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 . . ....
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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.
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 knowledge to Mrs. Frail, Tattle must give Scandal the names of six additional conquests. Love, for these men, is simply a game, a way to gain prestige. No real affection whatsoever is expressed (except, ironically, by Scandal toward Valentine’s rejected child).
The remainder of the cast that parades before the audience in the first two acts all add to the overwhelming portrayal of love as a sham and a joke. Mrs. Frail, who arrives in Valentine’s chamber just as Tattle is attempting to avoid her, provides a disquisition on how a husband is the most pleasant person in the world because he saves all of his hostility for his wife. As act 2 opens, Angelica treats her uncle rudely and mercenarily, and he grouses about how he has been made a cuckold just before he vows to ruin her lover, Valentine. Sir Sampson enters and boasts vengefully,‘‘I warrant my son thought nothing belonged to a father but forgiveness and affection.’’ He will change his son’s tune, he blusters. When Mrs. Foresight and Mrs. Frail appear, they banter coquettishly and plan to break up an arranged marriage by introducing the prospective bride to Tattle (who, as we have learned, has already bedded Mrs. Frail).
Where the first two acts present the characters and allow them to each put forth their cynical attitudes about love, the third and fourth acts allow time for the various games and schemes that form the play’s main plot to materialize and develop. After the nurse prevents Tattle from actually seducing Miss Prue, Angelica enters on the stage, and we finally see her with Valentine. But instead of a tearful reunion of lovers, Congreve gives us a deferral of love. ‘‘You can’t accuse me of inconstancy,’’ Angelica says as she walks in. ‘‘I never told you that I loved you.’’ Angelica’s defense against Valentine’s rakish nature is typical of the society woman—hiding, not committing, playing games. Valentine, of course, is just as guilty of dishonesty and game playing, for he, with Scandal’s help, is about to feign insanity.
After Angelica’s appearance, the love between Valentine and Angelica fades into the background while further examples of false love occupy the stage. Sir Sampson appears genuinely happy to see Ben, but when he proposes a marriage Ben shows that his affections are not for women but for sea life (a suggestion of homosexuality, emphasized by Ben’s lack of interest in marriage, would have been quite apparent to contemporary audiences). Additional examples of false love follow: Sir Sampson shows no concern when Scandal tells him about Valentine’s insanity; Scandal and Mrs. Foresight scheme to get in bed together; Jeremy schemes to marry people without their knowledge or consent. Although Angelica and Valentine’s relationship is not depicted among them, these scenes provide examples of what the couple does not want. Scandal and Tattle show themselves to be the kind of dishonest, narcissistic, game playing men that Angelica does not want to be with, while Valentine discovers from his father’s lack of concern that he needs someone willing to make sacrifices for him.
At the end of the play, then, both Angelica and Valentine give something up, accept a degree of vulnerability that is dangerous for inhabitants of such a complex and subtle society, to obtain love. As the play starts, both Angelica and Valentine view love as something with a quantifiable value. It is exchangeable; it is something with which they can barter; it is something that can be measured in terms of its worth. But Valentine is forced, because of the genuine feelings that he discovers he has for Angelica, to agree to give up everything in his life that has value (his inheritance and her) so that she can be happy. And although Angelica ‘‘wins’’ this encounter, in that her wit and her superior strategy get her what she wanted (a loving husband), she also has to give something up: her independence, her mistrust, her cynicism about the world of love and lovers. By showing that he is willing to give up his inheritance, Valentine not only wins Angelica’s love but gets to keep the money as well.
Source: Greg Barnhisel, Critical Essay on Love for Love, in Drama for Students, The Gale Group, 2002.
Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4264
In Love for Love Congreve turned to Jonsonian humors characters and a romance plot that is quintessential New Comedy. This conservatism appears to be quite deliberate, as the playwright displays his mastery of the history and techniques of the stage in this particularly literary play. The characters and action come not so much from life as from literature, which makes Love for Love, as Arthur Hoffman notes, highly allusive; Valentine’s madness, for example, recalls Achilles, Ajax, Hercules, Amadis, Orlando, Quixote, Hamlet and Lear. Congreve also invests his characters with selfconscious theatricality, for they talk about acting, while they adopt and abandon various roles, patterning their behavior on models that are often explicitly literary.
Literary models appear in the opening scene of the play, where Valentine is discovered ‘‘in his Chamber Reading’’ Epictetus, whose work eventually provides him with a moral ideal. The initial act of reading is doubly significant because the scene is patterned on Don Quixote, a fiction about reading. Like Quixote, Valentine misinterprets what he reads: Epictetus is to Valentine what the chivalric hero Amadis is to Quixote, an ideal or model which is initially misunderstood and improperly imitated, but eventually understood and validated. Reading leads to acting, and thus Epictetus and Don Quixote initiate two major occupations of Love for Love.
Few of Congreve’s readers have been interested in his use of Epictetus in this play. Charles Lyons writes that Valentine is attracted to the Stoic’s asceticism and ‘‘indifference to physical pleasure and pain.’’ Aubrey Williams goes further, connecting the opening Epictetan contempt for riches with the whole strain of paradox in the play, paradoxes which prefigure Valentine’s climactic renunciation. The Enchiridion serves as a manual or index to proper values in this play. Some of these values are explicitly Stoical, but the three Restoration translators of Epictetus praise him as a moralist who anticipates the Christian emphasis on humility, patience, resignation and renunciation, the virtues which become centrally important to Valentine. Valentine’s progress may be seen in his gradual understanding and acceptance of Epictetus’s message, for he initially misunderstands the Stoic, who sets forth at the beginning of the Enchiridion the difficulty that Valentine must face:
Respecting Man, things are divided thus:
Some do not, and some do belong to us.
Should you suppose what is not yours, your own,
Twill cost you many a sigh, and many a groan;
Many a dissapointment you will find,
Abortive hope, and distracted mind.
Love for Love dramatizes many such disappointments, particularly Valentine’s vain attempts to control or manipulate people and objects not within his power; but when he humbly resigns his pretentions to an estate which is not his own, and when he allows Angelica the independence to choose for herself, he finally demonstrates his assimilation of Epictetus’s moral lesson.
Valentine, however, is far from humble at the start of the play, when, setting down his book, he proposes to ‘‘follow the Examples of the wisest and wittiest of Men of all Ages; these Poets and Philosophers.’’ According to Epictetus, this course of action can be more foolish than wise:
Wisedom, you say, is what you most desire,
The only charming Blessing you admire;
Therefore be bold, and fit yourself to bear
Many a taunt, and patiently to hear
The grinning foolish Rabble laugh aloud,
At you the sport and pastime of the Crowd,
While in like jeers they vent their filthy spleen,
Whence all this gravity, this careless mien?
And whence, of late, is this Pretender come,
This new Proficient, this Musheroom,
This young Philosopher with half a Beard:
Of him, till now, we have no mention heard.
Whence all this supercilious pride of late?
This stiff behavior, this affected gate?
This will perhaps be said; but be not you
Sullen, nor bend a Supercilious brow,
Lest you prove their vile reproaches true.
Both Jeremy and Scandal try to dissuade Valentine from turning railing poet, an occupation symptomatic not of the philosopher but the ‘‘Musheroom’’; and Scandal’s words, ‘‘impotent and vain,’’ suggest the countless broken-fortuned libertines of Restoration comedy who resort to poetry and the stage for revenge. Above all, the ‘‘supercilious pride’’ of Valentine’s proposals indicates how imperfectly he understands the philosopher; he would preach a lean diet of books, but Epictetus advises against this, too:
If you have learn’t to live on homely Food,
To feed on Roots, and Lupine, be not proud.
Since every beggar may be prais’d for that,
He eats as little, is as temperate.
Epictetus provides, moreover, an even more explicit condemnation of Valentine’s proud new role:
When you in ev’ry place your self profess
A deep Philosopher, you but express
Much Vanity, much self-conceit betray,
And shew you are not truly what you say.
Your knowledge by your way of living shew,
What is’t, alas, to them, how much you know?
Act as your Precepts teach, as at a Feast,
Eat as ’tis fit, ’tis vain to teach the rest.
Valentine’s finding Epictetus a source of pride rather than humility, in short, his misreading, may have its analogue in Don Quixote, because this first scene appears to be a conscious imitation of Thomas D’Urfey’s play, The Comical History of Don Quixote. According to Colley Cibber, Congreve’s play was ready before the dissolution of the United Company, that is, in early December, 1694. Parts I and II of D’Urfey’s play were produced in mid and late May, and were published July 5 and July 23, 1694. D’Urfey’s play was consequently on stage and in print when we may presume that Congreve was writing Love for Love.
Congreve certainly had an interest in Cervantes, for his library contained two editions of Exemplary Novels and five editions of Don Quixote; and he had alluded to ‘‘the Knight of the Sorrowful Face’’ in his first play, The Old Batchelour. He probably took particular notice of D’Urfey’s Don Quixote because the female lead, Marcela, was the last role Anne Bracegirdle performed prior to playing Angelica, and Congreve is said to have been devoted to this actress and to have written parts specifically for her. Marcela was the occasion of notable success for Bracegirdle. It has been suggested that the success of D’Urfey’s play is due to the music of Eccles and Purcell, and D’Urfey himself supports this view in his preface where he writes of ‘‘a Song so Incomparably well sung and acted by Mrs. Bracegirdle.’’ She performed so well as to have a print engraved of her as Marcela; and in his review of a revival of the play in 1700, the only player whom John Downes mentions is Bracegirdle, indicating that Marcela and Bracegirdle had become identified in the way that Thomas Dogget became known for his portrayal of Ben. It thus may well be that D’Urfey’s play was not far from Congreve’s mind as he was writing Love for Love.
