• TABLE OF CONTENTS
HIDE
 Front Cover
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Half Title
 Foreword
 Ground rules
 Scenes and heroes
 The comical revenge; or, love in...
 She wou'd if she cou'd
 Love in a wood; or, St. James's...
 Disguise, comic and cosmic
 The gentleman dancing-master
 The country wife
 The man of mode; or, Sir Fopling...
 The plain-dealer
 A sense of Schism
 The old batchelor
 The double-dealer
 Love for love
 The way of the world
 The critical failure
 From Charles to Charles
 Forms to his conceit
 Notes
 Index






Group Title: Midland book, MB 100.
Title: The first modern comedies
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Title: The first modern comedies the significance of Etherege, Wycherley, and Congreve
Series Title: Midland book, MB 100
Physical Description: 274 p. : ; 20cm.
Language: English
Creator: Holland, Norman Norwood, 1927-
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Place of Publication: Bloomington
Publication Date: 1959
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Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Page i
    Title Page
        Page ii
        Page iii
    Table of Contents
        Page iv
    Half Title
        Page 1
    Foreword
        Page 2
    Ground rules
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
    Scenes and heroes
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
    The comical revenge; or, love in a tub
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
    She wou'd if she cou'd
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
    Love in a wood; or, St. James's park
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
    Disguise, comic and cosmic
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
        Page 56
        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
        Page 60
        Page 61
        Page 62
        Page 63
    The gentleman dancing-master
        Page 64
        Page 65
        Page 66
        Page 67
        Page 68
        Page 69
        Page 70
        Page 71
        Page 72
    The country wife
        Page 73
        Page 74
        Page 75
        Page 76
        Page 77
        Page 78
        Page 79
        Page 80
        Page 81
        Page 82
        Page 83
        Page 84
        Page 85
    The man of mode; or, Sir Fopling Flutter
        Page 86
        Page 87
        Page 88
        Page 89
        Page 90
        Page 91
        Page 92
        Page 93
        Page 94
        Page 95
    The plain-dealer
        Page 96
        Page 97
        Page 98
        Page 99
        Page 100
        Page 101
        Page 102
        Page 103
        Page 104
        Page 105
        Page 106
        Page 107
        Page 108
        Page 109
        Page 110
        Page 111
        Page 112
        Page 113
    A sense of Schism
        Page 114
        Page 115
        Page 116
        Page 117
        Page 118
        Page 119
        Page 120
        Page 121
        Page 122
        Page 123
        Page 124
        Page 125
        Page 126
        Page 127
        Page 128
        Page 129
        Page 130
    The old batchelor
        Page 131
        Page 132
        Page 133
        Page 134
        Page 135
        Page 136
        Page 137
        Page 138
        Page 139
        Page 140
        Page 141
        Page 142
        Page 143
        Page 144
        Page 145
        Page 146
        Page 147
        Page 148
    The double-dealer
        Page 149
        Page 150
        Page 151
        Page 152
        Page 153
        Page 154
        Page 155
        Page 156
        Page 157
        Page 158
        Page 159
        Page 160
    Love for love
        Page 161
        Page 162
        Page 163
        Page 164
        Page 165
        Page 166
        Page 167
        Page 168
        Page 169
        Page 170
        Page 171
        Page 172
        Page 173
        Page 174
    The way of the world
        Page 175
        Page 176
        Page 177
        Page 178
        Page 179
        Page 180
        Page 181
        Page 182
        Page 183
        Page 184
        Page 185
        Page 186
        Page 187
        Page 188
        Page 189
        Page 190
        Page 191
        Page 192
        Page 193
        Page 194
        Page 195
        Page 196
        Page 197
        Page 198
    The critical failure
        Page 199
        Page 200
        Page 201
        Page 202
        Page 203
        Page 204
        Page 205
        Page 206
        Page 207
        Page 208
        Page 209
    From Charles to Charles
        Page 210
        Page 211
        Page 212
        Page 213
        Page 214
        Page 215
        Page 216
        Page 217
        Page 218
        Page 219
        Page 220
        Page 221
        Page 222
        Page 223
        Page 224
        Page 225
        Page 226
        Page 227
        Page 228
        Page 229
        Page 230
    Forms to his conceit
        Page 231
        Page 232
        Page 233
        Page 234
        Page 235
        Page 236
        Page 237
        Page 238
        Page 239
        Page 240
        Page 241
        Page 242
    Notes
        Page 243
        Page 244
        Page 245
        Page 246
        Page 247
        Page 248
        Page 249
        Page 250
        Page 251
        Page 252
        Page 253
        Page 254
        Page 255
        Page 256
        Page 257
        Page 258
        Page 259
        Page 260
        Page 261
        Page 262
    Index
        Page 263
        Page 264
        Page 265
        Page 266
        Page 267
        Page 268
        Page 269
        Page 270
        Page 271
        Page 272
        Page 273
        Page 274
Full Text





The First Modern


Comedies












The First Modern Comedies

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF
ETHEREGE, WYCHERLEY AND CONGREVE




By Norman N. Holland








HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS, 1959



















Copyright, 1959, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College

Publication of this book has been aided by a grant
from the Ford Foundation


Distributed in Great Britain by Oxford University Press



















Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 59-7654
Printed in the United States of America












Contents

1. Ground Rules 3
2. Scenes and Heroes 9
3. The Comical Revenge; or, Love in a Tub 20
4. She Wou'd If She Cou'd 28
5. Love in a Wood; or, St. James's Park 38
6. Disguise, Comic and Cosmic 45
7. The Gentleman Dancing-Master 64
8. The Country Wife 73
9. The Man of Mode; or, Sir Fopling Flutter 86
10. The Plain-Dealer 96
11. A Sense of Schism 114
12. The Old Batchelor 131
13. The Double-Dealer 149
14. Love for Love 161
15. The Way of the World 175
16. The Critical Failure 199
17. From Charles to Charles 210
18. Forms to His Conceit 231
Notes 243
Index 263










The First Modern Comedies














In primitive times the blind man became a poet because he had to be
driven out of activities all his nature cried for, before he could be contented
with the praise of life. The poets of the ages of silver need no refusal
of life, the dome of many-coloured glass is already shattered while they live.
They look at life deliberately and as if from beyond life, and the greatest of
them need suffer nothing but the sadness the saints have known.
-W. B. Yeats











1 Ground Rules

"That miserable, rouged, tawdry, sparkling, hollow-hearted comedy
of the Restoration," as Thackeray called it,' has almost always been the
darling of audiences, but a strumpet to critics. Restoration comedy, or
what literary people rather loosely call "Restoration" comedy English
comedy from the restoration of Charles II in 1660 to about 1710 dis-
appeared from the stage only during mid-Victorian times. In the eight-
eenth century and early nineteenth, and increasingly in the twentieth,
revivals of Restoration comedy have succeeded beyond any expectation
reasonable for a drama so consistently maligned.2 "Neither is it a fact
that the comedies of the last age are no longer played or enjoyed," wrote
Leigh Hunt in 1840. "Whenever an actor comes who is equal to them .
they are always played and enjoyed; nor do the present audiences of
Covent Garden object to them in the least, in the spirit of a pedantic
morality. A critic here and there may do so; but it is neither the feeling
of the press in general, nor of the play-going public." 3 There is scarcely
an important actor or actress of our day who has not starred in some
Restoration comedy. Yet, ever since the seventeenth century, critics al-
most without exception have damned or belittled Restoration comedies:
damned them for bad morals or belittled them by saying they deal only
with "manners." Before going any farther, I had better clarify my position
on these two ideas: I think they are both silly.
The notion that Restoration comedy is immoral confuses immorality
with indecency. In what sense is literature moral? The purpose of litera-
ture is to me simply pleasure, the pleasure of understanding, first, the
coherence and structure of the work itself and, second, the relation of the
work to the reality it represents. The first kind of understanding involves
such things as contrast, parallelism, images, or symbols; the second deals
with lifelikeness, "character," probability, motivation, and the like. In
both cases, "understanding" involves apprehending through a total activ-
ity of mind, emotions as well as discursive intelligence. If a play is true
to its purpose, the pleasure of understanding, then I think it cannot be
called immoral. The "morals" critics have made much of the fact that the
dissolute rake-heroes of Restoration comedies marry the delectable hero-
ines. The plays, they say, are immoral because vicious persons are re-






THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


warded. Unfortunately, vicious persons are sometimes rewarded in life,
too, and delectable young ladies have been known to marry rakes.
Indeed, rakes, I am told, have a certain charm. A play cannot be called
immoral because it shows a rake rewarded, for it is not immoral to
represent the truth.
A play can be, however, and most Restoration plays are, indecent A
play that is so indecent in language or subject matter, or in which the
characters are so morally imbecile, or in which immorality is treated so
lightly that the pleasure appropriate to a play, the pleasure of under-
standing, is destroyed such a play is untrue to its purpose and hence,
I think, "immoral" as well as indecent. In this sense, the Victorians were
perfectly right in calling these plays immoral for their age. Macaulay
could hardly have received the pleasure of understanding from The
Country Wife. For the age of Freud and D. H. Lawrence, however, there
must be a great deal of indelicacy indeed before it blots out the pleasure
of understanding. These plays, then, are not immoral, first, because they
are meaningful, as the remaining chapters will show, and second, because
they are not so indecent as to block our pleasure of understanding. If
anyone these days is so thin-skinned that the comedies' indecency does
block the pleasure they can give, then we had best part company here.
The notion that the plays are immoral confuses superficial smuttiness
with the real meaning of the plays; in the same way, the notion that these
plays simply describe the manners of upper-class life in the late seven-
teenth century substitutes superficial details for the larger substance of
the plays. Manners are the stuff of comedies, as protoplasm is the stuff of
men, but manners are not the whole of these comedies. Inevitably, a play
must use realistic details, but those details are not necessarily what the
play is "about." The eleven comedies with which this book deals are
about the conflict between "manners" (i.e., social conventions) and anti-
social "natural" desires. It is this dialectic between inner desires and out-
ward appearance not instincts alone or manners alone that informs
the comedies with masks, play-acting, disguise, intrigue, and perhaps
most important, creates their language.
This is the one theme shared by the eleven comedies with which this
book deals, the discrepancy between "appearance" and "nature," and the
theme is distinctly and specially a Restoration theme. As Chapter 6
shows, the conflict between appearance and nature is one of the basic
assumptions of Restoration politics, court pranks, literary criticism, cos-
mology, in short, of every phase of Restoration life. Medieval and Renais-
sance men tended to feel there was normally no conflict between appear-
ance and nature. We in the twentieth century so habitually assume a






