Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2113
Belvile calls Blunt from outside the locked door, but Blunt does not answer. Belvile has a servant batter the door with a chair, and Blunt calls out that he is "a little busy." First pretending to be engaged in business, then prayer, Blunt finally announces he has a girl inside. Belvile calls out to open the door and share the fun, and he has the servants break down the door.
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Belvile, Willmore, Frederick, Pedro and a servant enter and begin to laugh at Blunt and his strange attire. They mock Blunt for not knowing that the woman was a thief and a whore and for coming to her defense. Blunt threatens to fight them. Pedro apologizes on behalf of his country. Regaining his composure, Blunt praises Pedro and tells his friends that a woman assaulted him in this room and would have raped him had he not had his sword ready. Frederick tells them all that the woman redeemed herself with a ring, and Blunt proudly produces it.
Belvile instantly recognizes the ring as the one he gave Florinda. He whispers to Blunt to be quiet and not reveal the woman or the story. Pedro and Willmore clamor to see the woman. Belvile announces that he who has the longest sword gets the girl, and they all draw. However, Spanish swords are longer than British swords, so Pedro's is the longest. At a loss of what to do, Belvile allows Frederick to take Pedro to the girl.
A moment later, the masked Florinda runs into the room, pursued by Pedro and with Willmore lustily following her with his eyes. Willmore recognizes her as the woman he followed and tells them all that perhaps the lady needs to choose her man willingly, rather than be forced. Pedro agrees to this. Before Florinda can speak, Valeria rushes into the room. Seeing Don Pedro, she does not know what to do and tells him that she has been seeking him. He inquires if Florinda is safe, so Valeria knows she has not been discovered yet. Valeria tells Pedro that Florinda escaped in servant's clothes, and Callis will tell the rest of the story if Pedro goes to her.
Pedro tells Belvile to return Florinda if she comes to him, and he leaves to find Callis. Valeria quickly tells Belvile and Florinda to marry before Pedro returns. Frederick and Willmore are pardoned by Florinda for the near gang-rape as long as they marry a woman who does not hate them. Frederick denies his very nature by agreeing, but Belvile calls him on this change of heart. Valeria announces that she is to marry Frederick, and Belvile is called upon to witness the "bargain." Blunt, too, is forgiven, but no promises are extracted from him.
Willmore is left to guard the door as the two couples go to marry, but a servant brings a woman to him. Assuming it is Hellena, Willmore runs to her. The masked Angelica draws a gun and forces him back. Confused, Willmore asks her to explain, and Angelica pulls off her mask. Willmore begs for a moment to speak, and Angelica grants it because she is still in love with him. Willmore tries to apologize and speaks of his good, religious life. Unconvinced, Angelica denounces him. She keeps the pistol trained on his chest as he tells her that all men break vows, so why is he to be punished for the crimes of many? Angelica responds that she has only returned her love to him, showing that not even could master her own feelings and could not make all men her slave. Without any honor remaining or the desire for power over men, Angelica believes she is ruined and prepared for death. Willmore offers her a purse full of gold, but Angelica silences him and prepares to shoot.
Antonio enters with his arm in a sling, manages to seize the pistol, and demands the right to fight for Angelica. Recognizing Willmore, Antonio offers to shoot him for Angelica. She protests even as Willmore draws his sword. Angelica bids Antonio to stop if he loves her, and he halts.
Don Pedro enters. Antonio speaks to Angelica, telling her that he will obey her because he loves her so much, even if it means that one if his rivals will live. Angelica exits and Antonio tries to follow, but Pedro demands an explanation for sending someone else to fight his duel that morning. Pedro tells Antonio he'll fight him personally for Florinda's honor when he is healed. Antonio agrees and leaves.
Pedro tells Willmore that if he could only find Florinda he might give her to Belvile in revenge. Willmore tells him that they're married and threatens him if he tries to take Florinda back. Belvile enters, Pedro congratulates him, and they leave to see Florinda. As Willmore tries to follow, Hellena, dressed as a page, grabs him. Willmore says he had almost resigned himself to his lonely cabin, and Hellena asks if he really would have left her. Hellena tells him no one else will love him, due to his behavior, and therefore he should love her. Willmore becomes infatuated with her direct approach and offer of sex, and Hellena promises to bed as soon as they can find a priest. Willmore declares that only love will be their vow, and that they must hurry. Hellena sharply retorts that this will only leave her with a crying baby. Willmore tells her that a single kiss would satisfy him. Hellena rebukes him, saying that anyone who can be satisfied with such a paltry sum is not worth her time, and she tries to leave. Willmore holds her back and says he will marry her because they are of "one Humour." First, though, Willmore asks that they know each other's names. They introduce themselves to one another as Robert the Constant and Hellena the Inconstant.
Pedro and the two happily married couples then enter, and Hellena calls to Willmore to be brave. Pedro handles Hellena roughly, and Willmore leaps to her defense. Pedro accuses Belvile of helping with a scheme to cheat him of both sisters. Willmore the Rover tells Pedro he has only his sword, but will defend Hellena whether she be poor or wealthy. Hellena tells Pedro the three hundred thousand crowns left to her by her uncle will be better spent in "Love than in Religion." Pedro must acquiesce, given his surroundings, and so relinquishes his interest in Hellena's honor. Willmore replies that the British believe "a woman's Honour is not worth guarding when she has a mind to part with it."
