John Dryden’s Marriage à la Mode is a curious mixture of heroic tragedy and comedy of manners. One plot concerns the playful seventeenth century attitude toward married love, another concerns court intrigue. Skillful characterization, especially in the comic plot, has assured a continuing place for the play. In that plot, Dryden illustrates the view of life prevalent in Restoration drama, which sees humans as creatures of appetite constantly searching for new sensations and always battling to steal or conquer the property of others. In both of the play’s two plots, the characters play out this view of life through their actions, but in the end, Dryden leads them to a very different conclusion from the one no doubt expected by a Restoration audience.
All the partners in the romantic plot share the belief that a desired love conquest loses its attractiveness the moment it is possessed. In their pursuit of women, Rhodophil and Palamede are like sated, jaded gourmets in frantic search of new delicacies to intrigue their palates. They are caught in a dilemma that seems to have no solution: If love depends on desire, how can love remain after desire has once been satisfied? Unable to solve this riddle, the characters have accepted the proposition that extramarital affairs are necessary. The opening song in the play states the premise that no one should feel bound to a silly marriage vow once passion has cooled. Operating on this assumption, the...
(The entire section is 528 words.)