Marriage à la Mode

by John Dryden

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Palamede, a courtier who has just returned to Sicily after an absence of five years, overhears Doralice singing a song justifying inconstancy in marriage. Smitten by her great beauty, Palamede promptly declares his love. The information that Doralice is married does not abate his ardor; instead, he confesses that he himself is to be married in three days. The two resolve to meet again. Having been informed that Rhodophil, her husband, is approaching, Doralice abruptly departs.

Rhodophil welcomes Palamede back to court. He sympathizes with him over his approaching marriage, complaining that he himself has found no joy in marriage after the first six months. Palamede advises him to take a mistress, a remedy that Rhodophil says he was already trying to effect. He has found a woman whom he desires, but her obsession with court society has prevented her from keeping her assignations. The conversation ends with the approach of Argaleon, the king’s favorite, who brings a message summoning Rhodophil to the king.

Amalthea, sister to Argaleon, discusses with a court lady the reason for the king’s visit to so remote a section of Sicily. King Polydamas is searching for his son. Many years before, when Polydamas had usurped the throne, the wife of the former king had fled with an infant son. To Polydamas’s amazement, his pregnant wife, Eudoxia, fled with the queen. No news had been heard of them until recently, when Polydamas was led to believe that his wife had died but that their child still lives.

Polydamas orders brought before him a fisherman in company with a youth and a maid whom the fisherman claims were his children but who look too noble to be a peasant’s offspring. The fisherman turns out to be Hermogenes, who had fled with Eudoxia and the queen. Under threat of torture, Hermogenes asserts that the queen, her son, and Eudoxia had died, but that Polydamas’s son is alive and is, in fact, Leonidas, the youth who accompanies him. Hermogenes insists, however, that the girl Palmyra is his own daughter. The king accepts Leonidas as his son and decrees that Palmyra shall live at court so as not to be separated from her foster brother.

Later, Palamede presents himself to Melantha, the woman his father has ordered him to marry. Much to his regret, he finds Melantha to be just such an affected lady as Rhodophil has described his mistress to be. Indeed, Palamede soon learns that Melantha is Rhodophil’s mistress—at least in name—and that Doralice is Rhodophil’s wife. The confusion is compounded when Rhodophil learns that his mistress is to be Palamede’s wife.

Royal affairs also are entangled. Polydamas orders Leonidas to marry Amalthea. When Leonidas refuses, Polydamas threatens banishment but is dissuaded by Amalthea from carrying out the threat. Leonidas swears to Palmyra that he will wed none but her. When spies inform the king that Leonidas loves a commoner, Polydamas orders Palmyra to be set adrift in a boat. Hermogenes saves her from this fate by producing evidence that she, not Leonidas, is the king’s child. Although Polydamas offers to confer nobility on Leonidas, the youth chooses to live in poverty with Hermogenes.

Palamede has arranged to meet Doralice, and Rhodophil to meet Melantha; both assignations are for the same time and the same place. At the tryst, when the couples converge, all four individuals fabricate excuses that the others pretend to believe. Palamede then leaves with his intended, and Rhodophil with his wife.

Amalthea informs Leonidas that her brother, Argaleon, has arranged to marry Palmyra and to have Leonidas banished. Although Amalthea loves Leonidas, she agrees...

(This entire section contains 968 words.)

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to help him see Palmyra by taking him to the masquerade that evening. There Leonidas arranges an assignation with Palmyra at Hermogenes’ house, not, however, before being recognized by Argaleon.

Both Doralice and Melantha plan to attend a masquerade dressed as boys, but they get only as far as an eating house where they exchange insults, much to the delight of their lovers, who hug and kiss them at each unflattering remark. The game is ended by a message summoning Rhodophil to the king. The two “boys” are left to fend for themselves.

At Hermogenes’ house, Eubulus, a former governor who had helped Eudoxia in her escape, informs Palmyra that Leonidas is in reality Theagenes, the son of the late king. Leonidas tells Palmyra of a plan to unseat the king, her father, and make her a prisoner when she opposes the plan. Before the conspiracy can be carried out, however, Polydamas arrives with his guards and seizes the rebels.

When Palamede is informed that his father expects him to marry Melantha at once, he solicits the advice of Philotis, her maid, about how best to woo the lady. Philotis supplies him with a list of French words, of which the lady is inordinately fond. Won by these words, Melantha accepts Palamede as her suitor and they agree to marry. Following this development, Palamede and Rhodophil pledge to respect each other’s wives, and Rhodophil and Doralice are reconciled.

Affairs in the royal household end just as happily for most of those concerned. Suspecting that Leonidas is the true heir to the throne, Argaleon advises the young man’s immediate execution, advice that Polydamas decides to follow in spite of Palmyra’s pleas for mercy. The sentence would have been carried out had not Amalthea revealed Leonidas’s true identity, whereupon Rhodophil and Palamede fight successfully to free the prince. The new king forgives Polydamas and asks for Palmyra’s hand in marriage, a request gratefully granted. Having rejected Leonidas’s offer of clemency, Argaleon is sentenced to life imprisonment. Amalthea, still in love with Leonidas, declares her intention to spend her life in prayer and mourning.