Further Critical Evaluation of the Work
The team of Beaumont and Fletcher left behind a rich legacy. While they were living, they enjoyed immense popularity—a popularity that surpassed even Shakespeare’s. Court records kept of performances indicate that for every one of Shakespeare’s plays, ten of Beaumont and Fletcher’s were being given. THE SCORNFUL LADY shared in this popularity. Not only was THE SCORNFUL LADY a hit with the Elizabethan audiences and twentieth century critics, it was also, and perhaps more importantly, a hit with the audience of the Restoration period. John Dryden in AN ESSAY OF DRAMATIC POESY (1668) revealed just how popular when he wrote, “Their plays are now the most pleasant and frequent entertainments of the stage; two of theirs being acted through the year for one of Shakespeare’s or Jonson’s.” Although some of the comedies of the Beaumont and Fletcher canon underwent alterations, THE SCORNFUL LADY remained unscathed and was produced between 1660 and 1719 at least twenty-seven times.
Beaumont and Fletcher in THE SCORNFUL LADY set the stage for a number of techniques that were to be used frequently in Restoration comedy. When the Elder Loveless feigns death in THE SCORNFUL LADY, he prepares the way for the frequently-used stock situation of Restoration comedy in which a lover pretends a physical ailment in order to gain the sympathy of a servant or mistress. The disregard for morality; the concept of marriage as imprisonment for men, and a release from chastity for women; and wit, in the form of quick repartee and double-entendre that appeared in Restoration comedy had a precedent set in THE SCORNFUL LADY. It is perhaps the spicy flavor of the wit of THE SCORNFUL LADY that made it most popular.
It would appear that the only characteristic of THE SCORNFUL LADY that was not borrowed by the Restoration comedy was its setting, which has little of the local color, attention to realistic details, and allusions to contemporary people and places found in the comedy of manners written by the Restoration dramatists. That the Restoration dramatists borrowed as much as they did is a boon to the reader of today. If it had not been for THE SCORNFUL LADY, we might not today be able to read and enjoy that famous china closet scene in William Wycherley’s THE COUNTRY WIFE.