GROUND RULES


conflict that we are almost unconscious of it: we inherit the feeling as
part of our post-seventeenth-century, scientific world-view. Thus these
comedies, as Chapter 17 shows, mark the distinction between Renaissance
and "modern" drama.
I should explain that by "appearance" in this context, I mean simply
that part of reality which we perceive by our senses or that part of our-
selves which we let the world at large see. By "nature" I mean the part
of reality that appears only to the understanding and, in particular, the
part of our lives that we call personal, that we think of as no one's
business but our own, or those we choose to reveal it to; that is, "nature"
as we use it in the phrase, "the nature of things." I am in effect contrast-
.ing two kinds of perception. Wycherley called them "Eye Sight" and
"reason's insight," or "outward sight" and "inward discerning." I have
not used the ordinary critical rubric of "appearance and reality" because
that implies, I think, that the appearance is in some sense not real. To
the Restoration writer appearance was very real, indeed, a particularly
important reality. It included not only the manners to which earlier
critics have paid such deference, but almost all of daily life as well. As
one of Congreve's heroes says, "I know no effectual Difference between
continued Affectation and Reality." Also, I think, these two words, "ap-
pearance" and "nature," are the ones seventeenth-century writers used to
describe the kinds of reality I am distinguishing, and they are as well
the words that most readily convey the distinction to twentieth-century
readers. Although the eleven comedies deal with other themes, too, this
contrast between appearance and nature is the most important, and in a
narrow sense this study can be taken as simply an analysis of this one
theme in the eleven comedies of Etherege, Wycherley, and Congreve.
There are three, at least three, objections that might be made to this
kind of study, and I should, I suppose, do my best to answer them before
proceeding to the eleven plays. The first is that this is an essentially
literary study of essentially dramatic works. This objection proceeds from
the peculiar notion that what is good reading cannot also be good theater;
in particular, that what English teachers and critics find interesting must
be excessively dull on a stage. On the contrary, the producer or director
is almost certain to produce a dull performance unless he understands
the play as literature. As G. Wilson Knight, a distinguished producer -
and critic of Shakespeare, says: '"he producer should be aware of
the play's metaphysical core; that is, of its wholeness. Close intel-
lectual interpretation must come first."4 True creativity on a stage in-
volves bringing out the play (that is what production literally means),
re-creating it from the static text into dynamic theater. In the hope of






THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


making this literary study more dramatic, I have included as a kind of
come-on a final chapter suggesting ways of giving life on a stage to some
of the abstractions involved in these plays.
A second objection that might be made is that this is a very serious
and solemn treatment indeed for rather light and frothy comedies. This
kind of objection proceeds from a Romantic notion of which we are all,
consciously or unconsciously, victims: that laughing cannot be "serious."
"Compassion" or "pity," to use the Romantic vocabulary, is a nobler
emotion for an audience than pure laughter. "The instruction of Comedy,"
said the elder Schlegel, "is the doctrine of prudence; the morality
of consequences and not of motives. Morality, in its genuine acceptation,
is essentially allied to the spirit of Tragedy."5 Many great comic writers
(Chekhov, Gogol, Shaw, Sheridan, for example) have rebutted this idea,
but I suppose we all still tend to assume, as a leading literary history
does, "Comedy represents in a ridiculous light the aberrations from the
social norm." We have forgotten what Socrates told his drunken friends
early one morning at the house of Agathon, "that the genius of comedy
was the same with that of tragedy, and that the true artist in tragedy
was an artist in comedy also."6 We have perhaps never learned what
Kierkegaard wrote: "If you wish to be and remain enthusiastic, then draw
the silk curtains of facetiousness (irony), and so hide your enthusiasm."
Comedy is the creation of perspectives. We are asked to look at an
event from at least two points of view, acceptance and rejection, and to
recognize not that one is right but that both are. We are asked to combine
in ourselves the solemn idealist and the cynic (or mystic), both the Don
and Sancho. "In humour," wrote Coleridge in the wisest statement I have
read on the subject, "the little is made great, and the great little, in order
to destroy both, because all is equal in contrast with the infinite."8 We
are asked to recognize that all we know is foolish and trivial, but that
it is all we know, and therefore worth caring about in this world. My
answer then to the objection that this study treats comedy too seriously
is that comedy is basically a very serious business indeed.
The third objection that might be made to this book is the scholarly
one: the author, while he repeats many things long known to scholars, at
other times takes a radical approach, ignoring ideas well established in
literary history. It is true that I have dealt roughly with some of the
standard assumptions of literary history- where I felt a close reading
of the plays showed they were in error. It is true also that I have tried
to include enough of the plot of each play and enough background from
the Restoration so that the book would be intelligible even to someone
who has not read the plays and does not know the period. I can only
plead to my colleagues that I have included these things that, were I





GROUND RULES


writing for scholars only, I could take for granted, in the hope that the
book might thereby reach a wider audience. Frankly, I am trying to stir
up interest in Restoration comedy, not just among professional scholars
and critics, but among people interested in the comic or in the theater
or just in good reading.
The somewhat unorthodox plan and method of the book is also de-
signed to stir up interest. Most books on Restoration comedy treat a great
many plays; one, for example, deals with 282. I felt that, to show the
very real merits of these comedies, I should deal fully with each one the
book touched. The book, therefore, had to deal with a smaller number of
plays, or else it would become the work of a lifetime and a half. The
comedies of Etherege, Wycherley, and Congreve, totaling eleven, pro-
vided a neatly defined sample, including some very good and some
not-so-good plays. Furthermore, by dealing with only three writers, I
would, I hoped, be able to give the reader a feeling for the way each of
them developed. I also abandoned the conventional grouping first the
comedies of Etherege, then Wycherley's, then Congreve's as deceptive:
it gives the impression that Ethercge was the earliest writer and devel-
oped the form which Wycherley varied and Congreve perfected. Actually,
of course, Etherege and Wycherley developed together; the difference in
their final styles suggests that there is no such thing as an archetypal
"comedy of manners" represented by Etherege's last play The Man of
Mode.
The eleven chapters dealing with the plays are "readings," that is,
attempts to show first how the various parts of each play plots, charac-
ters, events, and language all fit together into one unified whole, and
second, to show how that whole reveals certain aspects of reality. To me,
a play is an analogue to reality. It has a life of its own as reality does; it
embodies certain laws of operation; its various elements correspond to
people and events we meet in life. At the same time, art is clearer than
life. Confusing and superfluous details are stripped off in the act of
creation; the details that are left are fused together in a richer, more
meaningful way than the details of everyday life. The analogue is thus
a metaphor for reality, not a literal, photographic rendition. In reading,
therefore, I proceed from the hypothesis (which usually turns out to be
correct) that everything in the play is there for a purpose, and go on
from there to develop the relations between the parts, that is, the unifying
principle that informs the whole. In seeing this unity, I have tried to be
over-ingenious rather than conservative, because I think the reader would
rather have something he disagrees with than complete silence on a
particular topic. That way, my suggestions, even if they are in themselves
wrong, can at least raise questions.





8 THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES
These "readings" deal, therefore, rather closely with the texts of the
several plays, and to avoid trailing clouds of footnotes for all the neces-
sary quotations, I have slipped into the text the page numbers for the
quotations in the standard editions.
Chapters 6 and 11, spliced into the chapters on the plays themselves,
relate what the plays "say" to certain ideas current in the sixteenth,
seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. The purpose of these chapters is
not to show "sources" for the ideas in the plays, but to reinforce the
readings themselves and to refute the idea that Restoration comedy is
merely a coterie fad, relevant to nothing but itself. These chapters show,
I think, that there is real intellectual substance in these plays and indeed
that that substance comes surprisingly close to our twentieth-century
world-view.
After discussing the plays I go on in Chapters 16 and 17 to suggest
that the reason critics have dismissed these plays as immoral or as merely
about "manners" is that we tend to think of them in Elizabethan terms,
when they are really at bottom modern. In the final chapter, I suggest
some ways to realize these literary points of view by dramatic devices in
the viva voce theater.
Such is the modest plan and arrangement of this book, but behind it
lurks a shamelessly grandiose hope I would like to see a total revalu-
ation of these plays. The critics have always disliked them, but to me,
and evidently to generations of players and audiences, they form the
silver age of English comedy. In the nature of things, however, I cannot
guarantee any such revaluation. An influential modern critic has made
the ultimate objection that these plays are "trivial, gross and dull,"
and to that I can make no answer. Much as I would like to persuade you
that they are riotously funny and rich with meaning, there is a normative
realm beyond all analysis where expertise is excluded. There each reader
decides for himself. The only way to determine whether these plays please
or not is to read them, and to that end, the remaining seventeen chapters
of this book can do no more than serve as a somewhat prejudiced and
crotchety guide.










