Critique

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Of all of Beaumont and Fletcher’s comedies, THE SCORNFUL LADY was the most popular during the Restoration period, undoubtedly because it contains just those characters and situations which were most palatable to late seventeenth-century audiences. The play skillfully combines a number of favorite theatrical ingredients. The main plot, the pursuit of the sophisticated and independent Lady by Elder Loveless, has strong overtones of the eternal battle of the sexes; the subplot, the gulling of a usurer by a young prodigal who repairs his ruined fortunes by marriage to a rich and beautiful widow, was later to become one of the heartiest commonplaces of the English comedy of manners. As in other Beaumont and Fletcher plays, there is a fairly careful balancing of characters in the two plots: Elder Loveless is contrasted with his profligate younger brother (these two are, in fact, only different stages in the development of a Jacobean gallant) and Elder Loveless’ mistress, the unreceptive Lady, is contrasted not only with the overamorous and aging Abigail but also with the complaisant widow who married Young Loveless. The dialogue is racy and suggestive, and the plot complicated enough to provide the intricate exchanges so dear to the heart of the Jacobean theatergoer. Extremely noticeable is a strong vein of sexuality, but the matter is too artificial to be obscene. On the whole, THE SCORNFUL LADY is a good play of its kind, particularly interesting because of the preview it offers of the tinsel world of Restoration comedy.