As we might expect, Bracegirdle’s two roles, Marcela and Angelica, are quite similar. Marcela is described in the dramatis personae as ‘‘a young Shepherdess who hates Mankind, and by her Scorn occasions the Death of Chrysostem.’’ When she is introduced at Chrysostem’s funeral, Marcela is brazenly unrepentant for having caused his lovesickness:
Marcela . . . and could he die for love? Fie! ’tis impossible!
Who ever Knew a Wit do such a thing?
Ambrosio. Triumphant Mischief: have you no Remorse?
Marcela. I rather look on him as a good Actor;
That practising the Art of deep deceit,
As Whining, Swearing, Dying at your Feet,
Crack’d some Life Artery with an Overstrain
And dy’d of some Male Mischief in the Brain.
Angelica is similarly undaunted at having sent Valentine mad for love, for she ‘‘comes Tyrannically to insult a ruin’d Lover, and make Manifest the cruel Triumphs of her Beauty.’’ In the end, both heroines are won by generosity, not wealth or empty protestations; in Part II, when Ambrosio saves her from rape, Marcela falls madly in love with him. She exclaims, ‘‘What Beauty, Riches, or Gloss of Honour, with all th’Allurements never could subdue, is conquer’d by this great, this generous action,’’ just as Angelica yields to a ‘‘Generous Valentine.’’
It is, however, in the beginnings rather than the endings of the two plays, where the parallel is most suggestive. D’Urfey’s Part I opens with a hungry Sancho Panza and a learned Don Quixote, and Sancho responds to his master’s caution against unchivalric gluttony with the following aside: ‘‘Now I am to be fed with a tedious Tale of Knight-Errantry, when my guts are all in an uproar within me for want of better provision.’’ The literally hungry servant in both plays is metaphorically fed learning by the master, and neither servant is satisfied with his intellectual feast. Compare Sancho’s ‘‘Oons, this is a choice Diet, I grow damnable fat upon’t’’ in Don Quixote to Jeremy’s ‘‘You’ll grow Develish fat upon this Paper-Diet’’ in Love for Love.
If Valentine and Jeremy are a transformation of Knight and Squire, then Valentine’s misreading of Epictetus is quixotic; where Quixote’s misreading of Amadis de Gaul prompts the adaptation of an inappropriate role as chivalric hero, Valentine’s misreading of Epictetus prompts his adaptation of an inappropriate role as wit/poet/philosopher. Quixote, too, may be one of the many literary sources of Valentine’s feigned madness; because Orlando and Amadis went mad for love, Quixote does so, too; and in his mad scenes, Valentine similarly imitates the best literary heroes, ancient and modern. Valentine’s various poses are commonly connected with Theseus’s exposition of madness in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, drawing together the lunatic, the lover and the poet. So, too, the play’s Horatian motto indicates another literary source of methodical madness. Books have an inordinate influence here. Throughout this play, reading and role-playing become intertwined as characters like Valentine enact what they have read.
Reading and misreading in Love for Love are not, however, confined to literature. Like Puritans seeking signs of their salvation, all of Congreve’s characters also read the book of nature, from signs and stars to faces and people. The most obvious reader is the astrologer Foresight: ‘‘A wise Man, and a Conscientious Man; a Searcher into Obscurity and Futurity.’’ A man supposedly expert in physiognomy, Foresight misreads sickness in his own face on the suggestion of Scandal. Sir Sampson, on the other hand, reads not the heavens but human nature: ‘‘I that know the World, and Men and Manners . . . don’t believe a Syllable in the Sky and Stars, and Sun and Alamanacks, and Trash.’’ In the end, they both fail reading comprehension; as Sir Sampson concludes, ‘‘You’re an illiterate Fool, and I’m another.’’
The complexity of reading is nicely condensed in Congreve’s ‘‘hieroglyphick’’ metaphor. Scandal first uses ‘‘hieroglyphick’’ in its relatively new metaphorical sense, in reference to emblematic pictures, while Sir Sampson characteristically uses the term in its concrete, physical sense, claiming to possess ‘‘a Shoulder of an Egyptian King, that I purloyn’d from one of the Pyramids, powder’d with Hieroglyphicks.’’ In the Restoration, hieroglyphs were the subject of endless speculation among virtuosi; but to Sir Sampson, the Egyptian symbols have no meaning. They are only a useless possession, a collectable. To placate Foresight, Sir Sampson desires that his son ‘‘were an Egyptian mummy for thy sake’’; children also are objects in his collection. To Foresight, hieroglyphs are mystical, arcane and indecipherable; Valentine’s mad ravings ‘‘are very Mysterious and Hieroglyphical.’’ The metaphor reaches its climax when Valentine likens Angelica to a hieroglyph:
Valentine. Understand! She is harder to understand than a Piece of Aegyptian Antiquity, or an Irish Manuscript; you may pore till you spoil your Eyes, and not improve your Knowledge.
Jeremy. I have heard ’em say, Sir, they read hard Hebrew books backwards; may be you begin to read at the wrong end.
Valentine. They say so of a Witches Pray’r, and Dreams and Dutch Almanacks are to be understood by contraries. But there’s Regularity and Method in that; she is a Medal without Reverse of Inscription; for Indifference has both sides alike. Yet while she does not seem to hate me, I will pursue her, and know her if possible, in spight of the Opinion of my Satirical Friend, Scandal, who says,That Women are like Tricks by slight of Hand,
Which to admire, we should not understand.
Despite Valentine’s protestations, it is not Angelica but Valentine who is obscure. As Jeremy suggests, Valentine may have begun at the wrong end, because if he cannot understand himself, how can he expect to understand Angelica? His attempts to bully or shame or trick her into loving him indicate that, as yet, he does not know his own mind, and he must make himself understood before he can try to understand others. In his mad scene, he tells Angelica, ‘‘You are all white, a sheet of lovely spotless Paper, when you first are Born; but you are to be scrawl’d and blotted by every Goose’s Quill.’’ But Angelica would not be so incomprehensible had not Valentine, in effect, scrawled upon her; he has complicated her, made her wary and defensive, with all his intrigues and stratagems. Valentine has turned Angelica into a hieroglyph, and his desire to ‘‘know her if possible’’ implies a certain misplaced pride. Scandal’s view that one ‘‘should not understand’’ may be more admirable than Sir Sampson’s, Foresight’s, and Valentine’s pride in their interpretive powers, for they reduce people to emblems to be deciphered. Angelica refuses to be read, just as Hamlet refuses to be played upon and mastered. Angelica, like Millamant, appears to be serious when she asks Valentine to preserve a little mystery: ‘‘Never let us know one another better.’’ Reading in this respect is an imposition or intrusion upon another’s privacy and independence. Once again, Valentine must distinguish between what is and what is not within his power and further renounce his efforts to master that which he cannot and should not control.
Reading or knowing others and reading oneself are reflexive and interdependent: Valentine cannot read or know Angelica partly because he ‘‘does not know his Mind Two Hours.’’ He is changeable from the very start of the play; as his father says, ‘‘You are a Wit, and have been a Beau, and may be a—,’’ an ellipsis which is suggestive of Valentine’s protean nature. He tries fop, philosopher, poet, wit, madman—whatever will win Angelica. A word that Jeremy and Scandal apply to Valentine is ‘‘turn’’; he is forever ‘‘turning Poet,’’ or ‘‘turning Soldier,’’ or he should ‘‘turn Pimp’’: ‘‘He that was so neer turning Poet yesterday morning, can’t be much to seek in playing the Madman to day.’’ ‘‘Playing’’ implies that Valentine’s various fronts are actor’s parts, just as his opening role of wit/poet/philosopher is an enacting of the precepts he has (mis)read in Epictetus. Here acting is but another aspect of misreading, the result of improper or partial understanding; Valentine does not know the whole play in which he is performing, and, like an actor in rehearsal, he is learning to read his proper role. Other characters are also conscious of the roles they play, often achieving their ends by adopting new parts and costumes. Frail, Scandal, and Sir Sampson are all said to be ‘‘Players’’ or to have ‘‘Parts.’’ We are shown an actors’ ‘‘nursery’’ as Prue carefully learns a new part at the prompting of Tattle. Nor is Valentine the only one to adopt a role from his reading, for his father’s behavior in his first scene with Foresight is clearly based on travel literature. Conscious playing is hardly unique in seventeenthcentury drama, and would not be of interest here but for the fact that the efficacy and propriety of acting, involving matters of social adaptability, expediency and constancy, are questioned throughout.
