How Love Transforms

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1357

In January of 1691, London saw the premiere of a new play by the popular playwright Thomas Durfey. Love for Money, in the words of theatre historian Derek Hughes, ‘‘uses the sexual and monetary intrigues of comedy as a way of praising the new political order . . . [it] affirms the power of law and the triumph of justice, with explicit reference to the struggle against James II and Louis XIV.’’ By the ‘‘new political order,’’ Hughes refers to the Glorious Revolution and overthrow of James II (who was allied, in his drive for absolute monarchical power, with France’s Louis XIV) and his replacement by William of Orange and a constitutional monarchy. Love for Money also depicts ‘‘mercenary relationships’’ vying for supremacy with relationships based on real love and loyalty. In Durfey’s play, mercenary relationships—love for money, in other words— are condemned and the libertine character (who embodies these relationships) is condemned to be hanged.

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In many ways, Love for Love (1695) is a response to Durfey’s play. Whereas in Durfey’s play the libertine must pay the ultimate price, in Congreve’s play the libertine willingly reforms himself, not by judicial order but by the power of love. Congreve, by answering Durfey’s play in such a public fashion (theatregoers would have recognized the similarity in the plays’ titles), enters into a conversation with his fellow playwrights and with the public about the meaning and importance of love in a society increasingly based on the exchange of money.

Love for Love gives us many sorts of love. There is love between a husband and a wife (the Foresights); love between a father and his sons (Sir Sampson, Ben, and Valentine); love between a father and daughter (Foresight and Miss Prue); love between sisters (Mrs. Frail and Mrs. Foresight); love between friends (Scandal and Valentine); even love between a servant and his master (Jeremy and Valentine). But the primary form of love examined in this play is romantic love, and this is exemplified in numerous false incarnations and in one valid instance. Valentine and Angelica represent in many ways the one true example of love—any kind of love—for all of the other relationships are, at their core, based on self-interest.

When we first see Valentine, he is plotting stratagems. Realizing that his financial situation has made him unable to continue his life as a rake and libertine, he resolves to give up the materialistic life and devote himself to study, writing, and the pursuit of his beloved, Angelica. ‘‘So shall my Poverty be a Mortification to her Pride,’’ he says in act 1. He will, he feels, be more appealing to her as a poor suitor than as a wealthy one; he will stand out, if nothing else. But his pretensions to morality and a rejection of his earlier behavior are immediately undercut by his callous response to the pleas of his illegitimate child’s nurse. For a rake, love and lust are essentially synonymous, and Valentine is still an adherent of the rake’s philosophy, for he aims at nothing more than ‘‘getting’’ Angelica. Harold Love argues that ‘‘Valentine is still in this speech picturing Angelica as a quarry to be hunted, not as a human equal to be loved.’’

In much of the rest of the play, the intrigues between Valentine and Angelica occur in the background. Rather than following their story in a detailed anatomy of one rake’s progress toward true love, we watch any number of examples of untrue love. Congreve first examines lust-as-love through rakes like Scandal and Tattle. Tattle, we learn, is a successful seducer and has many notches on his bedpost. However, lacking wit, Tattle is tricked by Scandal into revealing the names of one of his lovers, Mrs. Frail. In order to prevent Scandal from revealing his...

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Critical Overview