2 Scenes and Heroes

To appreciate a style it is probably not necessary to know its contexts,
but it is certainly helpful, particularly in the case of a style so generally
misunderstood as that of the "comedy of manners." There are five signifi-
cant facts. First, Restoration comedy, coming at the end of the seven-
teenth century, marks the finish of a great dramatic period and the begin-
ning of the abysmally bad drama of the eighteenth and nineteenth cen-
turies. Second, Restoration comedy represents the "theatre of a coterie."
Third, Restoration comedy embodies new, though not radically new
theatrical techniques, which in turn reflect a new approach toward the
audience: the spectator is not to be drawn into the action; he is to "judge"
it. Fourth, the so-called "comedy of manners" is a new genre in the
English theater. Fifth, in its early stages, Restoration comedy is "anti-
heroic." Let me amplify.
The golden age of English drama lasted scarcely more than twenty
years. Shakespeare's writing career (from the early 1590's to 1611 or 1612)
spanned it. The preparation for this high plateau was long, reaching back
to the ninth-century Quem Quaeritis trope; the tapering-off, however, was
more rapid. It is safe to say that by 1700 the English theater had passed
through its silver age (the Restoration). It had ceased to appeal to the
population as a whole and catered largely to the upper middle class.
Also, the theater was less and less thought of in terms of aesthetic
pleasure and more and more in terms of moral instruction or "vehicles"
for some noted actor or producer.
All through the long building-up to the Elizabethan period, the popular
theater had appealed to all classes, there was something in it for the
lowest apprentice, the most bookish scholar, or the highest nobleman -
indeed the Virgin Queen herself seems to have been almost inordinately
fond of the popular drama. However, as Professor Harbage1 has pointed
out so thoroughly, two traditions had evolved. The "theatre of a nation"
was one, the popular drama of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Dekker, or Hey-
wood, which emphasized bourgeois values, wedded love, patriotism, hard
work, national unity, and moral responsibility. The other tradition, the
"theatre of a coterie," that of Chapman, Jonson, and Marston, appealed
only to aristocrats and intellectuals. It was much more consciously liter-
ary" and academic; it questioned established values and often dealt






10 THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES
with sexual abnormalities, satire, wealth, the need for ease, the animal
nature of man, and the difficulty of ethical behavior. It often attacked
middle-class groups, particularly Puritans and merchants. We look back
to both traditions as great achievements; we tend today to favor the
popular drama a little, but in the days after Shakespeare left the stage, it
was the coterie drama that survived. Greater profit and greater prestige
drew players and writers away from the popular theaters; more impor-
tant, Puritan opposition drove audiences away. When, in 1642, a Puritan
parliament forbade stage plays, the only important theaters were Black-
friars, the Phoenix, and Salisbury Court, all "priuat" theaters. The drama
had ceased to be a popular medium. When Charles II returned and in
1660 the theaters formally reopened, they reopened as coterie theaters.
Elizabethan audiences had kept as many as nine large popular theaters
going; Restoration audiences supported two small private theaters. The
theater had become distinctly an upper-class diversion, and monopolies
granted by Royal Patents kept it that way.
Thus, Restoration comedy is part of the coterie tradition. Furthermore,
Restoration comedy embodied new theatrical techniques. The theater
itself had changed. The great Elizabethan popular theaters like the Globe
and even the private ones had used a platform stage extending out into
the audience with spectators on three sides of it. Very little, if any,
scenery was used. The Restoration theater used a "picture" stage with a
proscenium arch and a curtain and lots of scenery.2 Elizabethan theater-
goers were involved in an action: "'Tis your thoughts that now must
deck our kings," says one of Shakespeare's prologues. The Restoration
theatergoer, however, watched a "scene," and prologues and epilogues by
the dozens awaited his verdict of approval or disapproval. He was re-
garded as the dispassionate judge of a spectacle not as someone to be
drawn into the play. They make plays now, a Restoration critic wrote,
"more for sight then hearing."3 Actors and managers were, I suppose,
more important than mere playwrights even in Elizabethan times, but
now added to the playwrights' burdens were actresses allowed on stage
for the first time by Charles's Royal Patents. For many ladies like Nell
Gwyn, the stage was an avenue of advancement which led to walking
over the play. An actress could have her way simply because a pretty
girl could make any play a success. Thus Pepys on October 28, 1661,
notes, "I to the Theatre, and there saw 'Argalus and Parthenia,' where a
woman acted Parthenia, and came afterwards on the stage in men's
clothes, and had the best legs that ever I saw, and I was very well
pleased with it."4 The language of the plays had also changed: comedies
were, in the Restoration, unabashedly in prose; tragedies and tragicome-
dies were more and more often in rhymed couplets.





SCENES AND HEROES 11
These differences between the Restoration stage and the Elizabethan-
Jacobean stage led early commentators to conclude that Restoration
drama represented an entirely new departure. It was thought that the
act of the Puritan Parliament closing the theaters in 1642 was as definitive
as the stroke of the headsman's ax that deprived the "royal actor" of "his
comely head." English theatrical tradition was supposed to have died,
and when theaters reopened in 1660 after almost twenty years of supposed
silence, the returning Cavaliers demanded French genres, and brought
into being heroic drama and the comedy of manners. Macaulay's criticism,
for example, and Thackeray's, grow from the assumption that Restor-
ation comedy is fundamentally un-English, its morals therefore suspect,
and when compared with the hearty goodness of the native Elizabethans
- well! More modern historical research,5 however, shows that the play-
going habit was too strong for even a Puritan edict to stifle. Plays were
performed surreptitiously. There were private performances for the
wealthy, and, particularly in the provinces, some clandestine public
theatricals. The two most common kinds of entertainment were masques
for the rich and for the poor, drolls farcical scenes, such as the Falstaff
episodes from I Henry IV, performed as one-act plays. People even wrote
plays, mostly closet dramas, but some stage comedies too.0 The picture is
not that of a theatrical tradition killed in 1642 and a substitute taking
its place in 1660; the theaters were sick after 1642, but the pulse held,
and the patient recovered in 1660, or more properly, 1656, the date of
Davenant's Siege of Rhodes.
Furthermore, the "innovations" that supposedly mark the "new" theater
had taken place, more or less, before 1642. Women had appeared pri-
vately as actresses in court masques and publicly in visiting French
companies. Indeed, Charles I's queen, Henrietta Maria, had herself acted
in a masque, precipitating William Prynne's savage Puritan attack, His-
triomastix (1632), and the loss of Prynne's ears as a seditious libeler. The
use of scenery was common in private performances, sporadic in public
for financial, rather than aesthetic, reasons. Masques before 1642 com-
monly used a proscenium arch. Even the institution of a "theatre royal"
controlled by a royal patentee took place in the thirties when Charles
I appointed the Cockpit in Whitehall for the performance of plays
at court. The blank verse in Caroline drama by the closing of the theaters
had already become so amorphous as amply to justify the eighteenth-
century epithet for it: "numerous prose." It was an easy transition to the
actual prose of Restoration comedy, which, in the original editions, is
often laid out like verse. Caroline drama, moreover, like Restoration
drama, was written "by gentlemen for gentlemen."7 Most important, the
plays most often performed in the first few years the theaters were open





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


were just revivals of Jacobean and Caroline dramas, tinkered with to suit
Restoration taste.
Thus, in many respects, the Restoration theater represents simply a
continuation of the coterie tradition of English drama. There are changes,
but none is large enough to justify the notion that Restoration drama
represents a radically new importation from Europe. There is one excep-
tion, the so-called "comedy of manners," which usually shows a dashing
young rake-hero lured into marriage by a witty, wealthy young heroine.
These comedies hold up fops, boors, country people, older, middle-class,
or serious people for unfavorable comparison to the witty lovers. There
is nothing in earlier English comedy quite like this, and it is the comedy
of manners that has looked the most "foreign" to critics.
The term "comedy of manners" is, as Professor Bateson has pointed
out,8 a confusing misnomer of recent invention. Charles Lamb was the
one who invented the term; George Meredith used it, but it achieved no
particular currency until John Palmer's The Comedy of Manners ap-
peared in 1913. In the seventeenth century, "manners" meant not only
"custom" but "character," the total nature or essence of an individual,
Greek 09o; as opposed to eo00. The same ambiguity attaches to the Latin
morals, -e as opposed to mos, moris, and the French moeur. Virtually all
seventeenth-century writers on Aristotle use as a translation of r,0o, "man-
ners." "The manners, in a poem," wrote Dryden, "are understood to be
those inclinations, whether natural or acquired, which move and carry
us to actions, good, bad, or indifferent, in a play; or which incline the
persons to such or such actions." 9 The Restoration itself called its comedy
"genteel comedy," meaning simply "comedy of the upper classes," as
opposed to 'low comedy."
The reason this "genteel comedy" seems such an innovation in the
Restoration is that it is a reaction against the dramatic style that pre-
vailed up to and after the Restoration. Professor Underwood has shown
that, although English comedy before the Restoration dealt with some-
what the same intellectual conflicts as those that inform Restoration
comedy, the tone was surprisingly moralistic.10 "Surprisingly" because, as
Professor Harbage points out, one would expect the gay delinquency of
Cavalier lyricists like Lovelace and Suckling to have been accompanied
on the stage by a genteel comedy quite like that of the Restoration.
Actually, however, "Cavalier drama was prevailingly serious, sentimental,
romantic." Restoration social comedy, he says, "can be explained only as
reaction [to] romance of the Cavalier mode." 1 Certainly it is true
that the early phase of Restoration comedy is a reaction against this
romantic Cavalier sentimentality. On the other hand, the comedies ulti-
mately go far beyond mere reaction, and to understand that growth and