Like so much of Restoration comedy, Love for Love contrasts those who can and cannot change. The fixity of humors characters like Ben, Prue, or Foresight is epitomized by Foresight’s resignation: ‘‘if I were born to be a Cuckold, there’s no more to be said.’’ Still fixity is not always viewed so negatively; even though Ben is most often a comic butt, his stolidity contrasts favorably with the chameleon sisters, Mrs. Frail and Mrs. Foresight. Ben’s simple loyalty is set against the worldly Frail, who changes roles and attitudes at a moment’s notice. Similarly, Scandal, almost at the same time, plays astrologer to Foresight and lover to his wife, while she can summon up interest or indifference to Scandal on the spur of the moment; such extreme flexibility seems motivated by self-interest. Sir Sampson is only too willing to adopt a new role or a new attitude, and can change at will from despotic to doting father. He switches his family around, making each of his sons eldest for a time and subsequently abandoning both; the only constant in Sir Sampson’s characters is his selfishness.
Constancy is, indeed, a major theme in Love for Love, one that is always before us from the song, ‘‘I tell thee, Charmion,’’ to the images of ‘‘inconstant Element(s)’’; ‘‘the Tide turn’d’’; and the ‘‘Inconstancy’’ of the moon. Of all these traditional emblems, changeability or inconstancy is most beautifully expressed in the wind metaphor, a nautical figure that originates with Ben. Frail explains her sudden reversal towards Ben by claiming ‘‘Only the Wind’s chang’d,’’ and when Angelica rejects his father, Ben consoles him with the same phrase. While fickle characters, like ships, turn with the wind, Frail introduces the opposite metaphor: ‘‘What, has my Sea-Lover lost his Anchor of Hope.’’ The anchor, an emblem of constancy, stability and hope, is common to Stoics, including Epictetus, who likens the constant man to a ship at anchor: ‘‘Nor rowling Seas, nor an impetuous Wind, / Can over set this Ballast of the mind.’’
Valentine remains constant to Angelica, his anchor of hope, but in his intrigues and poses, he is as changeable as all the other schemers. Nevertheless, though these poses designed to win Angelica are unsuccessful, it does not follow that role-playing per se is condemned. Angelica herself pretends indifference in order ‘‘to make this utmost Tryal of Valentine’s Virtue,’’ for she must test or try Valentine in order to distinguish his love from the selfinterest displayed by every other character in the play. Role-playing is not only useful but also necessary and inescapable according to the topos theatrum mundi. This figure is a commonplace from Democritus to John Bunyan, but if there was a locus classicus, it was Epictetus, who was most famous for his elaborate, moralized analogy between the world and the stage:
While on this busie Stage, the World, you stay,
You’re as it were the Actor of a Play;
Of such a Part therein as he thinks fit,
To whom belongs the power of giving it.
Longer or shorter is your Part, as he,
The Master of the Revels, shall decree.
If he command you act the Beggar’s Part,
Do it with all the Skill, with all your Art,
Though mean the Character, yet ne’re complain;
Perform it well, as much applause you’ll gain
As he whose Princely Grandeur fills the Stage,
And frights all near him in heroick Rage.
Although this comparison is ubiquitous, it has various interpretations; it is one thing to play the role assigned by the heavenly playwright or director and quite another to play an actor in repertory, switching from one role to the next all season. Epictetus’s analogy continues,
Say you a Cit or Cripple represent,
Let each be done with the best management.
’Tis in your power to perform with Art,
Though not within your pow’r to chuse the Part.
Role-playing can be seen as fundamentally artificial and unnatural, as did the Puritans in their antitheatrical writings, or as an accurate metaphor for the unalterable condition of this world. Jonas Barrish demonstrates that the player can even function as a metaphor for potentiality; in the Neoplatonism of Pico and Ficino, the protean actor, switching from role to role, represents all that men are capable of becoming.
Congreve sees acting as somewhere between the folly as it was seen by the Puritans and the glory as it was seen by the Neoplatonists; and his creation Valentine must find a middle way between his fickle father and his inflexible brother. The play suggests that role-playing is necessary but that there are proper and improper roles for each character. In his disputation with his father and Jeremy, Valentine argues that he has been brought up to accept a rightful place, which is not a natural calling so much as a specific role to which he has been raised, a role which is as different from Ben’s as it is from Jeremy’s. Ben can no more be turned into the eldest son than he can be turned into a beau, and it is unnatural for Sir Sampson to try to change him into either.
If Valentine has a proper role to play, it therefore follows that his contrived roles are improper, something which he himself comes to realize; but unfortunately he grows accustomed to his acting. When he tells Angelica, ‘‘The Comedy draws to an end, and let us think of leaving acting, and be our selves,’’ she willfully refuses to understand him, and he finds himself cast in a role he no longer wishes to play. As he himself says, ‘‘I know no effectual Difference between continued Affectation and Reality.’’ Even by the end of Act Four, Valentine has still not accepted the humility and resignation that he should have learned from Epictetus. It is Scandal who charts the correct path for his friend: ‘‘he may descend from his Exaltation of madness into the road of common Sense, and be content only to be made a Fool with other reasonable People.’’ Instead of trying to make fools of others, he must consent to be one, and in Act Five he calls himself a fool. As Montaigne writes, ‘‘To learne that another hath eyther spoken a foolish jest, or committed a sottish act, is a thing of nothing. A man must learne, that he is but a foole: A much more ample and important instruction.’’ Epictetus also regards the acceptance of one’s folly as a mark of wisdom:
Wou’d you be wise? ne’re take it ill you’re thought
A Fool, because you tamely set at Nought
Things not within your pow’r.
Paradoxically, Valentine’s success can only be achieved through failure, the game of ‘‘Losing Loadum,’’ wherein he can ‘‘win a Mistress, with a losing hand.’’ The resolution of dispossession, of renunciation, and of humility can only be effected by throwing over his plots and his roles and admitting failure; he must accept the ‘‘Ruine’’ with which his father threatens him. In the first scene, Valentine says, ‘‘I’ll pursue Angelica with more Love than ever, and appear more notoriously her Admirer in this Restraint, than when I openly rival’d the rich Fops, that made Court to her; so shall my Poverty be a mortification to her Pride.’’ Instead of her mortifi- cation, it is he who is shamed and humbled; the biter is bit, and he receives poetic justice. This plot is surely one of the world’s oldest, and what Walter Davis has written of the Arcadia is as appropriate for Congreve’s Valentine as it is for Sidney’s Musidorus and Pyrocles; like them, he must undergo a trial and willingly accept the proper role assigned to him by the divine playwright: ‘‘For failure becomes the necessary condition for submission to Providence; the hero must be released from all external controls or pressures in order to act out all his tendencies to lust, lassitude, deceit, and despair and so come to know his own weaknesses, to trust God to repair them, and hence to purify himself to them.’’
Valentine wins Angelica through his constancy; and the answer to Scandal’s central question, ‘‘Who would die a Martyr to Sense in a Country where the Religion is Folly?’’ is, of course, Valentine. ‘‘How few, like Valentine,’’ concludes Angelica, ‘‘would persevere even unto Martyrdom, and sacrifice their Interest to their Constancy.’’ Earlier, when pressed to decide, she replied, ‘‘I can’t. Resolution must come to me,’’ but in the end, Valentine brings resolution, firmness, conviction and constancy to her, the lesson he has finally learned of Epictetus. His course contains elements of both gradual improvement and abrupt conversion. The sequence of his roles suggests improvement, for wit appears better than fop, and his feigned madness does lead to his final, true madness. At the same time his final act is predicated on the recognition that all his previous roles have been wrong; it is not that playing is condemned, but that he does not, until Act Five, know what his right role is. When Valentine is willing to give up his own good for another, when he willingly ‘‘plays the fool,’’ he has transcended selfinterest, reaching the ideal goal of love and the ideal role of lover.
Source: James Thompson, ‘‘Reading and Acting in Love for Love,’’ in Essays in Literature, Vol. 7, No. 11, Spring 1980, pp. 21–30.
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The climax of Love for Love is Angelica’s acceptance of the reformed Valentine. It comes in two words, ‘Generous Valentine’, which, although they were written for the mouth of Anne Bracegirdle, not Elizabeth Barry, call for all the eloquence of an ‘Ah! poor Castalio!’ ‘Generous’ here is a Virgilian characteristic epithet expressing to us the signifi- cant truth of Valentine, his singularity and distinction as a human being. It is also, as the concluding point of his education, our chief clue to what the substance of that education has been. The meaning of the word in the seventeenth century was more complex than its normal sense in modern English would suggest, but seeing Angelica’s words were prompted by the speech of Valentine immediately preceding them, we can assume that it is here that the nature of Valentine’s generosity will be most clearly displayed:
Valentine. I have been disappointed of my only Hope; and he that loses hope may part with any thing. I never valu’d Fortune, but as it was subservient to my Pleasure; and my only Pleasure was to please this Lady: I have made many vain Attempts, and find at last, that nothing but my Ruine can effect it: Which, for that Reason, I will sign to—Give me the Paper.
