"He That First Cries Out Stop Thief, Is Often He That Has Stolen The Treasure"

Context: Samuel Johnson, who had little admiration for Congreve as a dramatist, considered Love for Love a comedy closely allied to life, and with more real manners than his previous attempts. It was performed under the direction of Thomas Betterton to open the New Theatre. Johnson admired the regularity of versification (which is almost entirely in the prologue and epilogue) and commented that there is in it "more bustle than sentiment." The plot is busy and intricate, and the events hold the attention of the audience but more because it is perplexed with stratagems and amused with noise than entertained with any real delineation of character. It was Congreve's third play, written by a dramatist not yet twenty-five. In an attack on the English stage in 1698 the Non-conformist clergyman, Jeremy Collier, with plays like this in mind, used the adjective "licentious." It is true that its chief theme is the intimate relation between men and women, but actually Restoration drama, written between 1660 and 1700, deals rather coldly with human love and lust. Following the Puritanical era, people were trying to readjust their values. One defender of the plays commented that scenes in Pericles and Romeo and Juliet go farther in that direction than anything in the Restoration drama that was trying to cure excess, to exaggerate in order to laugh vice out of existence. Like most Restoration comedies, Love for Love has an involved plot, though less so than Congreve's two preceding attempts. It makes an excellent acting vehicle. Wealthy Sir Sampson Legend has two sons, the sailor Ben and a spendthrift gallant, Valentine, now deeply in debt. He is in love with Angelica, an heiress, niece of the astrologer Foresight. Sir Sampson sends his steward to urge Valentine to sign over his inheritance to the favorite Ben (the first realistic sailor in English literature), in return for four thousand pounds in cash to pay his bills. Foresight, learning the offer, schemes for a marriage between Ben and his silly, awkward daughter, Prue (the first country hoyden in English drama). Sampson approves, but Ben, home from a three years' sea voyage, finds greater charm in Mistress Frail, sister of the second Mrs. Foresight, and well-named because of her easy virtue. Scandal, Valentine's friend, who wants to preserve Valentine's inheritance, enlists the help of a half-witted beau, Tattle. Valentine pretends madness to avoid signing the release, but confesses the truth to Angelica, now courted by Sampson to provide a new heir whom the old man can manipulate. But she marries Valentine, and Tattle is fobbed off on the frail Mistress Frail. Ben is left without the money and Prue without a husband. But the ending convinces Foresight and Sir Sampson that they are "illiterate old fools." In the third act, Scandal has pretended a knowledge of astrology to hoodwink Foresight and make love to his young wife. In one of those frank conversations of Restoration comedy, he confesses his designs upon her. He tells her that some women are virtuous, as men are valiant, because of fear. But faced with pleasure, women should regard Honor as a public enemy and Conscience a domestic thief. In reply, she confesses that she is not entirely displeased with him, but adds:


MRS. FORESIGHT
You have a villainous Character; you are a Libertine in Speech, as well as Practice.
SCANDAL
Come, I know what you wou'd say,–you think it more dangerous to be seen in Conversation with me, than to allow some other Men the last Favor; you mistake, the Liberty I take in talking, is purely affected, for the service of your Sex. He that first cries out stop Thief, is often he that has stol'n the Treasure. I am a Jugler, that act by Confederacy; and if you please, we'll put a Trick upon the World.
. . .
MRS. FORESIGHT
Oh, fie–I'll swear you're impudent.
SCANDAL
I'll swear you're handsome.