Act 3

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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

Later in the evening, Candida and Marchbanks sit beside the fire in the sitting room. Marchbanks has been reciting poetry, but he fears he’s boring Candida. She urges him to continue but quickly admits there are “limits to [her] appetite for poetry” and says she wants to talk to him. This scares Marchbanks, but he begins to admit that he constantly thinks of Candida when Morell suddenly returns from the lecture.

Candida leaves to excuse the servants, leaving Morell and Marchbanks alone in the sitting room. Morell is suspicious, and Marchbanks reluctantly tells Morell that although he tried very hard not to reveal his affections for Candida, he eventually “approached the gate of Heaven at last” and began to reveal his true feelings.

Marchbanks doesn’t understand how Candida could truly love Morell, causing Morell to become agitated and demand that Marchbanks tell him exactly what occurred while he was away. Marchbanks admits that he couldn’t fully confess his feelings for Candida, as Morell entered right when he was about to. Morell remains unsettled and doubtful when Marchbanks excitedly declares that Candida should be allowed to choose who between the two men she wishes to love.

Candida returns and demands to know what the men have been speaking about. She becomes furious at Marchbanks, telling him he is “like a child” who can’t hold his tongue. Marchbanks accuses Morell of starting the fight, which Morell denies. They are interrupted by the reappearance of Lexy, Burgess, and Proserpine, who have just returned from the lecture and have come to compliment and congratulate Morell.

Proserpine soon decides to leave, and Lexy goes with to walk her home. Burgess offers to walk Marchbanks home, but Candida quickly stops this and tells Marchbanks that he’s “not going yet.” Left alone again, the trio continues their argument. Marchbanks attempts briefly to de-escalate the situation, telling Morell that it will be a “terrible scene” and that the two men should stand together. Morell refuses, saying that Candida “must choose between us now.”

Candida seems to forgive Marchbanks and tries to excuse him, but he refuses. Finally, Morell admits to Candida that the reason behind all their fighting is that Marchbanks believes Candida is in love with him. Marchbanks quickly contradicts this, correcting that it’s he who loves Candida and that all he said was that he loved her and Morell didn’t.

Morell admits that he became insecure and doubtful of Candida’s love for him because of Marchbanks’ proficiency in poetry, calling him a “foolish boy” who can speak with the “inspiration of a child and the cunning of a serpent.” He refuses to live with any doubt that Candida loves him and, therefore, insists that she must choose between the two men.

Candida is quietly enraged. She informs the men that she does not belong to anyone but herself, describing the situation as being put up for auction and asking each man what he would “bid” for her. Morell, overcome with emotion, cannot speak at first. He eventually says that he has nothing to offer but that he will promise to use all his strength, honesty, ability, and authority towards defending and protecting Candida.

Marchbanks answers easily, claiming he will offer Candida his weakness and “heart’s need.” Candida looks between the two men in silence and waits. Morell becomes so anguished and overcome with despair and fear that he cannot stay silent, and he yells out her name. Marchbanks calls him a coward, but Candida ultimately says she will choose the “weaker of the two.” Morell believes this means she has chosen Marchbanks, but Marchbanks knows it means she has chosen Morell.

All three sit by the fire, and Candida explains her decision, saying that although Marchbanks has had a much harder life than Morell, it was ultimately Morell’s dedication, care, and devotion to Candida that led her to choose him. Morell is overjoyed, expressing that Candida is the “sum of all loving care.” Admitting defeat, Marchbanks is moving to leave when Candida stops him and assures him that he will find a love of his own one day. He leaves, and Candida and Morell embrace.

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Act 2