The basic thing is that Valentine has learned to trust and to give, absolutely and without reservation. When Angelica sees this she is prepared to give herself just as unconditionally in return. But for her to have done so without this assurance would have been disastrous. It is therefore Valentine who has taken the crucial step in resolving the relationship, and he has done this by challenging the first principle of town morality on a scale that even the trusting Ben and pliable Prue might have baulked at. When we first see Valentine in Act I he is in every sense a creature of the town. He has exhausted his money in his pursuit of Angelica (the interpretation of the other characters would be no doubt that she has milked him of it) but without securing any profession of love in return. This is hardly surprising: his extravagant spending has been an attempt to buy her and she has been perfectly aware of this and is not prepared to be for sale. His next plan, and one that is open to much the same objections, is to shame her:
Valentine. Well; and now I am poor, I have an opportunity to be reveng’d on ‘em all; I’ll pursue Angelica with more Love than ever, and appear more notoriously her Admirer in this Restraint, than when I openly rival’d the rich Fops, that made Court to her; so shall my Poverty be a Mortification to her Pride . . .
Valentine is still in this speech picturing Angelica as a quarry to be hunted, not as a human equal to be loved. It is also clear that his courtship is not directed at her alone, but is simultaneously a performance put on to gain the approbation of the town. In compensation for these imperceptive and rather narcissistic attitudes, we are also made aware of an agreeable impulsiveness, a determination to make the best of whatever his situation offers, and a general openness to new possibilities, which raise him well above the usual pitch of the town. (Being unable to afford breakfast he has been edifying himself with a study of the Stoics.) He still has a chance to change. A visit from the nurse of one of his illegitimate children gives him a chance to display generosity in the limited modern sense by somehow finding her some money and his residual ill-nature by a quip about infanticide. The next visitors are Trapland, a creditor, accompanied by two officers, and, on another errand, Valentine’s father’s steward. Between them the choice is put to Valentine of accepting his father’s proposal for the payment of his debts, which is to surrender his right in the family inheritance, or to go to prison. Valentine consents, as the arrangement will also permit him to leave his lodgings and go in search of Angelica, although here Scandal is pessimistic about his chances:
Scandal. A very desperate demonstration of your love to Angelica: And I think she has never given you any assurance of hers.
Valentine. You know her temper; she never gave me any great reason either for hope or despair.
Scandal. Women of her airy temper, as they seldom think before they act, so they rarely give us any light to guess at what they mean: But you have little reason to believe that a Woman of this Age, who has had an indifference for you in your Prosperity, will fall in love with your ill Fortune; besides, Angelica has a great Fortune of her own; and great Fortunes either expect another great Fortune, or a Fool.
From the town’s point of view his reasoning could hardly be faulted.
In the following act we receive our first sight of Angelica and are given no reason to question Scandal’s diagnosis of her ‘airy temper.’ She comes in to demand her uncle’s coach, ridicules his harmless obsession with astrology, taunts him openly with his wife’s infidelity, confesses to spying on him through a keyhole, and threatens to denounce him to the magistrates as a wizard. None of this is at all serious, but there is still a strong air of gratuitous bullying about it. Our hero has not given very many signs of promise, and neither at this stage does our heroine. Valentine is a town rake and she, to all appearances, is little better than a town miss, superbly adroit in the skills of social manipulation, and not above keeping these skills razor-sharp by a little practice in the domestic circle. What is not clear is whether the purpose of this formidable conversational armoury is offensive or defensive, whether there is an Araminta behind the mask or just another Belinda.
When we see Angelica next she is together for the first time in the play with Valentine and once again she is giving nothing away:
Angelica. You can’t accuse me of Inconstancy; I never told you, that I lov’d you.
Valentine. But I can accuse you of Uncertainty, for not telling me whether you did or no.
Angelica. You mistake Indifference for Uncertainty; I never had Concern enough to ask my self the Question.
Later in the play, at the moment of self-revelation in Act V, we are to discover that she did love him after all; but in the present scene there is no sign of this. And it is not hard to fathom the reasons for Angelica’s wariness. Living in a world of Tattles and Frails, she has had to learn to handle their weapons even better than they do themselves. To be in love is to be in a position of vulnerability. The rule of the town is to take advantage of the vulnerable. To be in love, and to reveal this love, is to invite the person you love to take advantage of you. The only safe course, therefore, is to conceal love under the affectation of indifference or dislike. This was Tattle’s first lesson to Prue, and an identical principle guides Angelica’s behaviour towards Valentine. The problem with Valentine is not simply that he is a town rake and lives by the assumptions of a town rake: that love is a hunt or pursuit, that women are mercenary simpletons to be bought or tricked into submission, that ‘He alone won’t Betray in whom none will Confide/And the Nymph may be Chaste that has never been Try’d.’ If that were all that there was to him, Angelica would not have fallen in love with him in the first place. Valentine in fact has a number of very good and un-town-like instincts. He is not, for instance, interested in money for its own sake but only as a means of helping him to Angelica. (Though this still, of course, makes him guilty of the assumption that she is available to be bought.) His real trouble is that he insists on interpreting other people’s behaviour, including Angelica’s, according to the cynical principles of the town and Scandal. He is therefore in the grip of two wrong images, one of himself and one of Angelica, each reinforcing the other. For Angelica to reveal the wrongness of his image of her, which would not be hard as it is largely of her own creation, would be of no use until he had learned to interpret such an action according to principles other than those of the Age. It is only when he has made the breakthrough of his own accord and come to see himself in completely new terms that it will be safe for her to reveal that she is not what he thought she was. It is this which Angelica is trying to explain to him when at the end of the scene he asks her whether she is going to ‘come to a Resolution’ and she replies ‘I can’t. Resolution must come to me, or I shall never have one.’ It is Valentine who has to find both their ways out of the vicious circle.
At this stage in the play, however, the probability of such a breakthrough does not seem very high. The immediate task of Scandal and Valentine is to test the genuineness of Angelica’s indifference, with the aim, should they find any evidence of feigning, of exploiting the revealed vulnerability as ruthlessly as possible. Scandal, whose power to fathom the masks and stratagems of the town has already been presented for our admiration in Act I, is clearly of the opinion that there is more to her behaviour than meets the eye. Taking up her ‘I never had Concern enough to ask my self the Question’ quoted earlier, he inserts a sly hint of his disbelief:
Scandal. Nor good Nature enough to answer him that did ask you: I’ll say that for you, Madam.
Angelica. What, are you setting up for good Nature?
Scandal. Only for the affectation of it, as the Women do for ill Nature.
Scandal’s insight here amounts to nothing more than the normal town assumption that things are probably the reverse of what they seem, or, as Tattle enlarges, ‘All well-bred Persons Lie! . . . you must never speak what you think: Your words must contradict your thoughts . . .’ In reply to this, Angelica is rather surprisingly prepared to concede that he may be right but challenges him to persuade Valentine of this. For Angelica knows that Valentine has no real understanding of her and to this extent cannot seriously threaten her. And Valentine, again rather surprisingly, is perfectly prepared to confess to his ignorance both of her and mankind: ‘I shall receive no Benefit from the Opinion: For I know no effectual Difference between continued Affectation and Reality.’ This passage is sometimes quoted out of context as if it were a statement of Congreve’s personal attitude towards social role-playing, but this is not so. The point of the lines is to show the inadequacy of Valentine’s understanding both of himself and of others, for there is a difference between reality and continued affectation, a difference which Angelica understands perfectly because it is something she has to live with all the time.
The same issues, along with one or two new ones, inform the comedy of the subsequent scene between Angelica, the two men, and Tattle. Tattle embodies the values and expectations of the town in their purest state. Where Valentine had felt unable to distinguish between continued affectation and reality but was not prepared to deny that there was such a difference, Tattle is so far gone as to have mistaken his own affectations for reality. His conversation is a long romance on the theme of his prowess as a lover. At the same time, as we saw in Act I, he is inordinately proud of his reputation for discretion. This is partly an effect of his desire to be thought a wit and partly a technique of seduction in its own right, on the principle that women would be more inclined to have affairs with a man who could be relied on to keep it a secret. At the present juncture he is exhibiting his accomplishments, secrecy among them, for the benefit of Angelica. The fun of the scene lies in the careful manoeuvring by which Valentine and Scandal set his two reputations at odds with each other, a subtle exercise in the art which Wilkinson calls ‘enjoying the fool.’ In trying to defend his reputation for secrecy he is forced to assert that he had ‘never had the good Fortune to be trusted once with a Lady’s Secret.’ This brings the objection from Angelica ‘But whence comes the Reputation of Mr. Tattle’s Secresie, if he was never trusted?,’ putting him in the position of having to betray his reputation in order to defend it:
Tattle. Well, my Witnesses are not present—But I confess I have had Favours from Persons—But as the Favours are numberless, so the Persons are nameless.
Scandal. Pooh, pox, this proves nothing.
Tattle. No? I can shew Letters, Locketts, Pictures, and Rings, and if there be occasion for Witnesses, I can summon the Maids at the Chocolate-Houses, all the Porters of Pall-Mall and Covent-Garden, the Doorkeepers at the Play-House, the Drawers at Locket’s, Pontack’s, the Rummer, Spring Garden; my own Landlady and Valet de Chambre; all who shall make Oath, that I receive more Letters than the Secretary’s Office; and that I have more Vizor-Masks to enquire for me, than ever went to see the Hermaphrodite, or the Naked Prince. And it is notorious, that in a Country Church, once, an Enquiry being made, who I was, it was answer’d, I was the famous Tattle, who had ruin’d so many Women.
Valentine. It was there, I suppose, you got the Nick- Name of the Great Turk.
