George Etherege

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Sir George Etherege Drama Analysis

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Sir George Etherege developed and refined the comedy of manners with his dramatic works. The developmental process is evident in his first work, The Comical Revenge, and the fruition of his efforts is revealed in his The Man of Mode.

The Comical Revenge

Etherege’s first play, The Comical Revenge, has no discernible main plot. Rather, it has four more or less unconnected subplots. Three of the plots are derivative of earlier drama; the fourth constitutes Etherege’s real contribution to dramatic form. The first of the derivative plots is the “heroic” plot, based no doubt on the romantic plays of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher (still very popular during this period) and of Sir William Davenant. When the characters of this plot, with their characteristically romantic names, come onstage, the play’s usual prose dialogue shifts to rhyming verse. The action in this subplot revolves around highly stylized conflicts between love and honor. Graciana and Lord Beaufort are madly in love. By mischance, however, Graciana’s brother has told his best friend, Colonel Bruce, that Graciana will marry him. Colonel Bruce does not care particularly about Graciana, whom he has not met, but would like to be connected to the family of his best friend. Secretly, Graciana’s sister Aurelia is madly in love with Bruce but out of honor cannot tell him. When Colonel Bruce discovers that Beaufort might be his rival for Graciana, he fights a duel with him, is disarmed but is magnanimously given his life by Beaufort. Not to be outdone in honor, Bruce falls on his sword. As he lies grievously wounded, Graciana feels honor-bound to pretend to Beaufort that she never loved him but only led him on to test Bruce’s love for her. She pledges to Bruce that if he survives she will marry him; if he dies, she will remain forever a virgin. At the last minute, everybody accidentally overhears everybody else confessing his and her true thoughts. All are overcome by how honorable all the rest are, and the right couples get together and live happily ever after.

The second plot is low farcical comedy of a kind to delight those who guffaw at dialect jokes and pratfalls. The humor is meant to come in part from the nearly unintelligible French accent of the servant, Dufoy (“Begar me vil havé de revengé”), and in part from his situation. He looks pale and unhealthy, and when people ask the cause, he claims he is languishing from unrequited love for Betty, a waiting woman. Actually, it soon comes out, he is languishing from a venereal disease. Betty, highly indignant when she discovers that he has been pretending to love her, locks him up in a washtub (the “comical revenge,” or “love in a tub” of the title), providing opportunities for various farcical jokes. In the “happy ending,” it appears that Dufoy and Betty actually are to get married. It is difficult to guess how boisterously audiences may have responded to this kind of comedy.

The third plot seems to derive from the comedy of Ben Jonson, or perhaps of Thomas Middleton. It involves Sir Nicholas Cully, who, as his name suggests, is a gull waiting to be swindled. He falls into the clutches of Wheadle and Palmer, two con artists; thinking all the time that he is the one who is doing the swindling, Cully gets the treatment he deserves. What separates this plot from the first two is its astonishing, almost documentary realism: The language of the street plays against the absurdly elevated “torments” and “despair” of the heroic scenes and the theatrically...

(This entire section contains 5649 words.)

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conventional burlesque French accent of Dufoy. For example, Wheadle and Palmer, having maneuvered Cully into a tavern to play cards, want to shift from the public table where they are seated to a back-room table, where they can cheat their victim in private. Finding a pretext for this move, one of them says, “this table is so wet, there’s no playing upon it.” That may be the first time in the history of the drama that a character mentions something so homely and realistic as the wetness of a table that has had several glasses and bottles sitting on it.

The fourth plot, which in the play gets no more emphasis than the other three, constitutes Etherege’s major contribution to Restoration drama and was to become the central plot of his two comedies to follow. It involves Sir Frederick Frollick, a young rake and gallant and wit about town. Audiences were no doubt accustomed to the nonspecific, timeless settings of William Shakespeare and to the remote and imaginary settings of the romantic plays of Beaumont and Fletcher. Suddenly, Sir Frederick walks in off the very London streets the playgoers themselves have just quitted to see this play. The language he speaks is their language, and the class to which he belongs is theirs. His conversation is topical. He is indeed a sad young rake, keeping his wench, intriguing with dozens of women, drinking, carousing, fighting, breaking windows, and otherwise tearing about. He is also, at least to a degree, witty, fashionable, and genteel. As the wealthy widow he is chasing throughout the play admits, he is “the prettiest, wittiest, wildest gentleman about the town.” Having gone through his fortune, he must court and wed the widow to mend his estate, as Etherege himself was to do a few years later.