Blunt enters in ridiculous Spanish garb, exclaiming that it is punishment to model the clothes of a country he despises. Music begins and, as is the custom, costumed festival-goers enter the house. Willmore and Hellena leave to be married, which Willmore says will cure all other fears in life.
The Epilogue tells in sing-song fashion that the times of Reformation tell such gay and free stories, but dull, conventional people try to exert control over plays and suppress the fun. While some who rule the nation cry out for quiet plays, the young folk seek sport and fools.
The scene with Blunt and the men deciding who will rape the woman first clearly places Spanish men as exotic outsiders. The "longest sword" is Spanish, and Pedro proves himself more than willing to (unknowingly) rape his sister. Spanish foreigners are thus portrayed comically as virile ignoramuses who might ignorantly commit incest. The British men in the scene are of course equally lustful, but even in their coarser moments they are never in danger of compromising their integrity or honor.
Florinda's reaction to Pedro, however, is even more telling. Florinda does not remove her mask and thus the extends possibility of rape. She keeps her mask on and runs from him, doing her best to preserve herself, but does not want to reveal herself as insubordinate to her brother. She fears his retribution even more than the incest.
Although Florinda runs to Belvile, hoping to be saved, Belvile stands feebly by, doing nothing. He did not stop Pedro from entering the room to rape her and does nothing to aid her as Pedro chases her. Instead, it is another woman who comes to Florinda assistance. Valeria yet again demonstrates the cooperation between women that allows Florinda the possibility of escaping Pedro once and for all, not just in the rape situation. Furthermore, Valeria saves Florinda from the other lustful men in the room by forcing Belvile to marry her immediately. How lucky, then, that Florinda reciprocates with Valeria, turning the rakish Frederick into a devoted husband by playing upon his shame at almost having raped her.
Angelica's surprise entrance seems reminiscent of Blunt's embarrassed outrage. Both have been weak romantics. Yet Blunt has no recourse but to lash out against a totally innocent female. On the other hand, Angelica directly avenges herself. Her rage at Willmore cannot be quenched by his pleading or vows of love, because she knows his nature. Furthermore, she tells him that she will kill him for all women. Her actions will benefit her entire sex because his murder will remove his hurtful, inconstant heart and keep it from hurting more women. Nothing Willmore can say saves him from her infuriated decision. However, when a man threatens to kill Willmore, Angelica cannot go through with her plan. She could have killed Willmore herself, but she cannot use another man to kill him. This suggests that her motivation of helping other women could perhaps influence her decision to allow him to live. If a man shot Willmore, it would be because of disputed love. If a woman shot Willmore, it would be to protect other women from his harmful behavior. Deprived of the ability to carry out her own plan, Angelica returns to her rational state, freed from her love of Willmore, and continues with prostitution. Love does not transform Angelica, it only lowers her into depths of self-pity, jealousy and violence. This is at least partly because she does not perceive Willmore clearly enough to know that he cannot commit to her. Her deep disappointment at his inconstancy reveals her expectations, which Willmore cannot meet. Angelica's return to prostitution is thus a return to a world she understands and can control.
Willmore and Hellena's marriage concludes the story. Even when naming themselves, Willmore continues with deception, calling himself "constant." However, as usual Hellena turns the tables on him and calls herself "inconstant." She may not have the upper hand legally, but she certainly has the power to retort. Hellena and Willmore's courtship has consisted entirely of words and costumes, of Hellena directly pursuing Willmore and his inability to resist her. By dressing as a male and assuming the role of seducer, Hellena subverts gender roles much as she did in the first lines of the play. For a Restoration era comedy, Hellena's speeches are surprisingly masculine. Unlike Florinda, she never falls into peril or runs away from a man. Hellena seems to be able to hold her own despite her sex. Furthermore, she decides what she wants to do with her inheritance. By choosing marriage to a man rather than to God, Hellena exercises the only choice she has regarding her money. With Willmore, she knows that the money will at least be spent with her alongside, so she gains access to the money in a way she never would have inside a nunnery.
Willmore's parting words that after marriage there's nothing left to fear ends the play on a comic note. However, it is only comic because Willmore says them. If one of the female characters had said the same line, it would have been an indictment of the institution of marriage. But coming from a rakish, promiscuous, inconstant unmarried man, it instead implies that facing one's fears gives one strength. This echoes Hellena's behavior throughout the play, in which she imagines herself as a thief, a poor woman, a man and a lover. Willmore does not change attitude or mindset throughout the play, but instead is cleverly manipulated into marriage by a woman who can tell that they share the same nature. Hellena, on the other hand, is transformed from a virgin trapped in an unwelcome path to religion to a liberated woman with a husband she loves and a fortune to support them. The opening lines of the play revealed Hellena's motivations were to have sex and thus escape the confines of the nunnery, but her imagination did not stop there. Instead, she was able to create a whole new life for herself.