Tattle. True; I was call’d Turk-Tattle all over the Parish—
Tattle’s narcissistic male egotism is exactly what Angelica is trying to protect herself from. However, his situation is also relevant to hers in another way. As he has destroyed his reputation for secrecy in defending it; so she is still in the position where to reveal her love to an unregenerate Valentine would be to resign herself forever to the role of conquered quarry. Hers is a genuine secrecy, unlike Tattle’s fraudulent one, but is just as self-defeating.
By this time Scandal has a strong suspicion that Angelica is more kindly disposed than she would have the men believe. When he exits it is with the promise to Valentine ‘I’ve something in my Head to communicate to you’—presumably the pretence of madness which is to be Valentine’s last and most daring throw in his attempt to confound his father and to extract a capitulation from Angelica on his terms rather than hers. Angelica is the first to call on him after his supposed condition has been proclaimed, and on her entrance comes close to betraying her real feelings. ‘She’s concern’d, and loves him’ is Scandal’s diagnosis. But Scandal has forgotten, or perhaps never realized, that she is quite as brilliant a penetrator of pretence as himself, and he betrays his own game by an unguarded wink to Jeremy. Having gauged the true situation, Angelica’s responsibility is to repay trick with trick, which she does by denying outright that she loves Valentine and then announcing on the basis of excellent London reasons that she will not see him after all:
But I have consider’d that Passions are unreasonable and involuntary; if he loves, he can’t help it; and if I don’t love, I can’t help it; no more than he can help his being a Man, or I my being a Woman; or no more than I can help my want of Inclination to stay longer here. . .
Angelica here is doing no more than give the men the treatment appropriate to the role in which they insist on casting her. She sweeps out leaving Scandal undisturbed in his belief in the weathercock nature of ‘this same Womankind.’ Later she will be back to put Valentine through his paces more thoroughly.
Angelica resents the situation because it shows that Valentine is still seeing the world in terms of Scandal’s bitter satiric vignettes at the close of Act I, among them ‘Pride, Folly, Affectation, Wantonness, Inconstancy, Covetousness, Dissimulation, Malice, and Ignorance’ as the image of a ‘celebrated Beauty.’ But it is now Valentine’s turn to grow satirical: his ‘madness’ takes the form of ringing denunciations directed at such targets as lawyers, citizens, and elderly husbands; when he comes to address Angelica, however, the tone changes and the accents of simulated madness give way to a perfectly composed beauty:
Angelica. Do you know me, Valentine?
Valentine. Oh very well.
Angelica. Who am I?
Valentine. You’re a Woman,—One to whom Heav’n gave Beauty, when it grafted Roses on a Briar. You are the reflection of Heav’n in a Pond, and he that leaps at you is sunk. You are all white, a sheet of lovely spotless Paper, when you first are Born; but you are to be scrawl’d and blotted by every Goose’s
Quill. I know you; for I lov’d a Woman, and lov’d her so long, that I found out a strange thing: I found out what a Woman was good for.
Tattle. Aye, prithee, what’s that? Valentine. Why to keep a Secret.
Tattle. O Lord!
Valentine. O exceeding good to keep a Secret: For tho’ she should tell, yet she is not to be believ’d.
The speech is one of the few in the play where Congreve’s language achieves a genuine richness of poetic implication, yet once again the images are expressions of an imperfect understanding: Angelica had asked Valentine if he knew her, and he reveals very clearly in his reply that he knows only the false self she shows to the town. He does not see that the scrawls and blots are of his own imagination: that were he to leap, he would not be sunk at all. Yet the closing lines do suggest that he has intimations of a truth unknown to him before the experiment with madness. Angelica has indeed kept a secret, two secrets in fact: that she is in love with him, and that she is not the person he and the town take her for. He is beginning to know this without knowing that he knows.
There is still, however, a long way to go. Angelica is not yet won; she is still resentful of the contemptuous shallowness of his artifices; and when he trustingly confesses the stratagem, she will not yield an inch in return. His request is that, as he puts off his pretence of madness, so she should suspend her affectation of disregard:
Nay faith, now let us understand one another, Hypocrisie apart,—The Comedy draws toward an end, and let us think of leaving acting, and be our selves; and since you have lov’d me, you must own I have at length deserv’d you shou’d confess it.
This is too simple altogether. For one thing it shows that he still regards courtship as a matter of trickery and charades. So Angelica repays him in kind by pretending that she still believes him to be mad and treating his protestations of sanity as a madman’s self-delusion. She is also quick to take him up on his reasons for adopting the stratagem:
Valentine . . . my seeming Madness has deceiv’d my Father, and procur’d me time to think of means to reconcile me to him; and preserve the right of my Inheritance to his Estate; which otherwise by Articles, I must this Morning have resign’d: And this I had inform’d you of to Day, but you were gone, before I knew you had been here.
Angelica. How! I thought your love of me had caus’d this Transport in your Soul; which, it seems, you only counterfeited, for mercenary Ends and sordid Interest.
Valentine. Nay, now you do me Wrong; for if any Interest was considered, it was yours; since I thought I wanted more than Love, to make me worthy of you.
Angelica. Then you thought me mercenary—But how am I deluded by this Interval of Sense, to reason with a Madman?
Valentine’s frankness has been returned with a town miss’s trick which, of course, he knows to be a town miss’s trick. But he is also to be given a clue to the secret which still eludes him. Before she leaves, Angelica speaks to him in words which have some of the elegiac quality of his own mad language, and which are her most explicit statement of her sense of the situation:
Valentine. You are not leaving me in this Uncertainty?
Angelica. Wou’d any thing, but a Madman complain of Uncertainty? Uncertainty and Expectation are the Joys of Life. Security is an insipid thing, and the overtaking and possessing of a Wish, discovers the Folly of the Chase. Never let us know one another better; for the Pleasure of a Masquerade is done, when we come to shew Faces; But I’ll tell you two things before I leave you; I am not the Fool you take me for; and you are Mad and don’t know it.
In returning him the unmasking image Angelica is conceding what is after all a central fact of the play—that the world of masks, of illusion, of inconstancy, of trickery, of unceasing psychological com bat, of the rake’s pursuit and the woman’s hypocritical refusal, the world in which ‘Love hates to center in a Point assign’d, / But runs with Joy the Circle of the Mind’, is in its way an exciting, testing world. Valentine has thoroughly enjoyed his life in it, and so far he has resisted all her attempts to make him leave it. But now that Angelica has seen beyond it she is not to be drawn back. For all its dazzle and movement it is a world in which it is impossible to trust or to love. The relationship of Angelica and Valentine has been conducted along the lines prescribed by the world and behind the masks of its making. When Valentine asks her to take off her mask it is in the expectation of finding a face beneath which will be not very different from the mask. Appreciating this, Angelica is only being fair in warning him that ‘the Pleasure of a Masquerade is done, when we come to shew Faces.’ If they were to live their lives according to the town’s terms there would always have to be some kind of mask in place. But what if the face beneath the mask were itself a mask and the face beneath that second mask one that Valentine had never dreamed of? If this were so it is possible that she might after all not be a fool, which is the rake’s basic assumption about the women he pursues by trick and bribe, and that Valentine might well be led into actions which by all the standards of the town (and when the moment comes Scandal is to use exactly this word) are ‘mad’ ones. If she does not succeed in enlightening him she is at least able to puzzle him. ‘She is harder to be understood than a Piece of Ægyptian Antiquity, or an Irish Manuscript; you may pore till you spoil your Eyes, and not improve your Knowledge.’ Yet he has at least recognized that there is a mystery and that his ‘Lesson’ must have a ‘Moral’; which is a start. And at the close of the scene he is even prepared to query one of the dicta of the hitherto infallible Scandal. By the time we see him again he has discovered the answer which, all things considered, is a very simple one. For Scandal’s principle of ‘trust to no one’ he has substituted another—‘if you do trust, trust absolutely’—and his trust is rewarded. At the very moment he is about to give assent to the deed of disinheritance, Angelica tears the earlier bond and in the same breath renounces the marriage with Sir Sampson. What is it that he has discovered to bring about this change? His preparedness to sacrifice himself is the most obvious thing; but this is itself the fruit of a deeper awareness. The solution is in her answer to the question he asks her before he proceeds to sign to his own undoing:
’Tis true, you have a great while pretended Love to me; nay, what if you were sincere? still you must pardon me, if I think my own Inclinations have a better Right to dispose of my Person, than yours.
The notion that other people’s persons should be in their own disposal, and not one’s own, is not particularly original, but the difficulty that Valentine has had in reaching it should caution us against imagining it to be self-evident. For the whole system of the town had been built on an explicit denial of it. Valentine has at last emerged from the delusion, and through this from his poverty. Ironically enough the second part of the benison has been brought about by the most arrant town trick of all— and its perpetrator has been Angelica.
We have followed the action of Love for Love through to the point of resolution. The question still has to be asked whether that resolution is a satisfactory one. Triviality and self-seeking are to be countered with idealism; but how valid is the countering? May it not be open to the accusation of sentimental unreality just as Congreve’s presentation of the world may be to the charge of immature cynicism? Both these suggestions have been made.