The play as a whole is not memorable. Except for the moments of fine realism in the swindling scenes, the motivation for actions and the conflicts to be overcome are all weakly contrived. The four plots are but faintly connected. At the end, all the players—servants, whores, swindlers, rakes, and romantic lovers—are improbably brought onstage together in a mass marriage ceremony. With the exception of this unlikely event, they could as easily have been in separate plays.

Still, the play contained important innovations, and Etherege, shrewdly observing his audience, must have seen their delight and response to his contemporary rake speaking their language and frequenting the same places of pleasure as they did. He must also have recognized his facility in rendering such a character (so like himself) and his witty language. He made such characters the center of his subsequent plays, wisely phasing out the other subplots or rather disguising, shifting, and transforming them until they were no longer recognizable, serving instead as underpinnings to his main plot.

She Would if She Could

Etherege’s second play, She Would if She Could, is a considerable refinement on The Comical Revenge. The structure is clearer, simpler, and the actions more logically motivated. Three plot lines are discernible, but one of these is clearly the major plot, and the two minor plots are closely integrated with it, supporting its actions and commenting on it thematically. Most important, in the play as a whole, the contrast between the Truewit and the Witwoud, or would-be wit, has become central, setting the pattern for the great comedies of manners of the period.

The Witwouds are at the center of the two minor plots. In one subplot, Sir Oliver Cockwood is a “country knight.” In the social geography of the Restoration stage, the courtiers, rakes, and the stylish and witty women all live in the “town,” the fashionable West End of London. The “city” is the commercial part of London, where the “cits,” the much despised middle class, live. Worst of all, however, is the country. For the wits, the chief pleasures in life were found in association with town and court: the coffee-houses, the playhouses, the pleasure resorts, the fashionable clothing. The severest penance, therefore, would be to live in the country, where everything is several years out of date, where the only diversion is going for long walks. Witty young people forced to live in the country by cruel parents who do not trust them among the seductions of London are justified in using any means to escape to the town. Older people from the country are automatically assumed to be foolish and out of fashion.

Sir Oliver Cockwood is typical of the country knights. His name, to begin with, is appropriate (the “wood” having the sense of “would-be”), since his annoyed wife charges that he is impotent. If he stayed in the country, got drunk every night, and hunted foxes during the day, no one would object to him. His fault is that he has come to town to act like a young rake and to boast of all of his amorous adventures. He spends most of his time running away from his wife to make ineffectual dates with prostitutes. He becomes a comic butt because of his pretensions to being a man of honor (that is, a duelist and a lover) when he is actually timid and impotent.

In the other subplot, his wife, Lady Cockwood, is equally well named, though with an opposite signification. She tries to make assignations with any young man who will look at her. The problem is that she also wants to maintain her reputation for honor and virtue. She becomes a comic butt because of her pretensions to being modest and chaste, when it is obvious to everyone that she would readily be unchaste if she could. Interestingly, Lady Cockwood’s language is a burlesqued echo of the heroic or romantic scenes of The Comical Revenge. Her dialogue is filled with such words as “honor,” “ruined,” “undone,” “betrayed,” and “false,” but with the meanings comically reversed. If a young rake fails to keep his assignation with her, he is “wicked.” If he finally does show up to commit adultery with her, “truly he is a person of much worth and honor.”

The subplots in which these foolish persons partake, by giving examples of Witwouds—failed Truewits—provide a backdrop against which the Truewits of the main plot can be measured. These Truewits are the young men Courtall and Freeman and the young women Gatty and Ariana. The young men are considerable refinements on Sir Frederick Frollick of The Comical Revenge. For example, Frollick’s idea of courtship is to get drunk and go to his lady’s window in the wee hours of the morning to shout out ribald suggestions to her. He marries at the end a wealthy widow, behavior that Etherege himself was not above. Courtall is above it. He is much more self-assured than Frollick and has his drives, emotions, and true feelings absolutely under control—an important sign of the Truewit. Losing control, however, and thus putting himself at the mercy of others, is the unmistakable sign of the Witwoud. Courtall needs to marry a rich heiress but will not consider a widow. His wife, in addition to being rich, must also be young, beautiful, as witty as he, and untouched by other men.