SCENES AND HEROES 13
development probably takes some understanding of the starting point,
heroic drama.
The heroic drama, though one of the silliest creations of the human
mind, had at least the saving grace of being quite thoroughly English -
it had had a long nurturing in England before it finally appeared, fully
ripe, on the Restoration stage. Professor Harbage's Cavalier Drama
traces its ancestry from Greek romances to Elizabethan fiction and the
"heroic poem," from thence to John Fletcher's comedies, and through
Caroline court dramas to Dryden and Davenant, the first two Restoration
playwrights to turn out a heroic play.12 The heroic plays were "serious,"
that is, they were either tragedies or tragicomedies: laughable elements
were usually excluded according to Aristotle's rule against mixing tragedy
and comedy. The plays were ordinarily written in heroic couplets (thought
to be the English equivalent of Greek, Roman, or French hexameters), but
surely a most unhappy choice for dramatic dialogue only a master can
keep heroic couplets from lapsing into a jingle. The characters were almost
all exceedingly stilted kings, queens, and other nobility, again according to
the Aristotelian requirement of noble personages. The good people were
sharply divided from the bad. The plots tended to be very schematic,
melodramatic conflicts between love (i.e., desire) and honor (i.e., politi-
cal, military, or domestic responsibilities). There was a propensity for
neat, paired choices: the protagonist was apt to find himself standing on
stage with his king on his left calling him to war and his lady friend on
his right telling him to stay, each probably speaking alternate halves of
neat little couplets. These pat too pat love-honor conflicts were
generally resolved, no matter how artificial the means, according to the
crudest notions of poetic justice. "Good guys" win; "bad guys" lose.
The heroic play was simply an attempt to put a heroic poem on the
stage. The heroic poem- so neoclassic writers termed epic poetry -
shared alternately with tragedy the distinction of being thought the
"highest" genre. It included such apparently unrelated items as the
Iliad, the Aeneid Italian critics attempted to include The Divine
Comedy--Tasso's Jerusalem Liberated, Sidney's Arcadia, The Faerie
Queene, Paradise Lost, Dryden's Annus Mirabilis, and seventeenth-century
French prose romances such as Mademoiselle de Scud6ry's Le Grand
Cyrus. While some of these "heroic poems" have no heroes and others
are not in verse, they all have at least one thing in common: they idealized
their subject matter. "Admiration is the proper object of Heroic Poesy,"
wrote Dryden, "just as laughter is the proper object of Burlesque, the
opposite of Heroic Poesy. One shows nature beautified, the other shows
her deformed." 18 In one of the earliest formulations of the heroic style,
Tasso concluded that, while the hero of a tragedy, as Aristotle had said,






14 THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES
should be a man neither perfectly good nor perfectly bad, the reader of a
heroic poem did not have before him the visible action of the stage: to
be equally stimulated, he must be shown a hero who is the height of
virtue. The irony of the heroic play is that a style evolved specifically
as an alternative to drama was put on the stage.14
Not only was it put on the stage old plays were rewritten to fit the
new style, and these alterations throw the heroic manner into high
relief. Nahum Tate's King Lear (1681) proved one of the most durable
of these heroic adaptations.15 He drops Shakespeare's wonderful fool,
because the pseudoclassical rules forbid mixing comedy and tragedy.
In the heroic manner, he splices a love plot into the political story.
Edgar and Cordelia are in love, and thus Cordelia has a motive for
answering her father coldly in the three sisters' love contest: she wants
to lose her dowry so she won't have to marry her royal suitor Burgundy.
Edmund lusts after her and sends two ruffians to kidnap Cordelia when
she goes out to her father in the storm, but the loyal Edgar drives them
away. Tate makes much more than Shakespeare does of the love interest
implicit in Edmund's affair with Goneril and Regan. All these changes
serve to make the patterns of the play much neater and more symmet-
rical. That is, the play in this version is divided not just into high plot
and low, but into political plot and love plot. Cordelia chooses between
Burgundy and Edgar; Edmund chooses between the good woman (Cor-
delia) and the bad (Goneril and Regan); he has a further choice between
the two bad women -which he never gets around to making. In the
interests of symmetry, Cordelia is even given a confidante. Tate's most
important changes, however, are in the interests of poetic justice. He
fixes up the play so that the "good guys" win and the "bad guys" lose;
Lear achieves a "blest Restauration" and Edgar marries Cordelia, saying:
Thy bright example shall convince the World
(Whatever Storms of Fortune are decreed)
That Truth and Vertue shall at last succeed.
Our bardolatrous age may laugh, but this unwholesome mutant has had
a stage history almost as long as its original. The last time it was played -
seriously on the London stage, was in 1838.16 By contrast, the one or
two revivals of the real King Lear shortly after the Restoration were
singularly inconspicuous.1 The success of the adaptation suggests, if
nothing else, the remarkably bad taste in drama of Restoration and
eighteenth-century audiences. Even the greatest of neoclassic critics, Dr.
Johnson, seems (though somewhat hesitantly) to have preferred Tate's
version:





SCENES AND HEROES 15
A play in which the wicked prosper and the virtuous miscarry, may doubtless
be good, because it is a just representation of the common events of human
life: but since all reasonable beings naturally love justice I cannot easily be
persuaded, that the observation of justice makes a play worse; or that, if other
excellencies are equal, the audience will not always rise better pleased from
the final triumph of persecuted virtue.
In the present case the public has decided. Cordelia, from the time of Tate,
has always retired with victory and felicity. And, if my sensations could add
any thing to the general suffrage, I might relate I was many years ago so
shocked by Cordelia's death, that I know not whether I ever endured to read
again the last scenes of the play till I undertook to revise them as an editor.18
The idea of poetic justice, the "happy ending," dies hard; indeed, it is
still flourishing in Hollywood.
Poetic justice is simply one of the ways the writer of heroic drama
idealized his subject matter so that, in Dryden's phrase, "Images and
Actions may be rais'd above the life." Both in plot and language, the
basis of the style is the attempt to outdo nature. Much earlier in the
seventeenth century Sir Francis Bacon wrote:
Because the acts or events of true history have not that magnitude which satis-
fieth the mind of man, poesy feigneth acts and events greater and more heroical.
Because true history propoundeth the successes and issues of actions not so
agreeable to the merits of virtue and vice, therefore poesy feigns them more
just in retribution, and more according to revealed providence. Because true
history representeth actions and events more ordinary and less interchanged,
therefore poesy endueth them with more rareness, and more unexpected and
alternative variations.19
Although this passage concerns nondramatic literature and was written
long before true heroic drama appeared, Bacon's wording suggests a
number of the stylistic traits of heroic drama. In particular, "more just"
suggests the idea of poetic justice and "more alternative" suggests
the artificial antitheses between love and honor and the artificial paral-
lelism between the hero and his confidant.
The fact that it is Sir Francis Bacon writing hints at the quasi-scientific
basis for the idealizations of the heroic style which made the style so
congenial to the scientific spirit of the late seventeenth century. The neat-
ness of the love-honor conflicts reminds one of the neatness of scientific
descriptions, particularly that most characteristic of seventeenth-century
inventions, the two-dimensional coordinate system for the graphical rep-
resentation of processes. The happy ending embodies a facile Leibnitzian
faith in an ordered, scientific universe where "everything is for the best."
The heroic drama also emphasizes a crude but scientific psychology: the
characters discuss quite transparently their own reactions to the choices






THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


and stimuli presented to them by external reality. They are, ad nauseam,
"motivated." In short, the idealizations and simplifications of the heroic
style corresponded to the first steps the new science was taking.
Bacon's description, however congenial it was to the scientific spirit
of the age, had a bona fide literary ancestry. He was probably following
Sidney, who, in turn following the Italian critics of the Renaissance, had
set forth the same idea: "Nature never set forth the earth in so rich
tapestry, as divers Poets have done. Her world is brasen, the Poets
only deliver a golden." 20 The faith in idealizing that underlies the heroic
style seems ultimately to come from a misunderstanding of Aristotle.
"Since tragedy," he wrote, "is a representation of men better than our-
selves we must copy the good portrait painters who, while rendering the
individual outline and making likenesses, yet paint people better than
they are." "Since the poet represents life, as a painter does or any other
maker of likenesses, he must always represent one of three things either
things as they were or are; or things as they are said and seem to be; or
things as they should be." "In the Characters there are four points to aim
at. First and foremost, that they shall be good." All three of these passages
are hard to translate. In the first, from the context, it would seem that
Aristotle was saying that the poet must give his personages a quality that
would make the audience identify themselves with them. In the second,
"they should be," could equally mean, "as it is necessary (for the sake of
the poem) for them to be." The Greek for "good" in the third passage is
8urL, which could equally well be interpreted as "good for some pur-
pose." 21
These nuances of translation, however, slipped right by the theorists of
heroic drama. "Heroick Poesie," wrote Rapin, its great apologist,
proposes the Example of great Virtues, and great Vices, to excite Men to abhor
these, and to be in love with the other.
The Value of Heroick Poesie is yet more high by the Matter, and by its End,
than by its Form; it discourses not but of Kings and Princes; it gives not Les-
sons but to the Grandees to govern the People, and sets before them the Idea
of a Virtue much more perfect than History can do; for History proposes not
Virtue, but imperfect as it is found in the particulars; and Poetry proposes it
free from all Imperfections, and as it ought to be in general, and in the abstract.
This made Aristotle confess, That Poesie is a better School of Virtue, than
Philosophy it self, because it goes more directly to Perfection by the verisimility,
than Philosophy can do with the naked Truth.22
He misreads and distorts Aristotle toward idealization. The passage to
which Rapin refers appears in the Poetics, cap. ix, and says:
The poet's function is to describe, not the thing that has happened, but a kind
of thing that might happen, i.e. what is possible as being probable or necessary.
The distinction between historian and poet consists really in this, that the





