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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.

Extended Summary

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Act I
Dorimant in his dressing room rereads a note he has written to Mrs. Loveit deceptively professing his love and making excuses for his recent neglect. As he dresses and spars verbally with his servant, he receives the morning trades people. The fruit peddler informs Dorimant that a beautiful young woman, whom she refuses to name, has just come to London with her mother, has seen Dorimant at a fashionable London market, and is attracted to him. Dorimant refuses to pay her for her fruit until she brings the woman to him. When she describes the mother, who “talks against the young men o’ the town,” and calls Dorimant “an arrant devil,” Dorimant’s friend, Medley, recognizes Lady Woodvill and her daughter Harriet and confirms that Harriet is an heiress and a remarkable beauty with a spark of “wildness” in her that is camouflaged by the “demureness” of her manner. Dorimant pays the orange seller and tells her to tell Harriet he wants to meet her.

Medley turns the conversation to Dorimant’s affair with Loveit, noting how passionate she is in love and in jealousy. Dorimant shows Medley his letter. Medley warns that if anyone tells Loveit that Dorimant has been seen flirting with a masked woman at the playhouse, she will not believe his excuse for his absence. Dorimant explains that is what he wants: he enjoys quarrelling with a woman who has grown tiresome. Medley offers to visit Loveit and inform her of Dorimant’s infidelity, but Dorimant says there is no need. Bellinda, the masked woman herself, wishes Dorimant to break off the affair and will visit Loveit an hour before Dorimant, gossip about him, and arouse Loveit’s jealousy.

Dorimant dispatches the note...

(This entire section contains 2307 words.)

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to Loveit. Young Harry Bellair enters. Medley teases him about the bad impression he will make on his beloved, Emilia, by associating with dissolute companions like Dorimant and himself. Bellair assures them she will not be disturbed and excuses himself for having neglected them recently. Harry throws off their taunts about the risks of cuckoldry in marriage.

Harry’s compliments to Dorimant’s sense of fashion and the way he carries his clothing lead the conversation to the recent arrival of Sir Fopling Flutter from Paris and the excesses of his wardrobe and deportment. Harry notes that Sir Fopling visited his aunt, Lady Townley, the day before and flirted with Loveit. Dorimant is delighted: he will accuse her of being untrue to him.

Harry asks Dorimant how his seduction of Bellinda is going. Dorimant complains that she has refused to visit him at home. Their conversation is interrupted by Harry’s servant with news that Harry’s father, who knows Harry is in love but not with whom, has just arrived in London. Harry’s father has planned for his son to marry an heiress—not the woman that Harry himself has chosen.

Act II
Lady Townley tells Emilia she feared that her brother, Old Bellair, came to London and took lodgings in the same house as Emilia because he had discovered Harry’s plan to marry her. Emilia confesses she is afraid of that and is glad that they had time before his arrival to warn everyone to keep their secret. Townley assures Emilia that she believes her brother does not know of their impending marriage, but Emilia wonders why old Bellair has been inquiring about her and why he keeps telling her he does not like her and then patting her affectionately. Lady Townley suggests that he actually dotes upon her.

Harry tells Lady Townley and Emilia that his father insists he marry someone else, that if he refuses, his father will marry and disinherit him, and that he has pretended to be obedient in order to give himself and Emilia time to wed. Old Bellair enters, sends Harry on an errand, and expresses his own interest in Emilia by claiming that he cannot “abide” her and adding that he is only fifty-five and still moved by feelings of sexual attraction. Harry returns and Bellair takes him to Lady Woodvill’s to visit Harriet, whom he intends Harry to marry. He lauds her fortune and scolds his son for his reported liaison with a loose woman of London, unaware it is Emilia whom Harry loves. The scene concludes with a visit from Medley and gossip about the fashionable habits of the smart set.

In the second scene, Loveit and her maid, Pert, discuss Dorimant’s recent absence and his reputation for seducing and abandoning women. Pert deplores him; Loveit, despite his infuriating neglect, still adores him. Bellinda arrives and after complaining about the tediousness of a visit with acquaintances from Wales, mentions that she saw Dorimant with a masked woman at a playhouse. She assumed it was Loveit, she says, because of the respectful way he behaved. Loveit is furious and wishes Dorimant’s new conquest (unaware that it is Bellinda) all the anguish she now experiences.

