Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Dryden’s most successful comedy, Marriage à la Mode, combines within its two distinct plots the conventions of romantic tragicomedy and the Restoration comedy of manners, a genre not fully developed when he produced his play. The tragicomic plot develops the theme of succession to the throne, perhaps Dryden’s most important dramatic theme after the love-honor conflict. Having usurped the Sicilian throne, Polydamas discovers two young persons of gentle birth who have been living rustic lives under the care of Hermogenes, a former courtier. Hermogenes assures the usurper that one of them is his son Leonidas, though Leonidas is in reality the son of the king whom he had deposed. When Polydamas orders Leonidas to marry the daughter of his friend, he refuses, protesting his love for Palmyra, his companion under Hermogenes’ care. When Polydamas seeks to banish her, Hermogenes identifies her as the king’s daughter and claims Leonidas as his own son. Polydamas then seeks to force Palmyra to marry his friend Argaleon and banishes Leonidas under sentence of death. Faced with death, Leonidas wins over the tyrant’s supporters, removes him from the throne, and pardons him as the father of his beloved Palmyra.
In the plot, the main elements of tragicomedy are prominent: the remote setting, the tyrannical usurper, the long-lost noble youth, the faithful servant, and idealized romantic love. Dryden’s early debt to the tragicomedies of John Fletcher...
(The entire section is 434 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Palamede, a courtier who has just returned to Sicily after an absence of five years, overhears Doralice singing a song justifying inconstancy in marriage. Smitten by her great beauty, Palamede promptly declares his love. The information that Doralice is married does not abate his ardor; instead, he confesses that he himself is to be married in three days. The two resolve to meet again. Having been informed that Rhodophil, her husband, is approaching, Doralice abruptly departs.
Rhodophil welcomes Palamede back to court. He sympathizes with him over his approaching marriage, complaining that he himself has found no joy in marriage after the first six months. Palamede advises him to take a mistress, a remedy that Rhodophil says he was already trying to effect. He has found a woman whom he desires, but her obsession with court society has prevented her from keeping her assignations. The conversation ends with the approach of Argaleon, the king’s favorite, who brings a message summoning Rhodophil to the king.
Amalthea, sister to Argaleon, discusses with a court lady the reason for the king’s visit to so remote a section of Sicily. King Polydamas is searching for his son. Many years before, when Polydamas had usurped the throne, the wife of the former king had fled with an infant son. To Polydamas’s amazement, his pregnant wife, Eudoxia, fled with the queen. No news had been heard of them until recently, when Polydamas was led to believe that his wife had died but that their child still lives.
Polydamas orders brought before him a fisherman in company with a youth and a maid whom the fisherman claims were his children but who look too noble to be a peasant’s offspring. The fisherman turns out to be Hermogenes, who had fled with Eudoxia and the queen. Under threat of torture, Hermogenes asserts that the queen, her son, and Eudoxia had died, but that Polydamas’s son is alive and is, in fact, Leonidas, the youth who accompanies him. Hermogenes insists, however, that the girl Palmyra is his own daughter. The king accepts Leonidas as his son and decrees that Palmyra shall live at court so as not to be separated from her foster brother.
Later, Palamede presents himself to Melantha, the woman his father has ordered him to marry. Much to his regret, he finds Melantha to be just such an affected lady as Rhodophil has described...
(The entire section is 968 words.)