SCENES AND HEROES 17
one describes the thing that has been, and the other a kind of thing that
might be. Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import
than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas
those of history are singulars. By a universal statement I mean one as to what
such or such a kind of man will probably or necessarily say or do which is
the aim of poetry, though it affixes proper names to the characters.23
Rapin saw the poet picturing ("by the verisimility") the image ("Idea")
of virtue, "more perfect," "general," and "abstract," than the historian.
This is quite a different thing from Aristotle's "universal statement" which
is about the actual nature of man, not a "more perfect" ideal.
Oddly enough, not only critics like Rapin, but dramatists seem to have
taken this kind of quibble very seriously. Professor John C. Hodges' ex-
citing literary detective work has brought to light the contents of William
Congreve's library, which show rather graphically the importance of
literary criticism and theory to a practicing dramatist.24 Congreve owned
three texts of Aristotle's Rhetoric (in Greek, Latin, and French) and three
texts of the Poetics (in Latin, French, and English) with the leading
commentaries of his day, that of Dacier and that of Rapin (translated by
the English critic Thomas Rymer). I quoted from Rymer's Rapin's Aris-
totle in the preceding paragraph, but Congreve read at least two of the
other critics mentioned in this chapter: Dryden (notes 9 and 13) and
Corneille (note 26). His library of about 620 works contained thirty-
eight titles of general literary criticism, and, if commentaries on specific
books and authors are counted, the list grows to nearly one hundred.
Thus, in a library mostly composed of poetry, plays, fiction, and books of
voyages and history, nearly one book in six was literary theory or criticism.
This period is almost unique in the importance that practicing writers
gave to critical theories. For the first time in England, practicing drama-
tists read, took to heart, and even wrote dramatic criticism.25 The same
thing was true in France. Thus, for example, the great tragic dramatist,
Pierre Corneille, has left us what amounts to a picture of himself making
exactly the misreading of Aristotle I have described.
[As for] the second part of a poem, which are the Characters [ie] .
Aristotle prescribes four requirements for them, that they be good, appropriate,
like, and consistent. These terms he has explained so little that he leaves us
considerable room for doubt as to what he meant.
I cannot see how some people have understood by that word good that they
must be virtuous. Most poems, ancient just as much as modern, would be left
in a pitiful state, if one took from them any characters one found that were evil,
or vicious, or touched with some weakness that does not go well with virtue.
If I may state my own guesses as to what Aristotle requires of us in this
respect, I think that it is a splendid and exalted character of a virtuous or
criminal nature [le caract&re brilliant & 6lev6 d'une habitude vertueuse ou
criminelle] whichever is appropriate and expedient for the person being put





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


on. At the very moment one despises his actions, one admires the source
from which they come. [My thought] is based on a passage in Aristotle that
follows shortly after the one I am trying to explain. Poetry, he says, is an imita-
tion of people better than they are, and as painters often make flattering por-
traits, which are better looking than the original, but keep in every way the
resemblance, so poets who represent angry or lazy men must draw an exalted
idea [haute id'e] of those qualities they give them, so that one will find there
a good example of equanimity or sternness. It is thus that Homer made Achilles
good.
Still another thought occurs to me concerning what Aristotle meant by that
goodness of character that he imposes as its first requirement. It is that it
should be as virtuous as it can be, so that we will not show anything vicious or
criminal on the stage if the subject we are treating does not require it. .
I find in Castelvetro a third explication that may be satisfactory, which is
that this goodness of character applies only to the chief character who must
always be likable and therefore virtuous, not to those who persecute him or
cause him suffering: but since that is to limit to one what Aristotle said for all,
I prefer, in understanding this first requirement, to limit myself to that elevation
or perfection [elevation ou perfection] of character of which I have spoken
and which can apply to all who appear on the stage.26
Corneille, both in his own words and his misquotations from Aristotle, re-
veals the tendency we have been talking about: poetry should show things
as better than they are, as exalted and splendid. Moreover, Corneille
spoke not just of tragedy, as Aristotle had, but of poetry generally.
Whether out of misunderstanding or simply because of the scientific
temper of the times, Renaissance and neoclassical writers took Aristotle
as justifying even requiring the improbable kind of exaggeration
and idealization that was the heroic style. In the search for a technique
of idealizing, English poets of the seventeenth century turned to their
own ideals, the two literary models they admired most classical litera-
ture, particularly the Aeneid, and contemporary French writing. Less
obvious, but equally important as a source of style, was the scientific
thought of the day with its faith in logical structure, systematic classifi-
cation into genera, and "clear and distinct ideas." 27 It was felt that all
poetry that was not intentionally comic ought to adopt the heroic
manner, and thus this misunderstanding of Aristotle had effect long after
the heroic plays to which it gave rise had been laughed off the stage.
In neoclassic poetry the heroic style took the form of periphrasis, a
verbal idealizing, for example, of grass into an "enamelled green," or a
brook into a "crystal stream." The individual blades and tufts of grass, the
irregular surface of the brook, details thought unessential, were smoothed
off in the manner of scientific abstraction or what was thought to be the
manner of Virgil.28
The heroic play is a peculiar, even if logical aberration for an age
that prided itself on "sense" and cynicism. The Restoration is without





SCENES AND HEROES


any question the most depraved period in English social history (at least
among the upper classes); it is not a little puzzling, therefore, that the
rakes of Restoration London found enjoyment in a stylized, exaggerated
representation of ideal virtue. One answer, and one that is not as foolish
as it sounds, is that the heroic drama, to some people at least, was a
colossal joke. While some writers and some people in the audience took
it seriously, possibly other members of the public saw the absurdity and
other writers such as Etherege capitalized on it. I was privileged to see
in the spring of 1954 a performance of Dryden and Purcell's King Arthur
by the Lowell House Opera Society. The twentieth-century Harvard
audience found the heroics almost intolerably ludicrous; it is hard to
believe that an even more sophisticated seventeenth-century audience,
composed of such rakes as Rochester, Sedley, or Dorset, took them seri-
ously. "I have observed," says Dryden's Lisideius (Sedley) in An
Essay of Dramatic Poesy, "that in all our tragedies, the audience cannot
forbear laughing when the actors are to die; it is the most comic part of
the whole play."29 It seems at least possible that the only reason the
heroic plays lasted as long as they did on the stage was the low acumen
of the Restoration audience: to those members of the audience who were
more astute these plays must have been rather funny.
In any case, whether or not the audience found the plays absurd, the
heroic style was fairly bursting with absurd possibilities. A comic
dramatist could write a funny play simply by exaggerating the heroic
manner a little bit. He could add to the humor by providing a realistic
low plot to contrast with the idealized heroic high plot. Finally, he could
give his play some solidity by providing a golden mean about which the
high and low plots could fluctuate. And that is precisely what Sir George
Etherege did, in the first Restoration comedy to set a style which later
writers followed.









3 The Comical Revenge;

or, Love in a Tub

By March 1664 the theaters had been open for well over four years
following the so-called dramatic interregnum. Yet scarcely a half-dozen
new comedies had emerged to interrupt the revivals of Fletcher, Shake-
speare, and Jonson that filled the stages, and none of these had caught
the fancy of Restoration audiences enough to set a new style. There
survived only Dryden's device of witty lovers from The Wild Gallant
(February 1663), probably suggested by Nell Gwyn and her then lover,
Charles Hart, of the Theatre Royal. The first new comedy to provoke real
imitation was Sir George Etherege's The Comical Revenge.
Of Etherege the man, little is known. A gay, handsome individual, who
spoiled his looks with drinking, he was a wit of the court circle who
turned his hand to playwriting as a gentlemanly thing to do and wrote
no more than the gentlemanly number of three plays. James II appointed
him envoy to the Diet in Ratisbon, where he misbehaved in a gentle-
manly manner, complained of Lady Etherege (apparently a shrew whom
he had married for money), and found solace with a young comedienne
stranded in the Low Countries. After the Glorious Revolution, he was,
of course, replaced. He cast his lot with the Stuarts, went to France, and
apparently never returned to England. He died in the early nineties;
neither the date nor the place are known. Although to modern eyes his
first play looks anything but promising, "The clean and well performance
of this Comedy," wrote the prompter, John Downes, "got the Company
more reputation and profit than any preceding Comedy; the Company
taking in a month's time at it 1000 ." 1
The Comical Revenge has three plots, high, low, and middle. The high
plot, in neat couplets and even neater patterns of love, honor, and con-
fidants, follows the crossed loves of Lord Beaufort and Colonel Bruce
for Graciana, and the unrequited love of Graciana's sister, Aurelia, for
Bruce. In the middle plot, Sir Frederick Frollick, Beaufort's cousin,
lackadaisically pursues the Widow Rich, Graciana and Aurelia's aunt.
The low plot shows Wheadle, a rogue acquaintance of Sir Frederick's,
and Palmer, a card-sharper, swindling a Cromwellian knight named Sir




THE COMICAL REVENGE 21
Nicholas Cully. In the incident one cannot call it a plot that gives
the play its title, Betty, the widow's maid, lures and locks Sir Frederick's
valet, the Frenchman Dufoy, into a tub. (A sweating-tub was the usual
seventeenth-century remedy for Dufoy's "French disease.")
Most commentators on this play dismiss the heroics of the high plot as
irrelevant "obviously out of the picture," or "out of keeping with the
rest of the play." "We turn from one to the other," says one critic of a
similarly bifurcated play, "as a music-hall audience will welcome the
alternation of bawdry and sentiment."2 More important, however, is the
fact that the high heroic drama and the low farce interact, each making
the other more meaningful. "The clash," Mr. Empson notes of Dryden's
similarly hybrid Marriage a la Mode, "makes both conventions less
unreal; it has a more searching effect, almost like parody, by mak-
ing us see they are unreal." 3 Certainly the high plot is not the main plot,
as many writers seem to think. On the contrary, more than twice as
many scenes and two and a half times as many lines are given to the low
plots as to the romantic, heroic plot. The play opens and closes with
Sir Frederick.4
The high plot of The Comical Revenge idealizes and exaggerates in
pure heroic style. The story concerns Cavalier bravery and romance.
Both Lord Beaufort and Colonel Bruce love Graciana, while Graciana's
sister Aurelia loves Colonel Bruce. The colonel returns from imprison-
ment by the Roundheads to find Graciana in love with Beaufort. He
therefore challenges Beaufort; on the field, these gallant enemies unite
to drive off some treacherous Cromwellian assassins pursuing Bruce and
then return to their fight. Beaufort wins the duel but spares the colonel's
life. The colonel, then, despairing of Graciana, falls on his sword and the
doctor pronounces him certain to die. Graciana decides she ought to be
in love with Colonel Bruce and therefore spurns Beaufort, who despairs.
Meanwhile Aurelia reveals her love for Bruce and he reciprocates, at
which point "the wound/ By abler Chyr'gions is not mortal found," and
confessions match the proper pairs.
It is somewhat puzzling that a man of "easie" George Etherege's
urbanity could write this sort of thing. Etherege was a comic writer, and
nothing could be farther from the multiple perspectives of comedy than
the single-minded admiration of the heroic manner. Possibly, as I sug-
gested in the preceding chapter, Etherege and his friends found the
heroic manner funny in and of itself. But whether they did or not,
Etherege plays the high plot of The Comical Revenge off against the
lower plots to develop Sir Frederick Frollick's role as a realistic but
golden mean.
Frollick, being somewhat of a roisterer, beats up the widow's quarters





