Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The Conscious Lovers is a play by Irish playwright and author Richard Steele. The play is written in the style of a sentimental comedy, which was a genre that became popular during the 18th century. The sentimental comedy usually features middle-class or upper-class people overcoming temptations that are deemed immoral. Steele's play examines the dynamics of marriage, specifically in terms of the causes of marriage. In earlier times, marriage among the elite middle-class and upper-class in the United Kingdom were done out of political, social and economic reasons. The marriage was perceived as a type of contract between families.
This is why arranged marriage was a common practice pre-18th century among wealthy families. In the play, Steele examines marriage for the sake of love and deep personal connection between the two partners. The play therefore examines the tensions between the social classes, where two young lovers from different social classes are challenged by societal norms. The play also explores the validity of a marriage that does not contain emotions or warmth. Many arrange marriages before the 18th century were statistically more likely to disintegrate because the two partners do not have an emotional bond. Young husbands and wives were essentially used as pawns by their parents in order for their family to climb the social and/or economic ranks.
The play's protagonists illustrate the the importance of honesty and genuine affection in a stable relationship. In the last scene of the play, Myrtle, the man who truly loves Lucinda, is permitted to marry her by Lucinda's father. This showed that the person who has good and honest intentions is better than the person with the most money or power. In essence, the play is a social commentary and direct criticism on the increasingly-anachronistic practice of arrange marriages for the sake of gaining wealth and social power.