Of particular interest in this play are the roles of the female characters. Lady Cockwood is an archetypal character—the lustful woman—who has appeared in both comedy and tragedy from the classical drama onward. Etherege, however, makes specific Restoration uses of her. She is made comic by her pretension to heroic virtue and by the fact that she has so little control of her emotions that she gives herself away at every word. By the lights of the Restoration society, she is not wrong in wishing to have a reputation for chastity, for without such a reputation a woman was lost (with the exception of mistresses of high royalty). At the same time, she was not wrong to possess sexual desire, for women, in this realistic society, were allowed to have at least moderate appetites. She was wrong, and therefore comic, in her extreme pretension of virtue, in her extreme libidinousness, and in her consequent inability to control herself. Control of self was highly valued in Restoration theater because only through self-control, so it was believed, could one’s external world be controlled. The world of Restoration theater is one in which a person must control himself or be controlled. Courtall, for example, by pretending to be interested in her, used Lady Cockwood in order to gain access to Gatty and Ariana, who are staying in her house, and then uses her desire to save her reputation to fend her off. He fends her off, interestingly, because her overeagerness has rendered her undesirable.

Gatty and Ariana represent the feminine witty ideal. Envious of the men for their freedom (which the women cannot have, for reputation is important), they decide, while resolving “to be mighty honest” to have as much fun as circumstances will allow. They put on masks (very popular at the time) to disguise their identities and go strolling in the fashionable Mulberry Garden in hopes of flirting innocently with some handsome and witty men. Though the men whom they encounter (Courtall and Freeman) are tremendously attractive to them, the women easily fend them off with witty conversation and a dissembling of their emotions. This response does not mean that they lack emotions, for in private they admit to each other how much the men tempt them. As Gatty says to Ariana: “I hate to dissemble when I need not. ’Twould look as affected in us to be reserved now we’re alone as for a player to maintain the character she acts in the tiring [dressing] room.” The scene is in direct contrast with the scene in which Lady Cockwood sends out her maid to pimp for her and then scolds her (even though they are in private) for doing so.

She Would if She Could, in short, is a didactic play, suggesting which emotions, which pretenses, which modes of behavior are proper—that is, witty—and which are not. The modern theatergoer, losing sight of this and responding to the play as simply a realistic social document, can misinterpret it in certain ways, seeing cruelty, for example, where a Restoration theatergoer would see a didactic point being made.

The finest thing of all in She Would if She Could is the witty love dialogue between Courtall and Freeman and the two women. Their first encounter is quite delightful. The girls, in their masks, are strolling through the Mulberry Garden. When Courtall and Freeman see them, they immediately set out after them, planning to engage them in witty repartee, but the women, who have been brought up in the country, are such swift walkers that the men are soon panting and puffing, quite unable to overtake them. Freeman says, “Whatever faults they have, they cannot be broken-winded.”

When the men finally do catch up, the women are equally nimble verbally. When the men insist on kissing their hands, Ariana says, “Well, I am not the first unfortunate woman that has been forced to give her hand where she never intends to bestow her heart.” They part, agreeing to meet again the next day, each side immensely pleased with the other (though of course the women have not admitted their feelings). The jealous Lady Cockwood, hoping to win the two men for herself, starts a rumor that the men have spoken slightingly of Gatty’s and Ariana’s honor. The next time Gatty and Ariana meet with the innocent and unsuspecting men, their witty banter suddenly has real bite and sting to it. The men, puzzled by the shift in tone, scarcely know how to reply. The dialogue is wonderfully witty; at the same time, it is subtly and dramatically revelatory of the inner states of the characters.