22 THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES
with a drunken serenade by way of showing his affection; she puts him
off, however. He acts as second for Beaufort in the high-plot duel, and
has himself carried in as though dead to make the widow reveal her
love, but she sees through his ruse in time. He then pretends to be ar-
rested for a debt and the widow pays it, thus committing herself. After
much verbal play and pretended indifference, Sir Frederick and the
widow are finally matched. As a ludicrous parallel to their courtship,
Betty, the widow's maid, locks the neck of Sir Frederick's valet into a
great tub, which Dufoy must then carry about with him like a snail's
shell.
Strange as it may seem, Sir Frederick is the one breath of common
sense in the high plot, as, for example, when, after Colonel Bruce has
fallen on his sword, he prevents Bruce's second from doing the same so
as to complete the stylized heroic pattern. Sir Frederick says simply,
"The Frollick's not to go round, as I take it" (55).8 "I mistrust your
Mistresses Divinity," he answers to one of Beaufort's exalted love-
speeches. "Youl find her Attributes but Mortal: Women, like Juglers
Tricks, appear Miracles to the ignorant; but in themselves th'are meer
cheats" (7). "What news from the God of Love?" he cries to Beaufort's
servant, "he's always at your Master's elbow, h'as jostl'd the Devil out of
service; no more! Mrs. Grace! Poor Girl, Mrs. Graciana has flung a squib
into his bosome, where the wild-fire will huzz66 for a time, and then
crack; it fly's out at's Breeches" (3). The hint that Beaufort knew the
wench Grace somewhat better than his high-flown heroics warrant (see
also 7) and these various contrasts physical sex as opposed to spiritual
love, the devil as opposed to the god of love, firecrackers as opposed to
the flames of love, Grace the wench as opposed to Graciana the heroine
-run throughout the play and make up the antiheroic humor.
Sir Frederick is also the one who straightens out the complexities of
the low plot. Wheadle, an acquaintance of Frollick's, and Palmer, another
crony, disguised as a sheep-farmer, cheat Sir Nicholas Cully at cards.
Cully refuses to pay his losses, and Palmer challenges him. In the field,
Cully's cowardice forces him to sign a judgment for the amount.
Wheadle, at this point, promises to mend his fortunes by introducing him
to the Widow Rich (actually Wheadle's mistress Grace in disguise).
Cully, however, blunders in on the real Widow Rich, roaring like Sir
Frederick. The real Sir Frederick rescues both her and Sir Nicholas by
blackmailing the sharpers out of the debt and into marrying: Wheadle
to Grace, and Palmer and Sir Nicholas- to his own ex-mistresses.
Just as Sir Frederick is contrasted by his common sense and earthiness
to Beaufort, his counterpart in the high plot, he is, as an urbane, brave,
amorous Cavalier, the opposite of the countrified, Cromwellian knight




THE COMICAL REVENGE 23
Cully, the fake Frollick of the low plot. Just as Sir Frederick wittily re-
veals the unreality of the high plot with his skepticism, he brings to the
intrigues of the low characters a semblance of honor and mercy. Tis
fit this Rascal should be cheated; but these Rogues will deal too un-
mercifully with him: I'le take compassion upon him, and use him more
favourably my self" (73), he says, as he decides to marry Cully off to his
ex-mistress. The fact that it is Sir Frederick who puts Cully in his place,
Professor Underwood points out, establishes a sense of "degree" between
"hero and dupe, wit and fool, gentleman and fop." The applicability of
the word "degree" here shows how this typical trick of Restoration
comedy relates to traditional medieval and Renaissance values.s
Even so, lest Sir Frederick be taken too seriously, there is always his
own ludicrous counterpart, Dufoy, who puts a comic perspective on even
the golden mean. Not all the antiheroic contrasts are channeled through
Sir Frederick, moreover. Palmer ironically pretends to be a virtuous
Loyalist like Colonel Bruce (32), and Wheadle compares the dueling-
field to a sheep-field (29). Palmer can speak the heroic cant of the high
plot as he complains of his lack of business:
I protest I had rather still be vicious
Then Owe my Virtue to Necessity. (9)
The widow (who "must needs have furious flames," 16) is a comic com-
promise between the virginal heroines of the high plot and the wenches
of the low a woman sexually experienced, but not immorally so. High
and low scenes are contrasted individually: III. v, the cowardly duel, to
III. vi et scqq., the honorable duel; the incident of a letter supplies a
bridge between low I. iii and heroic I. iv; the mention of love-wounds
brings the audience from Aurelia's unrequited worship in I. iv to Dufoy's
syphilis in II. i.
As all this talk of wounds suggests, the whole play is a set of variations
on the theme of hostility. Sir Frederick's debauches set the keynote; as
described in the opening scene they consist of brawls with watchmen and
constables, "beating up" a lady's quarters, breaking windows, and the
like. Counterattacks take place in the morning: "De divil take m6,"
announces Dufoy in his French dialect, "if dar6 be not de whole Regi-
ment Army de Hacken6 Cocheman, de Linke-boy, de Fydler, and de
Shamber-mayd6, dat hav6 beseeg6 de hows6" (3). Love, in particular, is
compared over and over to fighting. In the high plot, the metaphor takes
the form of a stale Petrarchanism the victory of the mistress' eyes over
the lover (17, 34, 46, 56, 57, 63). "Beauty's but an offensive dart; / It is no
Armour for the heart" (76). In the low and middle plots, however, the
metaphor becomes an anti-ideal, a reference to the sexual duel: "I have





24 THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES
not fenc'd of late," says Sir Frederick, "unless it were with my Widows
Maids; and they are e'en too hard for me at my own weapon" (47).
Grace, when she is trapping Sir Nicholas, must "lye at a little opener
ward" (78). Sir Frederick mocks the convention when he raids the
widow's home in the middle of the night: "Alas, what pains I take thus
to unclose/ Those pretty eye-lids which lock'd up my Foes!" (31). In
the high plot, love is the heart-wound inflicted by the mistress' con-
quering eyes (63, 64), but Dufoy's wound is far more realistic. He ex-
pains it in a dialogue with Beaufort's servant:
Dufoy. ... it be de vound6 dat my Metresse did give me long agoe.
Clark. What? some pretty little English Lady's crept into your heart?
Duf. No, but damn'd littcl English Whore is creep6 into my bone begar. (14)
This colloquy is immediately preceded by a soliloquy in the high plot in
which Aurelia mourns the wounds Bruce has inflicted on her heart (13),
wounds she later refers to as her "disease" (22).
Hostility exists not just between lovers: love itself and all passions are
essentially hostile influences, flaming arrows (63) or flames (46) that
burn and torture the heart (63). Passions assault (19); they raise a
tempest in the mind (44) that tosses and tumbles the individual until
difficulties are resolved and love reaches its expression in marriage:
Thus mariners rejoyce when winds decrease,
And falling waves seem wearied into Peace. (82)
Nor is dueling the only metaphor in the lower plots for the hostilities
associated with love. Sir Frederick describes his courtship of the widow
as fishing (8) and the sharpers in the low plot use exactly the same meta-
phor for their swindle (11), and refer to it also as trapping (9, 78). The
ideas of tricking and courtship are linked again when Sir Frederick dis-
guises fiddlers as bailiffs and tricks the widow into bailing him out,
thereby swindling her: "Nay, I know th'art spiteful," he laughs, "and
wou'dst fain marry me in revenge; but so long as I have these Guardian
Angels about me, I defie thee and all thy Charms: Do skilful Faulkners
thus reward their Hawks before they fly the Quarry?" (82). (The pun
on "angels" as coins is only one of many parodies of the religious imagery
in the high plot.) Instead of revenge taking the form of a duel, as in the
high plots, in the middle plot the widow retains her estate when Sir
Frederick marries her for it; that is one "comical revenge" (Epilogue)
and Betty's locking Dufoy into a tub is another.
With marrying for money in mind, Etherege supplies his characters
with gambling, as well as swindling, as a metaphor for courtship and
marriage. "Do you imagine me so foolish as your self," the widow asks of
Sir Frederick, referring to the money of which he has cheated her, "who





THE COMICAL REVENGE 25
often venture all at play, to recover one inconsiderable parcel?" (83)
Sir Frederick's debt is a parody of the obligations ("debts," 64, 65, 77, 85)
of love and honor in the high plot. Just as Beaufort can speak of his
"claim" or "title" to Graciana (45), so Wheadle can call his illicit rela-
tionship with Grace, making "bold, like a young Heir, with his Estate,
before it come into his hands" (80). This "conversion downward" of ab-
stractions to matter, of people to things- Sir Frederick's former mis-
tresses to furniture (84) or old gowns (85), the soul to body (42),
reputation to a possession (5), and the like--becomes a major com-
ponent of the antiheroic jokes of Restoration comedy, a metaphorical
form of hostility.
Love, in the high plot, is divine, a kind of religious devotion to the
loved one (45), directed by the god of love (12, 45, 81), for passion is
too much for mere mortals to control (43). By contrast to this febrile
neoplatonism, the low plot takes place in the "Devil" inn (10), using
the "Devil's bones" (27), i.e., dice. The "hell" of the low plot is dramatized
as complete pretense. One disguise follows another and the basest mo-
tives are tricked out as love, friendship, or honor. The high plot lacks any
pretense. Every emotion is on the surface, to be talked about, analyzed,
displayed. It is as though Etherege were trying "to express the motions
of the spirits, and the affections or passions whose center is the heart,"
trying "in a word, to make the soul visible." (These phrases come from
a treatise on painting that Dryden translated for its insights into poetry.)7
In the high plot, there is no body; the fact that "the Parenchyma of the
right lobe of the lungs, near some large branch of the Aspera arteria, is
perforated" must never intrude upon "Those flames my tortur'd breast
did long conceal" (63). As opposed to the low plot, the heroics are only
a different kind of incompleteness.
Between this bodiless heaven and soulless hell stands Sir Frederick
Frollick, complete because he partakes of both sides. He cuts through
the pretenses of both high and low, but is in turn capable of both kinds
of conduct, honorable dueling or drunken battles with constables and
bailiffs, which are called his "Heroick actions" (6).
Thus, an elaborate set of contrasts and parallels establishes the some-
what doubtful merits of Sir Frederick Frollick as a golden mean and
casts a comic perspective on the doings of all the characters, both high
and low. There are the parallel duels, one the paragon of honor, the
other of dishonor. There are the parallel near-deaths, Bruce's real and
Sir Frederick's pretended one, both of which result in declarations of
love later recalled. There are the parallel "revenges": Betty the maid
taunts Dufoy the valet for his disease as the widow taunts Sir Frederick
for his promiscuity; the maid drugs the valet and locks him in a tub,