When Dorimant arrives and sees Loveit’s agitation, he takes her hand as if joining her in a dance. She pushes him away. He teases her and calls her distress trivial. Enraged, Loveit asks Dorimant who the woman at the theater was. He confesses that he is as eager as she to know since the lady would not lower her mask. Dorimant, pretending anger, reproaches Bellinda for having agitated Loveit and in remarks full of ambiguity vows to revenge himself on her by pursuing her everywhere, and, in a lower voice, ends by telling Bellinda to meet him later at Lady Townley’s. Bellinda agrees. Although she has not heard what he has said, Loveit is jealous because Dorimant is paying attention to Bellinda. The more she rails against him, the greater Dorimant delights in provoking her, cheerfully admitting his duplicity. She orders him to leave. As he goes, she stops him. He accuses her of having flirted with Sir Fopling. Bellinda, having witnessed the scene, reflects afterward that although he has proven his love for her by breaking with Loveit, Dorimant has also shown his “ill-nature.”

Harriet and Harry vow never to marry each other but agree to pretend to be lovers just to deceive their parents. Seeing Harry and Harriet’s counterfeit flirtation, Lady Woodvill and Old Bellair are deceived and pleased.

In the second scene, Bellinda reports in Lady Townley’s drawing room that Dorimant has quarreled with Loveit over Fopling. Emilia objects and says that Loveit finds Fopling repulsive. Dorimant arrives and arranges an assignation with Bellinda for five o’clock the next morning and asks her to bring Loveit to the mall that evening, where he will have her encounter Fopling. When Fopling arrives, Dorimant invites him to St. James Park, assuring him that Loveit is smitten with him despite her outward disdain.

In scene 3, Harry introduces Harriet to Dorimant at the mall. They are immediately attracted to each other. Unaware that Dorimant is present, Lady Woodvill mentions the danger of encountering him.

Alone with Fopling and Medley, Dorimant sends Fopling to stroll over to Loveit and Bellinda. Dorimant expects Loveit to snub Fopling, but Loveit, seeking revenge and wishing to make Dorimant jealous, fawns on Fopling as Dorimant and Medley look on, unaware that she sees that they are. Not wanting to ruin his ongoing seduction of Bellinda, Dorimant does not express his indignation. When he approaches, Loveit snubs him and walks off with Fopling.

A page arrives and summons Dorimant to Lady Townley’s where Harriet and her mother are. Harriet sends word that Dorimant must pretend to be a Mr. Courtage, a virtuous admirer of the past age and older women.

Act IV
At the soiree at Lady Townley’s, Old Bellair dances and flirts with Emilia. Dorimant, as Mr. Courtage, captivates Lady Woodvill. When the elders are absent, he and Harriet flirt. Lady Woodvill is so taken by Courtage that she tells Harriet that if Harriet were not already engaged, as Lady Woodvill incorrectly presumes, to Harry, she would have her marry Courtage.

In order to get Harriet to leave the party so that he can keep his rendezvous with Bellinda, Dorimant tells Woodvill that Dorimant may be one of the guests at the party. Woodvill takes Harriet away. Harry and Emilia sneak out with Medley. Then Dorimant leaves. Old Bellair, Sir Fopling, and others remain until daybreak, drinking and carousing.

In the second scene, Bellinda has yielded to Dorimant and is leaving his house. She doubts he loves her, but she desires to see him again. Dorimant’s servant announces Fopling, Harry, and Medley. Bellinda hastens down the back stairs to a waiting sedan chair.

The visitors tease Dorimant, suspecting a lover has just departed. Fopling sings a song he has composed for Mrs. Loveit. Harry asks Dorimant about Harriet and says he thinks she loves him. Dorimant confesses he may fall into the marriage trap, but that marrying Harriet he will marry not just a woman but also a fortune. Medley leaves with Harry to meet Emilia and see them married. Dorimant prepares to visit Loveit, arouse her passion, and then jilt her in revenge for injuring his vanity by flirting publicly with Fopling.