The Man of Mode

Etherege’s last play, The Man of Mode, is in every respect a major work and remains the central document of Restoration comedy. The brilliant opening act is so relaxed and casual as to seem like a slice of life rather than the first act of a tightly constructed play. A minor poet of the time even alluded to Etherege as “one that does presume to say,/ A plot’s too gross for any play.” Such an impression is deceptive, however, for every word in the first act carefully defines characters and sets up the complex chain of events to follow. On the surface, the first act is a very naturalistic presentation of Dorimant (whose name suggests “the gift of love”) in the morning. He is composing a letter to his current mistress, whose suggestive name is Loveit. When his friend Medley drops in on him, it emerges in conversation between them that he is tired of Loveit and wants to break off with her so he can begin with a new girl, Bellinda. He plans to use Bellinda in his plot to break with Loveit, who is passionately jealous; Bellinda will call on her just before Dorimant is expected to arrive, and she will insinuate that Dorimant has been seeing someone else. Dorimant will walk in, and Loveit, who has no control of her emotions, will fall on him in a passion; he will then instantly break with her and stalk out. While Dorimant is recounting his plot to Medley, an old woman selling fruit arrives at his door. She is, in addition, a bawd who keeps a watchful eye out for young women in whom young men might be interested. She brings information to Dorimant that an extremely beautiful and wealthy heiress has come to town and has seen Dorimant and is attracted to him. The woman’s name is Harriet, and she has been brought to town from the country by her mother, Lady Woodvill. Dorimant immediately begins plotting to get to know her. Young Bellair, another friend, drops in, and Medley and Dorimant begin teasing him about his coming marriage to Emilia. Marriage, to the young rakes, is nearly equivalent to suicide, as it means the end of their bachelor freedom and a limitation on their openly chasing after new mistresses. Young Bellair is in love and takes their teasing lightly. Then they discuss Sir Fopling Flutter, newly arrived in town from a long stay in Paris. Fopling wants desperately to be a true-wit, but he is in every way the opposite of Dorimant. Where Dorimant dresses well, Fopling dresses extravagantly. Where Dorimant has several affairs, Fopling strives only for the reputation of having several affairs. Where Dorimant is casually witty and literate, Fopling works hard to achieve these graces, even affecting a French accent (the last lingering echo of Dufoy in The Comical Revenge) to let everyone know he has been abroad. Dorimant decides to use him in his plot to break with Loveit: He will pretend to be jealous himself and charge her with chasing after Fopling.

At this point, a messenger calls Young Bellair outside the room, and while he is out, Dorimant confesses to Medley that he has encouraged Young Bellair to marry Emilia. Dorimant has tried in the past to seduce her, with no luck. He thinks that once she is married and no longer needs to worry about her maidenhood, she will be more accessible to him. Young Bellair comes back in with the news that his father, Old Bellair, is in town. The father, not knowing anything about Emilia, has conspired with Lady Woodvill to arrange a marriage between Young Bellair and Harriet. If Young Bellair does not agree to the marriage, he will lose his inheritance. Young Bellair leaves in distress. As a last bit of business in the act, before Dorimant and Medley go off to dine, Dorimant receives a note from a former girlfriend fallen on hard times and sends her some money.

No brief summary can hope to render the quality of this act, one of the finest things in Restoration drama. The witty repartee, the different levels of language, the naturalness, all make it a virtuoso performance, but one should not lose sight of the function of the act in terms of the unfolding action of the play. First, it has introduced Dorimant, the main character. He is witty, relaxed, capable of dealing with all social classes on their own terms, shamefully indulgent of his servants, most of whom have not yet got out of bed by the end of the act. At the same time, he is the supreme gallant, with, as Medley says of him, “more mistresses now depending” than the most eminent lawyer in England has cases. The audience sees abundant proof of this. In the course of one morning, he is forming plans to cast off one mistress, Loveit, as he begins to close with a new one, Bellinda, and tries to get Emilia married off in hopes that matrimony will make her more vulnerable to him. At the same time, he is already beginning to think ahead to Harriet, whom he has not even met and, at last, sends money to a girlfriend from sometime in the past. The audience also gets an insight into Dorimant’s modus operandi. He thinks in terms of power plays and manipulation. People, to him, are to be used: He employs the fruiterer to bring him information on new beauties come to town. He uses his mistress-to-be to help him break off with Loveit, and Young Bellair to make Emilia more accessible. He also plans to use Fopling in his plot to rid himself of Loveit. He states his attitude more baldly in a later scene: “You mistake the use of fools, they are designed for properties and not for friends.” In this respect, almost all are fools to Dorimant.

In addition to Dorimant, the first act introduces the audience to two other major characters, Medley and Young Bellair, and gives capsule profiles to prepare the audience in advance for seeing the other important characters: Loveit, Fopling, Old Bellair, Lady Woodvill, and Harriet. Finally, the groundwork is laid for the main action of the play, Dorimant’s pursuit of Harriet, and for the four subplots: Dorimant’s breaking off with Loveit; his coming to terms with his new mistress, Bellinda; Young Bellair’s attempt to marry the woman he loves without being disinherited; and the fun they will all have with the foolish Sir Fopling Flutter, especially when Dorimant tries to foist him off on Loveit.