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


while the mistress makes her admirer fall in love, and locks him into
marriage. All four plot lines are united by the faintest hint of a comic
version of death and resurrection. Each one of the men must be laid
low before the final matches can take place: Sir Frederick has himself
brought in as though dead; Sir Nicholas falls into a drunken stupor and
wakes to fnd himself about to receive Sir Frederick's Lucy in marriage;
Dufoy is drugged so Betty can lock him into the tub; and Colonel Bruce
is nearly killed before Aurelia declares her love. These absurd deaths-
and-rebirths fit into what Professor Underwood sees as the basic comic
action of Restoration comedy, which, he says, Etherege developed in
this play: the protagonist (Sir Frederick--or Sir Nicholas or Colonel
Bruce or Dufoy) aspires to a love or libertinism beyond his "degree,"
falls (dies) through this pride, and is regenerated by compromise.8 We
might say the hero dies and is reborn at a more reasonable level.
Thus, in the much-maligned scene (IV.vii) where Sir Frederick pre-
tends to be dead to trick the widow into declaring her love, the action
runs the whole gamut from utter heroic down to utter antiheroic and
comes up again to the middle note. The intrigue is admittedly not very
sophisticated, but the scene is central to the structure of the play. In the
scene immediately preceding it, Betty locked the drugged Dufoy into the
tub. A messenger from the field of honor goes before Sir Frederick's
corpse to announce in solemn poesy the "bloody consequence" of the
duel. The widow drops social restraint and reveals her love. "The World's
too poor to recompense this loss," she cries, but just as Sir Frederick is
about to be elevated to the role of Everyman, Dufoy enters, grotesquely
locked in his tub, and frightens everyone away with his cries of distress
at his master's death. Sir Frederick starts up, and the fact of death
against which the widow's pretense of indifference had collapsed shrinks
again to comic size: "Farewell, Sir;" laughs the widow, "expect at night
to see the old man, with his paper Lanthorn and crack'd Spectacles, sing-
ing your woful Tragedy to Kitchin-maids and Coblers Prentices," and the
love-duel resumes. The scene ranges in fifty-six lines from high plot to
low.
As this sample shows, the play seems neither overpoweringly funny,
nor startlingly new. It uses a number of Restoration devices developed
before 1664: the witty lovers, the concentration upon the upper class,
and the cynical, competent rake-hero. In many ways, moreover, it stands
closer to Tudor-Stuart dramatic techniques than to those of the Restora-
tion, particularly in the religious imagery of the high plot and the ex-
tended use of parallelism and analogy. Nevertheless, the play did, for
those who first saw it, define a new comedy. Although the dominant
humor of this new comedy was to be antiheroic, its techniques grow




THE COMICAL REVENGE


from the same sense of schism that shows in the rigid patterns of love
and honor in heroic drama and the antithetical structure of heroic verse.
Its cynicism is that of a disappointed idealist. Things are either perfect or
awful: the hero, if he cannot be a heroic Cavalier, becomes a rake.
This antiheroic comedy found three characteristic devices of language
and action. First, love is shown with a strong component of hostility or
reluctance (a comic and truer version of the artificial love-honor conflicts
of heroic drama). The lovers engage in a verbal duel, pretending in-
difference and comparing themselves to adversaries. Second, abstractions
and ideals are converted downward into physical realities: love into sex,
reputation into a possession, and so on. Finally, the outer appearance of
a thing or person and its inner nature are shown as separate, indeed,
inconsistent, and this division is seen as usually true, not an aberration
that the action of the play corrects. The cuckold is not given justice as
he would be in an Elizabethan play; rather Cully must set out to pass
Frollick's ex-mistress off as an honest lady to his country neighbors.
Although The Way of the World, written nearly forty years later, is a
far more subtle and complex piece, these three elements of Etherege's
first play still pervade it. "The Coldness of a losing Gamester lessens the
Pleasure of the Winner," says the villain in what is almost the opening
speech, "I'd no more play with a Man that slighted his ill Fortune than
I'd make Love to a Woman who undervalued the Loss of her Reputation."
First, there is the sarcastic sense of hostility: love is a winning against the
woman-opponent. Second, the speaker converts reputation downward
into something monetary that can be priced and wagered. Third, he
tacitly assumes that reputation (an appearance) is normally inconsistent
with the woman's "natural" desires. Unpromising as it is, The Comical
Revenge sounded the authentic triad.










4 She Wou'd If She Cou'd

It was nearly four years before Etherege brought out his second play.
In his entry for February 6, 1668, Pepys describes the opening run:
I to the Duke of York's playhouse; where a new play of Etherige's, called
"She Would if she Could;" and though I was there by two o'clock, there was
1000 people put back that could not have room in the pit: and I at last, be-
cause my wife was there made shift to get into the 18 d. box, and there saw;
but, Lord! how full was the house, and how silly the play, there being nothing
in the world good in it, and few people pleased in it. The King was there; but
I sat mightily behind, and could see but little, and hear not at all. The play
being done, I into the pit to look [for] my wife, and it being dark and raining, I
to look my wife out, but could not find her; and so staid going between the
two doors and through the pit an hour and half, I think, after the play was
done; the people staying there till the rain was over, and to talk with one
another. And, among the rest, here was the Duke of Buckingham to-day openly
sat in the pit; and there I found him with my Lord Buckhurst, and Sidly, and
Etherige, the poet; the last of whom I did hear mightily find fault with the
actors, that they were out of humour, and had not their parts perfect, and
that Harris did do nothing, nor could so much as sing a ketch in it; and so was
mightily concerned: while all the rest did through the whole pit, blame the play
as a silly, dull thing, though there was something very roguish and witty; but
the design of the play, and end, mighty insipid.1
A rival playwright, though, Thomas Shadwell, wrote in the preface to
his own The Humorists (1671), "I think (and I have the Authority of
some of the best Judges in England for't), [it] is the best Comedy that
has been written since the Restauration of the Stage."2 Even though
Shadwell was writing before Restoration comedy had reached a very
high level, I fear that Pepys, for once in his life, was right in his critical
judgment.
Nevertheless, Etherege had come a step closer to what was to become
the final Restoration style. That is, She wou'd if she cou'd does not make
its point by the contrast between high and low plots as Elizabethan or
Jacobean drama or The Comical Revenge- did. Instead, it concen-
trates on the one plot of matching two pairs of witty lovers. Further, She
wou'd if she cou'd presupposes a fundamental split in human beings be-
tween appearance and nature, between social requirements and "natural"
desires. The basic theme of the play, its sense of humor, thus becomes the




SHE WOU'D IF SHE COU'D


contrast between liberty and restraint. "The Town" in the play stands
for a place big enough, offering enough opportunities for anonymity,
so that social restrictions do not really interfere with natural desires.
Conversely, the country stands for a place where close observation
makes social restrictions impinge directly on natural desires. In the
town, private self and social self can be quite separated; in the country
they cannot. The town thus suggests liberty, and the country, restraint.
Similarly, gallantry and flirtation are associated with the town and liberty;
marriage becomes associated with confinement and the country. Country
restraints are permanent; one only lends oneself to such town require-
ments as clothing, conversation, or disguise. Thus, plot, symbols, and
action all grow from the fundamental assumption that there is a deep
division between social and "natural" man.3
As the play opens, two young gallants, Courtall and his friend Free-
man, are interrupted in their search for "new game" by Mrs. Sentry, who
tells Courtall that her mistress, Lady Cockwood, has come back to town
and is eagerly looking forward to seeing him. Courtall has so far man-
aged to avoid satisfying the lady's importunities, and to escape her at-
tentions this time he pleads an engagement to meet her henpecked hus-
band, Sir Oliver Cockwood, and his drinking companion, Sir Joslin Jolly,
both of whom are eager to run riot after their release from the country.
While Courtall and Freeman are on their way, they meet and are
charmed by two witty and handsome girls in masks. When the two
gallants are brought to Lady Cockwood's by the two drunken country
knights, they find these young ladies are Sir Joslin's nieces Ariana and
Catty, who, also feeling suddenly liberated from the restraints of the
country, had been taking the liberty of the town. After a number of
meetings during Sir Oliver's alternate drinking bouts and penances and
Lady Cockwood's schemes to consummate her relation with Courtall,
the two gallants become thoroughly enamoured of the girls. Lady Cock-
wood sees that they are and angrily realizes why she and Courtall never
seem to find an opportunity. She sends forged letters to antagonize the
couples, meanwhile assuring Sir Oliver that Courtall has made her dis-
honorable proposals. Despite the confusion, Courtall adroitly figures
out what is going on, and maneuvers Lady Cockwood into a position
where she is forced to let the young romances take their course. The
girls finally agree to accept their suitors on a month's probation.
As one might surmise from the plot, there is one "natural" desire which
is constant for every character almost the only one: the desire for
sexual gratification. And this desire is constant regardless of outward
differences between town people or country people, between Lady
Cockwood's pretenses to honor or Sir Joslin's frank vulgarity. It is con-