Part of the trouble here lies in the abstract, externalized way in which Congreve presents his resolution. Assuming that the real climax of the play is Valentine’s acceptance of Angelica not as a quarry or an opponent but as a fellow human being with exactly the same rights as himself, it can still be argued that we do not actually experience what this realization means for Valentine. The crucial stage in his growth to realization comes between his exit in Act IV and his entrance in Act V. By the time he reappears he has discovered what previously eluded him; but we are not shown how this happens or what it feels like to have it happen; we simply have to accept it as it is stated. The same holds for Angelica. The assumption of the play is that behind the façade of the town jilt there is a profound longing for those human satisfactions that the town ignores and a genuine capacity for unselfish love; but it is only in isolated speeches that we have any direct sense of this part of her; the rest has to be deduced from things that she states in a fairly abstract way and the nature of her reactions to the stratagems of Valentine and Scandal.
I would suggest that this effect was quite deliberate on Congreve’s part and is an important clue to the kind of comedy he is writing. Here we need to remember that the immediate ancestor of Restoration comedy is not Jacobean comedy but that phase of Caroline comedy when it was most under the influence of the court masque. The essence of a masque, to borrow a phrase from Chapter I, is that it should give ‘sensuous life to abstract formulations.’ In comedy under the influence of the masque the playwright’s primary interest will be the profile of the idea rather than depth of characterization and we should not complain if the persons of the drama are occasionally allowed to dwindle into cut-outs. One could argue that this kind of comedy is more restricted in its possibilities than the kind which takes personality as its starting point and allows us not only to observe the actions of the characters, but to share in their inner growth; yet having conceded this, one is not entitled to judge one kind as if it were an unsuccessful attempt at the other. (If we object to Congreve’s methods we should remember that they are also Molière’s and Shaw’s.) The minuet of ideas which is the structural basis of Congreve’s play is there to be appreciated as a minuet, the theatrical articulation of an abstract ideal of love and gentility. Congreve is not particularly interested in how these ideals are to be made workable at the level of individual, everyday living, or at least not in Love for Love.
For these reasons, the criticism of the play which claims that its values are arbitrary and unrealized seems to me a little beside the point. There is still, moreover, the question of whether the abstract ideals so elegantly traced out in the course of the minuet are the true informing values of the comedy. I would suggest that they are probably not, and that the most valuable thing the play has to give us is much simpler. Despite its preoccupation with the least sublime of human passions, its singularly unsatisfactory gallery of characters, and Congreve’s insistence on showing us just why these characters are unsatisfactory, the overall sense given by Love for Love is of an immense and heartening liveliness— one is tempted to say a joy. Squalid and selfish as the creatures of the town are, they do not repel us in the way the corresponding characters in Jonson do and we may even envy them their unconquerable bravura and their outrageous and wholly unjustified self-admiration, much as on a larger scale we do Falstaff’s. I suggested earlier that Love for Love was the most Shakespearean of Congreve’s plays. In an influential essay contrasting the Shakespearean and Jonsonian styles in comedy Nevill Coghill suggested that the essence of the former lay in the assertion ‘that life is to be grasped.’ This is surely the reason why Congreve’s characters remain attractive. Despite the fact that the life they possess is by any objective standard paltry, dishonest, and trivial, they are prepared to lay hold of it with every atom of energy in their beings. There can be a vividness, an elevation, even to being a fop, a tyrannical braggart, or a temporarily stranded porpoise, as long as one is prepared to take possession of the role with the self-proclaiming gusto of a Tattle, a Sampson, or a Ben. There may even be a sublimity of sorts in being a cuckold philosopher if one can say with the heroic fatalism of Foresight, ‘Why if I was born to be a Cuckold, there’s no more to be said—.’ In the case of Valentine the spectacle is one of a character who has succeeded in extracting ‘a quintessence even from nothingness’— understanding from madness, truth from jest, love from despair, generosity from selfishness. It is our sense of this miracle, this heroic laying hold of every possibility of even the most tawdry and unsatisfactory existence which allows us to claim for Love for Love a rank among Restoration comedies only just beneath that of The Way of the World.
Source: Harold Love, ‘‘Love for Love,’’ in Congreve, Rowman and Littlefield, 1974, pp. 60–84.
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Criticism of Congreve’s Love for Love prior to Norman Holland’s publication of The First Modern Comedies in 1959 is relatively unimpressive. Writers of articles appearing in scholarly journals have studiously avoided the larger concerns of the play by focusing their microscopes on such minutiae as the attribution of the ballad ‘‘A Soldier and a Sailor’’ in Act III; Sailor Ben’s literary genealogy; the identification of the scene in Act III that Congreve in his dedication to the Earl of Dorset claims to have omitted from the first public performance of the play on April 30, 1695, at Lincoln’s Inn Fields; and Congreve’s possible indebtedness to Dryden’s Wild Gallant for scenes in Acts III and V.
Scarcely more impressive are the perfunctory and largely repetitious readings of the play as a proto-sentimental comedy, which one finds in most of the standard studies of Restoration comedy. Bonamy Dobrée, for instance, in 1924 and again in 1963, discovers in Love for Love an expression of Congreve’s deepest aspiration—his longing to find the world nobler than it really is. ‘‘The fear of lost illusion haunts him,’’ Dobrée writes in 1924. ‘‘Like Valentine, in Love for Love, Congreve is melancholy at the thought of spoiled ideals and spoiled beauty.’’ In a similar vein, he writes again, in 1963, ‘‘The love-affair between Valentine and Angelica brings out his [Congreve’s] fear of disillusion, his insistence that the precious thing in life, affection in human relations, must be preserved at all costs.’’
Thomas Fujimura, ostensibly focusing his attention exclusively on the play rather than on the playwright’s psyche, nearly falls victim to the same error as Dobrée. After observing that Congreve was ‘‘too warm-hearted and moral to be a Truewit,’’ he implicitly identifies the playwright with his protagonist several pages later by analyzing Valentine in the same terms he used for Congreve. Rather than the libertine he professes to be, Fujimura writes, Valentine is a ‘‘reformed libertine, and he reveals a fundamentally sound (and even moral) character . . . He is also more introspective and thoughtful than most Truewits . . . What makes Valentine a more subtle and attractive figure . . . is the suggestion of this latent reflectiveness, of a mind sensitive enough to have some apprehension of the undercurrents of human existence.’’
Both of the foregoing approaches to Love for Love—on the one hand, investigation of the facts behind the play, and on the other, appraisal of the play in the light of Congreve’s life and the changing tastes of the late 1690’s—have a legitimate place in Congreve scholarship, especially since the facts of Congreve’s life and career as a dramatist are relatively obscure, and since his position as a playwright in relation to the high Restoration comedy of the 1670’s and the sentimental comedy of the early eighteenth century is still in dispute. Nevertheless, the narrow range of interests of the one approach and the broad, often tangential interests of the other left something of a vacuum in Love for Love criticism until Norman Holland’s book appeared in 1959, which for the first time provided students of Restoration comedy with a thorough and penetrating analysis of the play qua play. Since the publication of Holland’s work three additional studies have appeared: Charles Lyons’ article, ‘‘Congreve’s Miracle of Love,’’ and W. H. Van Voris’ analysis of the play in a volume entitled The Cultivated Stance: The Design of Congreve’s Plays, both of which are heavily indebted to Holland’s seminal essay; and, most recently, Aubrey Williams’ cursory but highly suggestive treatment of the play in a study entitled ‘‘Poetical Justice, the Contrivances of Providence, and the Works of Congreve,’’ an independent analysis of Congreve’s drama in the light of popular religious assumptions of the day, wherein the author effectively questions Lyons’ premise concerning ‘‘the naturalistic perspective of Love for Love.’’
The vital importance of Holland’s study lies in his recognition of John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) as the informing source of Love for Love (1695). It is an ‘‘epistemological comedy,’’ Holland writes, the theme of which is contained in Valentine’s statement, ‘‘I know no effectual difference between continued affectation and reality’’: ‘‘His [Valentine’s] failure to realize that outside society there is a difference and his related failure to seek Angelica through something other than show or ‘‘affectation’’ are what keep him from winning her . . . Valentine needs education: that there is a reality which is higher and larger than ‘continued affectation.’’’
In schematizing the play, Holland draws an elaborate diagram that shows the relationships among the chief characters and in turn their relation to three different levels of knowledge that man is capable of attaining: presocial or sensitive knowledge; social or rational knowledge; and supra-social or intuitive knowledge, the last two of which are especially relevant to Valentine in his pursuit of Angelica. ‘‘The action of the play,’’ Holland writes,
is to make Valentine bring his real nature out from under the shell of pretenses he has drawn round himself. In doing so, Valentine grows out of the limited social world into something larger . . . Valentine’s problem in winning Angelica is that he is still too close to social pretense; he is trying to win her by putting on a show . . . He must learn to transcend his social habits through an action completely asocial, resigning both his fortune and his love; he must learn that the intrigue is not effective on the supra-social level. It is to the education of Valentine that the title Love for Love refers: Valentine learns to substitute real love for showy love. In return Angelica gives him real love for real love, a response not possible for love merely social . . .
