Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Jack Maskwell

Jack Maskwell, the double-dealer, whose villainy can be admired only because of its audacity. A pensioner of Lord Touchwood, he plots to become his benefactor’s heir and marry an heiress. Toward this end, he pretends to be a friend of Mellefont, Lord Touchwood’s nephew and heir. He also becomes Lady Touchwood’s lover, both for his sensual delight and for an opportunity to put her in a position where she will be a willing tool against the innocent Mellefont. All of Maskwell’s evil machinations appear to be so well planned as to bear fruit, but his success causes him to overreach himself, so that he is unmasked as a traitorous friend and as a cuckold-maker. He is motivated only by selfishness and sensuality in his wicked schemes against his friends.


Mellefont, the chief victim of Maskwell’s plots. He is a mannerly, virtuous young man who is his uncle’s heir and about to marry Cynthia, a rich heiress. He trusts Maskwell: His own honesty blinds him to the dishonesty in his enemy, to the point that he makes Maskwell his confidant and tells him all his thoughts and plans.

Lady Touchwood

Lady Touchwood, Mellefont’s aunt by marriage. She is a passionate woman who falls in love with Mellefont, even to offering herself to him in his bedroom. When she is repulsed by the honest young man, her love-turned-hate puts her in league with Maskwell to ruin Mellefont. She then becomes Maskwell’s mistress. Her zeal to enter Mellefont’s bed, even after being repulsed, proves her undoing, and her husband catches her and reveals her as an adulteress. Sensuality, driven by passions, dominates her nature.

Lord Touchwood

Lord Touchwood, an honest man who, like his nephew, is deceived by dishonest people. When he is misled by Lady Touchwood and Maskwell, he casts off his...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Birdsall, Virginia Ogden. Wild Civility: The English Comic Spirit on the Restoration Stage. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970. Good introduction to The Double Dealer in chapter 7, “Congreve’s Apprenticeship.” Interprets the play as an exploration of the fate of the gullible in a treacherous world where appearances conceal realities.

Gosse, Anthony. “Plot and Character in Congreve’s Double Dealer.” Modern Language Quarterly 29 (1968): 274-288. Useful overview of the play’s history, characters, and structure. Claims it was unpopular because it targeted early audiences instead of “some safe outside target, such as the cuckolded cit or booby country squire.”

Hoffman, Arthur W. Congreve’s Comedies. Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria, 1993. Stimulating discussion in chapter 2, “The Pessimism of Comedy: The Double Dealer,” includes the play’s historical background, Dryden’s protection, and verbal and structural connections with Shakespeare’s Othello (1604).

Holland, Norman N. The First Modern Comedies. The Significance of Etherege, Wycherley and Congreve. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959. Chapter 13 discusses the combination in The Double Dealer of a serious plot with comic action. Claims that the play is a failure because the hero (the good but naïve Mellefont) is passive while the villain (the worldly-wise Maskwell) is an active and successful intriguer.

Van Voris, W. H. The Cultivated Stance. The Designs of Congreve’s Plays. Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1965. Chapter 3 provides a good account of Congreve’s imposition of a “mechanically perfect neoclassical order” on the play and a valuable discussion of its characters and political ramifications.