One morning, Dorimant is lounging in his room when an orange-woman appears. In the course of buying some fruit, Dorimant, who has a remarkable reputation as a lover, hears that a young woman of quality and fortune from the country had fallen in love with him at sight, despite her mother’s attempts to keep her daughter away from thoughts of loving any heartless man of the fashionable world. Although he is in the process of ending an affair with Lady Loveit and beginning a new one with Bellinda, Dorimant is interested. Shortly afterward he receives his friend Bellair, a fop who is very much in love with a young woman named Emilia and wishes to marry her instead of the wealthy bride his father has picked out for him. The father’s choice is Harriet, the young woman who was so taken with Dorimant.
To complicate matters for young Bellair, his father arrives in town to hasten the marriage. Lodging in the same house with Emilia and unaware of his son’s affection for her, the old gentleman has fallen in love with her and wishes to make her his own bride. Young Bellair, with the help of his aunt, Lady Townley, hopes to win his father’s consent to marrying Emilia.
Meanwhile, Lady Loveit is beside herself at the neglect she suffers at the hands of her lover. She complains bitterly to Bellinda, not knowing that it is Bellinda who has won the recent attentions of Dorimant and is about to become his mistress. True to his promise to Bellinda, Dorimant visits that afternoon and notifies Lady Loveit that he is finished with her. His action frightens Bellinda, although the deed was done at her request.
At Lady Woodvill’s lodgings that day, the lady herself is preparing Harriet to meet young Bellair, for Harriet’s mother is as anxious for the match as is his father. That Harriet does not wish to marry him makes little difference to the mother. When the two young people meet, they quickly confide their dislike of the match to each other. Then they proceed to play a mock love scene for the benefit of the parents, to throw them off the track.
That same afternoon, Bellinda and Dorimant meet at the home of Lady Townley. Dorimant makes Bellinda promise to have Lady Loveit walk on the Mall that evening so that Dorimant can confront her with Sir Fopling Flutter, a fool of a fop, and accuse her of being unfaithful. As they speak, Sir Fopling Flutter enters the company and then demonstrates what a fool he is by the oddities and fooleries of his dress, deportment, and speech.
That evening, young Bellair and Harriet go for a walk on the Mall. There they meet Dorimant, who is forced to leave when Harriet’s mother appears. Lady Loveit tries to make Dorimant jealous by flirting, but only succeeds in bringing Dorimant’s reproaches on her head.
Later that same...
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The Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter is a comedy by George Etherege that satirizes the behavior of the libertines, courtiers, and wits of London during the seventeenth century. First performed in 1676, the play is characterized by the studied carelessness of its characters as they pursue amours, seductions, betrayals, and revenge. Etherege sustains a tone of wit and elegance in the language of the play as his characters promenade through the glittering world of upper-class Restoration London. It is the fashionable world of theatricals, parks, drawing rooms, and bed chambers, of people who can sleep through the morning, of masks, flirtations, stylish clothing, and sexual intrigues that returned to London after the fall of the Commonwealth, the period of Puritanical government that ended in 1660 with the restoration of the English monarchy. It is a world of people for whom life is a game and a series of poses. The Man of Mode (mode is another word for fashion or style) presents a society in which a person’s quality is measured by the cut of his or her clothing, the elegance of his or her stance, by the appearance he or she makes as a member of society, and by the quality of wit and detachment evident in his or her speech. At the center of its presentation of foppery and idle pleasure seeking, where regard for morality or the feelings of other people is considered to be bad form, is the conflict between bachelorhood and matrimony.
A great success when it was performed, The Man of Mode acquired historical significance because of its influence on the Restoration drama that followed it, giving rise to the comedies of William Congreve and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, comedies of wit that reflect and satirize the manners and morals—especially in their habits of love, courtship, and domesticity—of the members of the upper class during the Restoration.