William Congreve Short Fiction Analysis
In the preface to Incognita, Congreve explains that the tale was written “in imitation of dramatic writing,” and he boasts that he observes in it the three classic unities of time, place, and action (which he renames contrivance). The story resembles nothing so much as William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (c. 1595) without a tragic ending. The two major male characters, Aurelian and his look-alike Hippolito, who have been schoolmates in Siena, arrive in Florence just in time to enter the festivities centering on the upcoming wedding of Donna Catharina, a kinswoman to the great Duke. The young men decide to participate in disguise, lest Aurelian’s father restrain their merriment. At the masquerade ball that evening, both young men fall in love, Aurelian with a beautiful young lady who wishes to be known as Incognita, and Hippolito with Leonora, who mistakes him for her cousin Don Lorenzo, whose costume he has bought. On the next day the two young students perform so admirably in the lists that they are granted the honor of the field. Recognizing his son, Don Fabio announces that the wedding of Aurelian and Juliana, which had been previously arranged by the parents, would take place the next day. As Aurelian and Hippolito had exchanged names upon entering Florence, Leonora thinks she is defying custom when she marries Aurelian (who is actually Hippolito). Incognita, who is really Juliana, swoons, runs away in male disguise, and suffers greatly because she feels that because of her love she must disobey her father and marry Hippolito (who proves to be Aurelian, after all). Two family feuds are settled by the marriage, which is approved by both generations after the mistaken identities are revealed.
(The entire section is 713 words.)