When the grand old man of Restoration theater, John Dryden, finished reading the manuscript of The Old Bachelor, he declared that he had never seen such a first play in his life. With several other experienced playwrights, Dryden helped William Congreve put the finishing touches on his play. With the added enhancement of music by England’s leading composer, Henry Purcell, Congreve’s fledgling dramatic effort propelled the young playwright to fame and fortune. The reasons are not hard to find.
The Old Bachelor is cast in the tried and tested mold of Restoration comedy, but if the bottle is old, the wine is new. Congreve’s dramatic situations are varied and interesting. The plot is not too complicated to follow, the dialogue is sparkling, the characters appealing, and the obligatory Restoration cynicism tempered with just a hint of pathos.
Congreve uses such stock characters as skeptical, witty rakes and reluctant heroines, as well as the cast-off mistress, the braggart soldier, the elderly cuckold, and the old, supposedly woman-hating bachelor. The philosophical assumptions behind the drama are also common Restoration currency: Pursuing women is like pursuing game, the pleasure being in the pursuit more than in the catch (and certainly the game is not expected to pursue the hunter); there is no more ridiculous a sight in nature than the old bachelor taking a young wife; the married state, though it is the goal to which...
(The entire section is 554 words.)