Writing in the wake of Holland, Charles Lyons and W. H. Van Voris reinforce his major claims. Van Voris’ study shows Congreve’s indebtedness not only to An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, but to the Two Treatises of Civil Government, also published in 1690. Lyons’ article, on the other hand, carries Holland’s argument one signifi- cant step further by showing how the imagery of the play supports Holland’s notion of the ideal, ‘‘suprasocial’’ relationship of Valentine and Angelica. He refers to what he terms the ‘‘Christian images of grace and blessing’’ in the last scene of the play. According to Lyons, the final statement of value in the play is Angelica’s concluding couplet: ‘‘The miracle today is that we find / A lover true: not that a woman’s kind.’’ The passage is significant, Lyons writes, because ‘‘it is the final answer to Scandal’s cynicism, a lack of faith which is considered to be the despair of the infidel. In opposition to this infidelity is Valentine’s constancy, conceived in . . . religious terms . . . ’’
While the efforts of these critics might seem at first glance to preclude the necessity for further comment on Love for Love, Professor Holland’s suggestion of Congreve’s indebtedness to Locke’s Essay for the philosophical framework of the play leaves yet unanswered the question of the extent of his indebtedness: Is the Essay serviceable to Congreve only insofar as it provides him with the categories of knowledge—social and supra-social—through which Valentine must necessarily migrate before union with Angelica is possible? Or does the play perhaps deal in social terms with the fundamental problem that Locke poses in the Essay, that is, the certainty and extent of human knowledge? The point worthy of speculation is that perhaps Congreve made more extensive use of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in Love for Love than even Holland intimates in his essay when he pigeon-holes the major characters in the play according to the kinds of knowledge they have or attain; that perhaps the play is not only a dramatic rendering of the levels of knowledge possible in human experience, but also a live demonstration, in part at least, of how one arrives at such knowledge.
That Locke’s Essay may well have been in the forefront of Congreve’s mind at the time he wrote Love for Love is evident in the letter he sent John Dennis on July 10, 1695, a little more than two months after the play was initially performed at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, on April 30. This letter, sometimes referred to by the title ‘‘Concerning Humour in Comedy,’’ has a twofold importance as far as the play is concerned. First, it is in part an outline of Congreve’s notion of a stage character as a composite of what he calls ‘‘humour,’’ ‘‘habit,’’ and ‘‘affectation.’’ Second, his analysis of humor proves beyond doubt that he had fairly digested Locke’s Essay at least by July of 1695, and very likely by the time he had written Love for Love, if one can accept as proof Professor Holland’s citation of Valentine’s lines toward the end of Act IV as a covert allusion to the tabula rasa: ‘‘You are all white, a sheet of lovely, spotless paper, when you first are born; but you are to be scrawled and blotted by every goose’s quill.’’
In the letter to Dennis, Congreve uses the term ‘‘Humour’’ in two different senses: first, in a specialized sense to qualify a type of character proper to comedy, the excess of whose humor makes him appear ‘‘ridiculous upon the stage’’; and second, in a looser sense, to indicate simply a man’s nature, character, or identity. Humor, according to Congreve, ‘‘shews [italics mine] us as we are.’’
Our Humour has relation to us, and to what proceeds from us, as the Accidents have to a Substance; it is a Colour, Taste, and Smell, Diffused through all; thô our Actions are never so many, and different in Form, they are all Splinters of the Same Wood, and have Naturally one Complexion; which thô it may be disguised by Art, yet cannot be wholly changed: We may Paint it with other Colours, but we cannot change the Grain. So the Natural sound of an Instrument will be distinguish’d, thô the Notes expressed by it, are never so many. Dissimulation, may by Degrees, become more easy to our practice; but it can never absolutely Transubstantiate us into what we would seem: It will always be in some proportion a Violence upon Nature.
The words ‘‘Substance’’ and ‘‘Accidents,’’ which Congreve uses in this passage to define the relationship between a person and his humor, are nearly identical to those used by Locke in the Essay to explain the relationship between a ‘‘body’’ and its ‘‘qualities.’’ Just as one’s humor, therefore, shows a man as he actually is, so the qualities of a substance or a body show that object as it is. When Congreve further defines humor as a ‘‘Colour, Taste, and Smell, Diffused through all,’’ he indicates, in effect, that one’s humor is the equivalent of what Locke calls a ‘‘secondary quality,’’ or the ‘‘power’’ that a body or a substance has to produce ideas in someone who perceives it. Humor, then, which shows a man as he is, is what gives him his identity in the minds of other people: ‘‘I take it [humour] to be, A singular and unavoidable manner of doing, or saying any thing, Peculiar and Natural to one Man only; by which his Speech and Actions are distinguish’d from those of other Men.’’
Unfortunately, however, man rarely appears as he actually is. He and his humor are often obscured by additional qualities that make him a substance or body difficult to know, that is, habit and affectation. ‘‘Habit,’’ Congreve writes, ‘‘shews [italics mine] us as we appear under a forcible Impression.’’ Habits are, in other words, involuntary accretions ‘‘contracted by Use or Custom,’’ that the personality takes on: ‘‘Under this Head may be ranged all Country Clowns, Sailers, Tradesmen, Jockeys, Gamesters and such like, who make use of Cants or peculiar Dialects in their several Arts and Vocations.’’ Affectation, on the other hand, ‘‘Shews [italics mine] what we would be, under a Voluntary Disguise.’’ In this category fall pretense, deceit, and other forms of dissembling.
In the end, therefore, man is a fairly complicated being whose veneers of habits and affectations make him a difficult, if not impossible, object of knowledge. This multi-dimensional concept of character that Congreve outlines in his letter to Dennis is what gives Love for Love its richness as a play. All of the characters, even the stock-types of comedy, like the dromo (Jeremy and Angelica’s Nurse) and the senex (Sir Sampson and Foresight), are considerably removed from the level of stereotype and are, instead, highly individualized.
If, as I have indicated, Congreve’s letter to Dennis contains more than ‘‘such unpremeditated Thoughts, as may be Communicated between Friend and Friend,’’ and if indeed the question of the certainty and extent of human knowledge was immediate to Congreve’s mind when he wrote Love for Love, then the question yet remains, to what degree does Congreve’s art translate the psychology and philosophy to effective dramatic action? Professor Holland correctly maintains that the focus of the play is Valentine’s education, his final recognition of a reality higher and larger than continued affectation. In another sense, however, an equally important issue raised in the play is the ability or inability of the several characters to arrive at a rational understanding of the social universe, their microcosm, and of the inhabitants who people it. From this perspective, each of the characters may be regarded as a representative or symbol of an approach to knowledge, each offering his formula or prescription for registering and ordering his social experiences.
Some of the characters, like Tattle, Mrs. Frail, and Mrs. Foresight, abrogate entirely their responsibility to come to terms intellectually with the external universe. For these closed-eyed characters the broad distinctions of truth and falsity do not exist, and, consequently, they have no sense of obligation to look for an agreement between their ideas and the substances from which these ideas emanate. Appearance for them in effect has become reality, as Holland maintains. In terms of Locke’s epistemology, the mental and verbal propositions they formulate from the ideas in their minds have no agreement with the reality of things. Thus Tattle, without qualm of conscience, can teach Prue in Act II that to lie and dissemble is better than to tell the truth and be honest. And similarly, Mrs. Foresight in Act IV can, without compunction, profess her virtue the very morning after she cuckolds her husband.
The prescriptions for understanding offered by Sir Sampson, Foresight, and Ben, three legitimate humors characters, are likewise tangential to the reality of things, yet the error of their respective ways lies not so much in the voluntary confusion of truth and falsity as in the frames of reference these characters use to screen experience. In other words, the propositions they formulate are made to conform to preconceived notions of how ideas and experience are ordered. For Sir Sampson the frame of reference is paternal authority, arbitrary edict, and fiat: ‘‘I warrant my son thought nothing belonged to a father, but forgiveness and affection; no authority, no correction, no arbitrary power . . .’’ For Foresight the frame of reference is even further removed from the world of the play than it is for Sir Sampson. He sifts all experience through the sieve of prognostication, and, as a result, the mental and verbal propositions he formulates have little or no relevance to social reality:
But I tell you, I have traveled, and traveled in the celestial spheres, know the signs and the planets and their houses. Can judge of motions direct and retrograde, of sextiles, quadrates, trines, and oppositions, fiery trigons and aquatical trigons. Know whether life shall be long or short, happy or unhappy, whether diseases are curable or incurable. If journeys shall be prosperous, undertakings successful, or goods stolen recovered, I know.
Like Sir Sampson and old Foresight, Sailor Ben is a humors character, but unlike them he is also a character of habit. In keeping with his habit, Ben’s frame of reference is the sea, which he uses to screen experience and in a sense transmute it to a kind of nautical poetry. Although technically the sea has as little relevance to Valentine’s social world as either prophecy or fiat, Congreve uses Ben as a sounding-board by which to judge and criticize that world: ‘‘You don’t think I’m false-hearted, like a landman. A sailor will be honest, tho’f mayhap he has never a penny of money in his pocket.’’ Ben, therefore, by virtue of his frame of reference outside of the world of the play, is the best qualified of the characters to pass judgment upon that world.