In scene 3, Bellinda neglects to give the chairmen directions. Because they are in the habit of carrying Loveit home from Dorimant’s, they take Bellinda to Loveit’s. Before she can direct them elsewhere, Loveit’s footman sees her and tells her that Loveit has already gone to her house that morning and found her not at home. Bellinda tells the chairmen, if asked, to say they picked her up at the Strand, not at Dorimant’s.

Act V
A footman announces Bellinda, noting that the chairman whose station is outside Dorimant’s brought her. Loveit becomes jealous and sends the footman to inquire where he picked her up. She receives Bellinda, noting that she has become a very early riser. Bellinda says she accompanied country friends to the market, where she ate nectarines. The footman reports that the chairman said he picked Bellinda up in the Strand. But Bellinda cannot hear and is pale with anxiety. Loveit notices. Belinda says it was the bumping ride in the chair that has disturbed her. When Dorimant is announced, Bellinda looks even sicker, fearing he has betrayed her trust. Pert, Loveit’s maid, suggests it is the fruit she ate and takes her into another room to give her something to calm her stomach.

Mrs. Loveit wishes she could overcome her love for Dorimant and treat him with disdain. To tease her, he mimics Sir Fopling and rails against women’s idle vanity. She berates him for falsehood and cruelty. When she breaks down and confesses her love, he demands she meet Fopling in the park again, publicly scorn him, and thus restore Dorimant’s reputation. She refuses to humiliate herself, despite her love, for the sake of his vanity; Dorimant begins to leave. Bellinda reemerges. Dorimant tries to explain he has not betrayed her and resumed his relationship with Loveit, but Loveit’s presence makes it impossible. After he leaves, Loveit vows to find out who the masked woman is.

In the second scene, before Old Bellair arrives with a lawyer at Lady Townley’s to marry Harry and Harriet, Harry and Emilia get married. Old Bellair sends for a parson, while Parson Smirk, who has performed the ceremony, is hiding in the closet. Dorimant and Harriet hint at their love to each other. Harriet, unaware that Harry and Emilia are married, vows to resist being married to Harry, and Dorimant is moved to surrender his stance of confirmed bachelor, if by marrying Harriet he may save her from a marriage she does not want.

Old Bellair returns with young Harry; the parson emerges from the closet. When Bellair presents his son to be married, Smirk objects that he has just married Harry. In rage, Old Bellair reaches for Emilia’s hand, intent on marrying her. She and Harry kneel before him, confess their marriage, and Lady Townley begs him to bestow his blessing upon them. He refuses, accusing Townley of complicity in their plot. Lady Woodvill, upset that Harriet will not be married to Harry, complains to Dorimant, whom she thinks is Courtage, that she has been made a fool of and will take Harriet away from London immediately.

Loveit and Bellinda burst in. Loveit learns of Emilia’s marriage. Addressing Dorimant by name, she reveals his true identity to Lady Woodvill. In an aside, to pacify her, Dorimant tells Loveit that he is marrying Harriet not out of love but for Harriet’s fortune. His story satisfies Loveit. Belinda believes when Dorimant says Harriet is his beloved that it is an attempt to save her reputation. Lady Woodvill withholds consent at first but yields to Harriet’s determination to marry Dorimant. Harriet insists she will not marry him without her mother’s consent but assures her likewise that if Harriet does not marry him, she will not marry at all. Old Bellair then gives his consent to Harry and Emilia and they rise.

Sir Fopling enters complaining that the wind has disarranged his periwig and looking for Mrs. Loveit, who resumes her hostile demeanor toward him. Lady Woodvill has softened toward Dorimant. Harriet teases Loveit about losing Dorimant. Loveit exits angry, refusing Fopling’s company. Lady Woodvill announces she will leave for the country in the afternoon and invites Dorimant to visit. Harriet deplores their home for its boredom and when Dorimant expresses his eagerness, confessing that he is ready to surrender the liberty of London for the calm of matrimony, Harriet wryly laments that the prospect of such rural removal is dismal. The company, united by weddings and the unraveling of all plots, have a last dance before their departure.