focused entirely on religion and the world to come. For Puritans, enjoyment and sensual pleasures were not only suspect; they were sinful.
Consequently, when the monarchy was restored the hedonistic energies that had been suppressed over the previous decades surged forth powerfully. Early Restoration society was exuberant and risqué, and, as the theatres...
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Wit, the skill most valued by the Restoration, depends upon a masterful use of irony if it is to convey an author’s message. Many of the characters engage in wordplay and double entendre as they converse with each other. Though Congreve uses verbal irony to great effect in this play, his use of structural or dramatic irony is even more evident. Characters scheme to get things only to have their plans backfire in particularly ironic ways. Tattle’s plan to marry Angelica while they are in disguise, for instance, ends with him being married to Mrs. Frail, who is pursuing a similar plot. But the characters’ fates are themselves ironic. When Valentine first appears, he wishes to be a poor philosopher/ poet with no worldly connections. By the end of the play, he is again willing to give up his fortune, only this time for love. Tattle’s prowess with women, his ability to see three steps ahead in the game of seduction, leads him to ‘‘blindly’’ marry Mrs. Frail. Even the names of the characters are ironic: Angelica is hardly angelic, and Foresight utterly lacks the quality designated by his name.
The humor of Love for Love depends largely on the pacing of the work. Farcical comedies are light, frothy, and often silly works, and as such the director must pace the action quickly in order to sustain the comedy and prevent the audience from dwelling too much on the improbability of the plot. That sense of...
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Compare and Contrast
1690s: England is ruled by King William III; the near-absolute power of the monarchy enjoyed by Queen Elizabeth I and King James II has just been limited by the acts of William. Parliament takes on new importance as England grows slightly more democratic.
Today: England is ruled, in name, by Queen Elizabeth II, although in reality she has no political power. Tony Blair, the prime minister, is reelected for a second term.
1690s: Women cannot vote or run for political office in England or England’s American colonies. Their only hope for influence in society is to enter into the royal court and curry favor from powerful people.
Today: Women can vote and run for office in the United States and England. Although the United States has never had a female chief executive, England had a female prime minister (Margaret Thatcher) for much of the 1980s.
1690s: In the New World, the country that will become the United States is just a collection of English settlements on the Atlantic coast. French trappers explore the interior of the continent, while Spain is the continent’s most important power, holding all of Central America, Mexico, and territories that comprise much of what is now the present-day United States.
Today: The nations of Mexico, the United States, and Canada draw ever closer together as national borders become less important. The North American Free Trade...
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Topics for Further Study
Research the ‘‘Glorious Revolution’’ of 1688. Who was the king who was deposed? Why were people unhappy with him? Who replaced him? What lasting changes came about as a result of the revolution?
As a group, direct part of one of the acts of Love for Love. How do you make sure the audience understands the jokes? How do you handle the actors’ fast-paced entrances and exits? How do you interpret the characters of Angelica and Valentine?
The late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries saw many important scientific discoveries in engineering, astronomy, physics, biology, medicine, and chemistry. What were some of these discoveries? Who were the important scientific figures of the time?
Research the lives of upper-class women in English society during the late 1600s. What avenues were open to them in terms of education, careers, marriage, and owning their own property? When and why did these situations change?
The Restoration restored the royalist government after a brief period of Puritan religious rule. Who were the Puritans? What relation did they have to the Pilgrims and Puritans in America? What became of the Puritans in England?
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Restoration is not a filmed adaptation of Love for Love, but it is a fascinating portrayal of life in the Restoration period. The film stars Robert Downey Jr., Meg Ryan, and Ian McKellen and was directed by Michael Hoffman, for Miramax, 1995. The film is available from Miramax Home Video.
An audio recording of Love for Love was made by the National Theatre of Great Britain in 1966 and was produced by the RCA Victor Corporation.
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What Do I Read Next?
The Way of the World, originally produced in 1700, is Congreve’s best-known play. In this play, many critics feel, Congreve created the highest accomplishment of Restoration comedy and of contemporary social criticism.
Alexander Pope is, to many peoples’ minds, the greatest wit that England ever produced. He generally wrote his works in ‘‘heroic couplets,’’ or rhymed couplets of iambic pentameter. Although he expressed his serious ideas about religion, philosophy, and literature in his Essay on Man and Essay on Criticism, his long poem The Rape of the Lock is a sophisticated, funny, rewarding satire of the upper-class morals of his—and Congreve’s—time.
The best and most comprehensive picture of daily life in Restoration London is not a play or a poem but a long journal. The diaries of Samuel Pepys describe in vivid and entertaining detail the social and political life of his time. Especially interesting is his portrayal of the London theater, its audiences, and conventions.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Hughes, Derek, English Drama 1660–1700, Clarendon Press, 1996.
Love, Harold, Congreve, Basil Blackwell, 1974.
Lyons, Patrick, Congreve: Comedies. A Critical Casebook, Macmillan, 1982.
Stieber, Anita, Character Portrayal in Congreve’s Comedies: ‘‘The Old Bachelor,’’ ‘‘Love for Love,’’ and ‘‘The Way of the World,’’ Edward Mellen Press, 1996.
Thomas, David, English Dramatists: William Congreve, Macmillan, 1992.
Young, Douglas M., The Feminist Voices in Restoration Comedy, University Press of America, 1997.
Hughes, Derek, English Drama 1660–1700, Clarendon Press, 1996. In this book, Hughes provides a brief discussion of almost every play to have been produced on the London stage during this period. The book is an excellent resource for discovering what kinds of plays were popular and what the conventions of playwriting, production, and theatre attendance were like during the Restoration.
Scouten, Arthur H., and Robert D. Hume, ‘‘‘Restoration Comedy’ and its Audiences,’’ in The Rakish Stage: Studies in English Drama 1660–1800, edited by Robert D. Hume, Southern Illinois University Press, 1983. Reading and analyzing plays, even accessing records of how they were produced, can foster a better understanding of their meaning. Knowing the...
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Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Hoffman, Arthur W. Congreve’s Comedies. Victoria, B.C.: English Literary Studies, University of Victoria, 1993. Includes a chapter on Love for Love that focuses on the roles of Valentine and Angelica as romantic hero and heroine and on Sir Sampson as blocking agent. Shows how Congreve skillfully employs allusions to biblical, classical, and Shakespearean traditions.
Markley, Robert. Two-Edg’d Weapons: Style and Ideology in the Comedies of Etherege, Wycherley, and Congreve. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. Argues that Congreve is stylistically a transitional figure, with his plays falling in style between earlier satirical comedies and the later sentimental comedies.
Novak, Maximillian E. William Congreve. New York: Twayne, 1971. Provides a good basic overview of Congreve’s life and works. Discusses his various works, with a chapter on Love for Love, and the intellectual, artistic, and moral debates of his period.
Owen, Susan J., ed. A Companion to Restoration Drama. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2001. Collection of essays examines the types of Restoration drama, places these plays within the context of their times, and analyzes works by individual playwrights. Includes discussion of Congreve’s plays, particularly in the essay “William Congreve and Thomas Southerne,” by Miriam Handley.
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