The play now unrolls quickly. Old Bellair meets Emilia and, not knowing she is his son’s fiancée, begins chasing her himself. She humors him in his infatuation, hoping it will help later when she confesses her love for his son. In the meantime, Young Bellair has met Harriet. Harriet has no intention of marrying him but has only pretended to go along with the match as an excuse to get out of the country and come to London. She and Young Bellair act out a courtship for the sake of their parents, in order to buy time. At the proper moment, Young Bellair and Emilia sneak off and get married. They fall on their knees before Old Bellair, and he is prevailed on to give them his blessing. He cannot say his son has made a bad choice, as it was the choice he was thinking of making himself.

In the meantime, Dorimant’s plans go off almost but not quite perfectly. Loveit rages at him jealously, and he storms off, charging her with chasing after Fopling. Bellinda is timid but at last submits to a meeting with him in his room, but Loveit is suspicious and almost catches Bellinda in the act, so that Bellinda would have lost her reputation on her very first fall from grace. She cleverly talks her way out of being discovered but vows never to take such a chance again. Dorimant, though charging Loveit with receiving Fopling’s advances (as an excuse for dropping her), still wants her to spurn Fopling publicly, thus showing that he holds complete power even over a cast-off mistress. He even brings Medley along to be a witness to Fopling’s discomfiture. Loveit, however, realizing that Dorimant is using her, greets Fopling with open arms and walks off with him. Medley jibes: “Would you had brought some more of your friends, Dorimant, to have been witnesses of Sir Fopling’s disgrace and your triumph.” Dorimant begs Medley not to tell everyone for a few days, to give him a chance to make amends. He wants his reputation as a perfect manipulator of women to remain intact. In the meantime, Dorimant has met Harriet, and they have a duel of brilliant repartee, almost like the love song of two wary but amorous birds of prey.

The final scene shows Dorimant in high gear, running from woman to woman, keeping all bridges unburned. First, he convinces Loveit that he is courting Harriet only for her fortune, as he has gone through his own inheritance, and that he will come back to her as soon as he can. She is sufficiently satisfied to snub Fopling publicly the next time he enters—and Medley declares Dorimant’s reputation clear. Dorimant convinces Bellinda that she should take another chance with him, keeps his lines of communication open with Emilia, and gains permission from Lady Woodvill to pay his court to Harriet. A marriage seems in the offing, but it has not happened by the end of the play, and Dorimant is still free to go in any direction he chooses.

It is a play, then, in which a vain, arrogant man, renowned for his deceptions, seductions, cruel manipulations, and constant infidelities, has by the end achieved the admiration of all the men, has all the women at his beck, and has the prospect of a rich, witty, beautiful young girl’s hand in marriage. It may seem a considerable leap to maintain that The Man of Mode is a didactic play (even liberated modern audiences have difficulty with the morality of the play), but such it is. Although courtship is at the center of Restoration drama, The Man of Mode and similar masterpieces of the period are not romantic works; on the contrary, they are cynically realistic. The plays abound with cautionary examples of bad marriages—marriages inappropriately arranged by parents, resulting in spouses who detest each other, are rude to each other in public, and betray each other at every chance—or, at the other extreme, “love” matches in which neither partner has any money, condemned to sink into sordidness. The appropriate marriage is one in which at least one of the partners has enough money to make them both comfortable for life (because a gentleman, by definition, does not work for a living) and the partners are so perfectly matched in wit and attractiveness that they can continue to be interesting and exciting to each other even after the novelty of the chase is over. It is a serious and realistic business, and a misstep has the lifetime repercussion of an unhappy marriage. That is why this drama can be so ruthless and competitive. The stakes are high. The good-natured, trusting person is the one who will be exploited; the shrewd, perceptive person has the best chance of winning.

Because accurate judgment of one’s partner is of the utmost importance in this dangerous game, part of the didactic purpose of the play is to serve as a sort of field guide to help the audience tell true wit from would-be wit—and, of course, through poking fun at the fools and fops, to laugh members of the audience out of any foolishness or foppery they may have acquired. With these practical purposes in mind, the Restoration comedy of manners, by its end, will have arranged the characters into a hierarchy from the most witty—in other words, most desirable (if most dangerous)—down to the least witty (or most to be reviled and mocked).

An examination of the hierarchy of wit in The Man of Mode will demonstrate how complex and subtle this ranking can be. The characters are divided, first, into young characters and old characters, and the audience is asked to judge each character according to the behavior appropriate to his or her station in life. Dorimant is obviously at the top of the pecking order among the young men. He is the cleverest and wittiest in speech, he dresses in perfect taste, he is the most perceptive in judging the motives and the weaknesses of others yet the most astute in concealing his own. Another essential quality is his “malice.” His pleasure in manipulating others and triumphing over them—which can seem so ugly to modern audiences—is the very quality that gives him the competitive edge over others.