Just as there are three characters in the play who look at the world closed-eyed, and three whose judgments of it are distorted to varying degrees by their frames of reference, so there are three who make a serious attempt to understand it through close scrutiny and analysis. Jeremy Fetch, whose locus of reality is the tangible and the concrete, is skeptical of those areas of experience he cannot refer to immediate and practical use: ‘‘Was Epictetus a real cook, or did he only write receipts?.’’ He registers sense experience but seems alien to conceptual thought, and when confronted with an abstraction, he is prone to make it concrete:
Ah, pox confound that Will’s Coffee-House . . . For my part, I never sit at the door that I don’t get double the stomach that I do at a horse race . . . I never see it, but the Spirit of Famine appears to me; sometimes like a decayed porter, worn out with pimping and carrying billet-doux and songs; not like other porters for hire, but for the jest’s sake; now like a thin chairman, melted down to half his proportion with carrying a poet upon tick to visit some great fortune; and his fair to be paid him like the wages of sin, either at the day of marriage, or the day of death . . . Sometimes like a bilked bookseller, with a meager, terrified countenance, that looks as if he had written for himself, or were resolved to turn author, and bring the rest of his brethren into the same condition. And lastly, in the form of a worn-hout punk, with verses in her hand, which her vanity had preferred to settlements, without a whole tatter to her tail, but as ragged as one of the Muses; or as if she were carrying her linen to the paper-mill, to be converted into folio books of warning to all young maids, not to prefer poetry to good sense, or lying in the arms of a needy wit, before the embraces of a wealthy fool.
Holland is right when he refers to Jeremy’s knowledge as mere ‘‘belly knowledge’’; Sir Sampson’s impression of him is surprisingly accurate: ‘‘And if this rogue were anatomized now, and dissected, he has his vessels of digestion and concoction, and so fourth, large enough for the inside of a cardinal . . . ’’
In the play, Angelica is perhaps the most elusive and enigmatic of the major characters, and yet she is the object of knowledge for both Valentine and Scandal. The abortive attempts these characters make to comprehend or understand her reflects both Congreve’s and Locke’s conviction about the diffi- culty and perhaps the impossibility of arriving at perfect knowledge of a substance, whether it be an object in nature, as it is for Locke, or the human personality, as it is for Congreve.
While Jeremy invariably reduces an abstraction to a concrete particular, Scandal’s habit of thought is the reverse. He looks at the particular in terms of the category it falls under, and, as a result, the abstraction is more valid for him than the concrete thing that first suggested it: ‘‘I can show you pride, folly, affectation, wantonness, inconstancy, covetousness, dissimulation, malice, and ignorance, all in one piece. Then I can show you lying, foppery, vanity, cowardice, bragging, lechery, impotence, and ugliness in another piece . . .’’ Scandal’s effort to understand Angelica is colored largely by his knowledge of other women, and yet his ‘‘conversion’’ at the close of Act V indicates that the propositions he had earlier formulated have been abandoned. Through the first four acts Scandal looks at Angelica in terms of the category of which she is a member—woman:
All women are inconstant and unkind.
Angelica is a woman.
Angelica is inconstant and unkind.
Typical of his mode of judging Angelica is a passage in Act I:
Women of her airy temper, as they seldom think before they act, so they rarely give us any light to guess at what they mean. But you have little reason to believe that a woman of this age, who has had an indifference for you in your prosperity, will fall in love with your ill fortune; besides, Angelica has a great fortune of her own, and great fortunes either expect another great fortune, or a fool.
Scandal’s logic obviously suffers from a faulty premise (though his experiences with Mrs. Frail and Mrs. Foresight would seem to confirm it as true). He cannot distinguish Cow (1) from Cow (2), to borrow Hayakawa’s metaphor. His error in judgment is simply that he fails to see distinctions, an error that Locke anticipates in the Essay:
He that has an idea made up of barely the simple ones of a beast with spots has but a confused idea of a leopard; it not being thereby sufficiently distinguished from a lynx, and several other sorts of beasts that are spotted. So that such an idea, though it hath the peculiar name ‘‘leopard,’’ is not distinguishable from those designed by the name ‘‘lynx’’ or ‘‘panther,’’ and may as well come under the name ‘‘lynx’’ as ‘‘leopard.’’ How much the custom of defining of words by general terms contributes to make the ideas we would express by them confused and undetermined I leave others to consider. This is evident, that confused ideas are such as render the use of words uncertain, and take away the benefit of distinct names.
Scandal’s conversion at the end of the play from infidel to believer necessarily entails a revision of the major premise under which he has been laboring. In other words, Angelica as an exception to the rule compels him to abandon the universal affirmative proposition that all women are inconstant and unkind for a proposition that is particular: some women, not all, are inconstant and unkind.
Each of the major affectations that Valentine assumes in the course of the play—his postures as poet-satirist and madman—is a tactical maneuver designed to afford him knowledge of Angelica’s heart. The possibility of such knowledge, however, is necessarily predicated on his ability to penetrate intellectually the concentric layers of affectation that obscure her substance and humor. But, in spite of his efforts, Angelica continually eludes him and remains outside his intellectual grasp:
Jeremy. What, is the lady gone again, sir? I hope you understand one another before she went?
Valentine. Understood! She is harder to be understood than a piece of Egyptian antiquity or an Irish manuscript. You may pore till you spoil your eyes, and not improve your knowledge.
Jeremy. I have heard ’em say, sir, they read hard Hebrew books backwards. Maybe you begin to read at the wrong end.
Valentine. They say so of a witch’s prayer, and dreams and Dutch almanacs are to be understood by contraries. But there’s regularity and method in that. She is a medal without a reverse or inscription, for indifference has both sides alike. Yet while she does not seem to hate me, I will pursue her, and know her if it be possible, in spite of the opinion of my satirical friend, Scandal, who says,
That women are like tricks by slight of hand, Which, to admire, we should not understand.
It is not surprising, then, that Valentine’s impersonation of a madman is thematically appropriate in the play, as is his refrain in Act IV, ‘‘I am Truth’’; for in a world where certain knowledge of the object in nature is problematical, Valentine has little recourse but to retreat to the subjective world, the private inner world, the only world that seems to have coherent meaning.
Valentine never does arrive at a human understanding of Angelica. She remains a perplexity even when she relents and gives her heart to him in the last act. Holland is right when he claims that Valentine arrives at intuitive knowledge at the end of the play, and when Valentine says, ‘‘Between pleasure and amazement, I am lost—but on my knees I take the blessing,’’ the emphasis falls on amazement as an indication of his intellectual confusion. The knowledge he attains is intuitive, apprehended immediately without the mediation of his rational powers. It is, in effect, not unlike the mystical experience that the image ‘‘blessing’’ suggests.
While the foregoing analysis of Love for Love indicates Congreve’s heavy indebtedness to Locke’s concept of knowledge and his explanation of how it is attained, the final effect of the play is to undercut much of what the philosopher has to say about the extent and certainty of that knowledge, particularly when the perceived object is as elusive as the human personality and the faculty for judging it is as unreliable as the human reason. One of the important implications of Congreve’s letter to Dennis is that people, as objects of knowledge, defy rational understanding in a way that stones do not. Thus, the extent of one’s awareness and level of perception prevents him in most cases from properly judging the social world, and this incapacity in turn often accounts for the aberrations in his own social behavior. In a sense, the play may be read on more than one level. It is, in part at least, a variation on the time-worn theme of woman’s inscrutability. More importantly, however, it is a critical examination of the adequacy of rational knowledge to assess man and his behavior in society. Congreve, in the end, proves something of a skeptic in terms of his confi- dence in the ability of reason to discern man and consequently regulate human affairs. He would agree with Locke that there is an area of experience outside the scope of human ken and, in terms of this particular play, that area is the human personality— ever indefinable, elusive, and enigmatic. With Locke, Congreve might say:
Thus, men extending their inquiries beyond their capacities, and letting their thoughts wander into those depths where they can find no sure footing, it is no wonder that they raise questions and multiply disputes, which, never coming to any clear resolution, are proper only to continue and increase their doubts, and to confirm them at last in perfect scepticism. Whereas, were the capacities of our understandings well considered, the extent of our knowledge once discovered, and the horizon found which sets the bounds between the enlightened and dark parts of things, between what is and what is not comprehensible by us, men would perhaps with less scruple acquiesce in the avowed ignorance of the one, and employ their thoughts and discourse with more advantage and satisfaction in the other.
The tendency to date, among critics, has been to sentimentalize Love for Love, and, to be sure, Congreve’s drama, unhappily, is responsive to the forces set in motion by the lugubrious comedy of Colley Cibber at the close of the seventeenth century. But in another sense, the play is a genuine comedy of errors, albeit sober and reflective in the last act. In the final analysis, Love for Love is a sophisticated and somewhat skeptical statement of the limitations of human reason. Neither Scandal’s mental gymnastics nor Valentine’s trial-and-error courtship avails the hero or his friend of an adequate knowledge of Angelica. She escapes formula and definition, as does every human being, and Valentine at the close of the play, dumbfounded by her unexpected benevolence, is confronted with the comic absurdity of man’s condition: his inability to fathom, by reason at least, the people upon whom his happiness in life depends.
Source: F. P. Jarvis, ‘‘The Philosophical Assumptions of Congreve’s Love for Love,’’ in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. XIV, No. 3, Fall 1972, pp. 423–34.