Young Bellair is next in the pecking order. He is attractive and clever, and some modern audiences prefer him to Dorimant. That is to miss the point. In Dorimant’s accurate summation: “He’s handsome, well-bred, and by much the most tolerable of all the young men that do not abound in wit.” Young Bellair’s crippling defect is that he has not as much malice as Dorimant, so he does not disguise his emotions, being genuinely in love with Emilia. Because of his lack of malice, he is unsuspicious of malice in others, and Dorimant, pretending friendship, is using him. In the play’s most cruel—if most realistic and psychologically astute—line, Dorimant says that, because he has been unable to seduce Emilia, he is encouraging the marriage between her and Young Bellair because “I have known many women make a difficulty of losing a maidenhead, who have afterwards made none of making a cuckold.”

Sir Fopling Flutter obviously finishes last. With his Frenchified language and excessively fashionable clothing, he is the laughingstock of the town. He attempts to maintain a reputation as a lover, but all the characters easily see through him, and correctly so, for underneath, he appears to be all but sexless. Dorimant has an easy time making Fopling a tool in his plot to cast off Loveit.

Harriet is at the top of the pecking order of the young women. She is the wittiest in dialogue, the most handsomely yet naturally dressed, and as the characters admiringly point out, she is as full of malice—of pleasure in using and abusing others—as Dorimant. Although she has been described and discussed throughout the play, Etherege, for dramatic effect, does not allow her to appear onstage until the third act. That act is a replay of the first act, as Harriet rises in the morning, the scene almost point for point paralleling the first, to underline what an even and perfect match Dorimant and Harriet are. She is constantly on guard against him, and so she is the only female who can resist him, meaning, at the end, the only one who might possibly get him in marriage.

Emilia, Young Bellair’s fiancée, is next in line. Like Young Bellair, her single failing is that she has not enough malice, and for that reason, she is not suspicious enough of it in others. Like Young Bellair, she is sufficiently clever to make use of Old Bellair and Lady Woodvill to get them into a position to agree to the marriage between her and Young Bellair, but again like Young Bellair, she is no match for Dorimant. She is second in the pecking order because, by play’s end, she still has not been seduced by Dorimant, but she is clearly in danger. When Bellinda tries to warn her that Dorimant is not to be trusted, she innocently disputes this, saying he is a completely good, trustworthy man—thus indicating that she has her guard down.

Bellinda is third, because she has let Dorimant seduce her. Still, she is shrewd, clever, and witty enough to keep herself from being found out by the others, so she has, for the time being, preserved her reputation. Loveit is last because, unable to control her jealous passions, she has let everyone in town know that she is having an affair with Dorimant. It is her lack of self-control that has allowed Dorimant to work his will on her to begin with, and to continue triumphing over her even after he has cast her off. An outward sign of her lack of wit is in her language. Instead of the repartee of the others, she speaks in the exaggerated tones of the heroic lovers of The Comical Revenge: “Traitor! . . . Ingrateful perjured man!”

What is the proper role for the older characters, who are beyond the courtship stage of their lives? Medley and Lady Townley are good examples. They do not come forward and obtrude their advice where it is not wanted but help out the young lovers when they are asked and generally provide the gracious and civilized background against which the young people play out their courtship. They also—somewhat like a Greek chorus—keep track of the young people’s reputations and make judgments (which young ladies’ reputations are unblemished, which are in danger, which young men are the most perfect gallants with women). The negative examples of the older characters are Old Bellair and Lady Woodvill, who both feel that they can choose marriage partners for their children and yet whose language immediately marks them as so far behind the times, so out of touch socially, that they would make disastrous choices. Luckily, however, they are also so socially inept that the young people manipulate them easily.

The Man of Mode suggests that self-interest—Dorimant’s “malice”—is necessary to the successful functioning of society. In a reaction against this Restoration worldview in the eighteenth century, later playwrights left out the cruelty and malice in their dramas of courtship. The result was sentimental theater, frankly unrealistic. If Dorimant and Harriet are removed from the play, Young Bellair and Emilia will come to the top of the pecking order. Like them, the sentimental dramas of the eighteenth century are “tolerable” but do not “abound with wit.”


Etherege, George (Drama Criticism)