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


spicuously true of all the women in the play, to any one of whom the
title She wou'd if she cou'd applies. Moreover, each character assumes
that sexual desire is the major motive in any action by another. Ariana
and Gatty suspect Lady Cockwood's affair with a gallant as she does
theirs; Sir Oliver assumes Lady Cockwood is motivated by desire his
only mistake is that he thinks he is to be the instrument of her gratifica-
tion; Sir Joslin introduces the lovers to each other on strictly physical
terms; Lady Cockwood even suspects Sentry of trying to take Courtall
away from her. The characters express this indiscriminate sexuality in
animal terms. A lover is to his mistress as a spaniel (155) or as horses
are to a coach (98).4 A jealous woman is like a bloodhound (142). "I was
married to her when I was young, Ned," sighs the restless Sir Oliver,
"with a design to be baulk'd, as they tye Whelps to the Bell-weather;
where I have been so butted, 'twere enough to fright me, were I not
pure mettle, from ever running at sheep again" (137).
Birds are the most common symbol for this animality. Thus, Courtall
describes himself as an "old Fowler" (151), and Gatty compares him
to a kite looking for poultry (154). The belligerent little oldsters, Sir
Oliver and Sir Joslin, think of themselves as game-cocks (101, 131) and
Sir Joslin even swears: "If I ever break my word with a Lady, she
shall have leave to carve me for a Capon" (100). Like Courtall, Lady
Cockwood pursues and is a "kite" (59), and "old Haggard" (122), even
an old hen, to whom the girls are chicks (130). The girls themselves are
birds in a cage (103), whereas whores are "ravenous Cormorants"
(140). Courtall calls the pursuit of Ariana and Gatty going "a birding"
(155); "Are you so wild," asks Freeman, comparing the masked girls in
the park to falcons, "that you must be hooded thus?" (107). The play
makes this one joke over and over its theme, insofar as this play has
a satirical theme: the absurdity of a two-legged animal's pretending its
animal desires are something better. A curious comparison presents
itself at this point. As Professor G. Wilson Knight points out in an
entertaining appendix called "The Shakespearian Aviary," Shakespeare
also uses birds frequently." "Such images and impressions," writes Pro-
fessor Knight, "occur mainly in direct relation to all essences which may
be, metaphorically, considered ethereal and volatile. Bird-life suggests
flight and freedom and swiftness: it also often suggests pride." For
Etherege, birds are just another two-legged animal. The difference, in a
sense, epitomizes what had happened to English drama.
Etherege portrays love in this play, as in The Comical Revenge, as
various antagonisms. Thus, the love-chase is a naval battle (106) or
land war (118): the gallants are military strategists (105) and the girls
mere soldiers (105) to whom they ultimately surrender (109). Even Sir





SHE WOU'D IF SHE COU'D


Oliver and Sir Joslin are "mighty men at Arms" ready to "charge anon
to the terrour of the Ladies" (132), for whoring requires courage (138).
In this terminology, a billet-doux is a challenge, an assignation a duel
(156), and so on. In another form of sex-antagonism, the pursuit of the
opposite sex is "hunting" (91, 101, 104, 106, 107) or hawking or horse-
breaking (92) or fishing, the girls being "young Trouts" (121). In a
set of monetary comparisons, sex is a "trade" (91, 119, 131, 175),
"gambling" (98, 128, 168), swindling (104), or lawsuits (150): thus,
Courtall speaks of Lady Cockwood's sexual forwardness as trying to
arrest him for debt (153). Etherege so proliferates this kind of unfavor-
able comparison that it almost seems to lose any kind of pattern or
direction: love (or sex) is acting a part in a play (121), alchemical
projecting (151), an execution (131), a stain (168), or a fever (169);
a woman is something to be eaten (153, 178), or even read (155). The
same disparagement applies to marriage: it is a duel (176) to which
the proposal is the challenge. It is a business enterprise (103, 174), a
mortgaging of one's person to acquire an estate; courtship is simply
negotiating the contract (174). Nevertheless, these comparisons, even
as varied and as proliferated as they are, do show a pattern. In every
case, the basis for the comparison is that the individual is about to accept
an apparent restraint in order to satisfy his real natural desires. In a
sense, he must obey "the rules of the game" to achieve satisfaction: in
this respect, love and marriage can be thought of as acting or bargaining
or lawsuits, even as alchemy. Etherege is simply saying metaphorically
that a fine gallant hates falling in love, for then he must restrain his
liberty: "All the happiness a Gentleman can desire, is to live at liberty"
(174).
This theme of liberty and restraint--the most basic theme of the
play--is organized about various contrasts. One such contrast is that
between sexual animality and falling in love. Another such contrast is
that between town and country. Indeed, the action of She wou'd if she
cou'd is simply that of country people (the Cockwoods, Jolly, and his
nieces) adventuring into the wider scope and complexity of London.
The difference between town and country shows itself in the form of
intrigue. "There is some weighty affair in hand, I warrant thee: my dear
Ariana, how glad am I we are in this Town agen," cries Catty as she
infers an intrigue from Lady Cockwood's behavior (102). "A man had
better be a vagabond in this Town, than a Justice of Peace in the
Country," says Sir Oliver, summing up the difference between them.
"If a man do but rap out an Oath, the people start as if a Gun went
off; and if one chance but to couple himself with his Neighbours Daugh-
ter without the help of the Parson of the Parish, there is presently





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


such an uproar, that a poor man is fain to fly his Country" (93). The
difference, in other words, is that the country allows little or no scope
for a personal life. There is no privacy: observation is so close that one's
nature cannot be given free play, but is bound in tightly by social
restrictions. Petty pretenses, like a child's, are the only escape.
In the town, on the other hand, pretenses become large and graceful
responses to convention, ends in themselves because the town is large
enough and anonymous enough for a person's outward appearance and
private life to be quite separated. By being separated, each becomes
important in and of itself. Clothing, for example, assumes a new impor-
tance in the town. Lady Cockwood can severely restrict Sir Oliver's
activities by locking up all but his "Penitential Suit" (127ff.) A face
is like a hat (107); an affair to Freeman is like putting on a new suit
(97); and a lover, to the girls, runs in one's head like a new gown (168).
A woman is known simply as her mask and her petticoat (103, 131). In
the town, appearances, because they are separated from the private self,
have a separate existence all their own.
The humor of the play lies in the contrast between what the young
people do with the liberty of the town and what their elders do with it.
Lady Cockwood makes herself ridiculous by pursuing Courtall, and Sir
Oliver and Sir Joslin make themselves ridiculous by their sophomoric
debauches, while the young people use their liberty to fall in love. Their
doing so does not mean they are wiser. On the contrary, they have
simply used their freedom to exchange it for confinement; they have
ceased being "Tenants at Will" and have bound themselves to a "Lease
for life" (174). Accepting confinement means letting oneself in for
pretense, because confinement creates a tension between the "natural"
self and the outward, social self, and that tension in turn creates a need
to deceive others. Thus, Ariana and Catty disguise themselves to flirt
in the Mulberry Garden and resent the social rules that deny them the
same liberties as men. Thus, too, Sir Oliver pretends fidelity to escape and
resents Lady Cockwood who, by restraining him, creates the need for
pretense. In this way, the Cockwood marriage operates not by love but
power politics. Sir Oliver tries to establish himself as a monarch
(114, 115) or "tyrant" (96) controlling the "politicians," his wife and
Mrs. Sentry. Sentry's name, of course, is significant and Sir Oliver's
might be a reminiscence of the Civil War. At any rate, domestic alterca-
tions are called "civil war" (137) and infidelities, whether Sir Oliver's
or Courtall's, "treason" (139, 144). They are put down, however, and
in the finale Lady Cockwood is cast as a restored monarch bestowing
an "Act of Oblivion" (176) and marching Sir Oliver off to bed where
"we'll sign the Peace" (179). Even the young lovers at this early stage




SHE WOU'D IF SHE COU'D


of their relation are subject to power politics. Courtall and Freeman are
to Gatty and Ariana as subjects are to rulers, or indeed to "absolute
Tyrants" (103).
The play, however, develops one important difference between the old
pretenders and the young. Sir Oliver and Lady Cockwood have been
pretending so long and so hard that the inconsistency between their
inner natures and outer appearances has confused them and corrupted
the expression of their real selves. The two overtones in their name sug-
gest this confusion, Cockwood, expressing sexual desire, and "woodcock,"
the bird proverbial for stupidity. Lady Cockwood, even in her private
interviews with Courtall, cannot put aside her pretenses to honor (as
in II.ii, for example.) Even when they are alone, she scolds Sentry for
neglecting to chaperone her, and Sentry apologizes for her: "This is a
strange infirmity she has, [but] custom has made it so natural, she can-
not help it" (113). Sir Oliver's continual pretense of affection and respect
to his lady has mixed his inner and outer selves, too, so that he can no
longer satisfy his desires for other game. His riots are tainted with the
impotency that his relations with Lady Cockwood bring out ("The very
sight of that face makes me more impotent than an Eunuch" 114).
Thus, his amours in the play are uniformly failures; even his desires are
limited: "When we visit a Miss,/ We still brag how we kiss,/ But 'tis
with a Bottle we fegue her" (141). He pretends to his wife (to whom
he should not have to pretend at all) that he is more virtuous than he
is and to the world that he is more vicious.
This, then, is what is laughable about the older people: that they let
their social pretenses creep into private affairs where they do not belong.
The difference between them and the young people shows in the two
"hiding" scenes. In the first (I.i), Mrs. Sentry, who has come to tell
Courtall of the Cockwoods' arrival, is forced to hide when Sir Oliver
comes, and overhears him invite the young men to a wild evening. Only
confusion results from Lady Cockwood's learning of this, because, since
both Cockwoods are pretending to each other, she cannot admit to her
knowledge. In the later hiding scene (V.i), when Courtall and Freeman
overhear the girls solving the problem of the forged letters, the result
is to give both sides the knowledge to break down the barriers Lady
Cockwood put between them. The lovers can use their knowledge be-
cause they are completely aware of the line where social pretense leaves
off and plain dealing begins. The young people use pretense without
being dominated by it, and their sense of appropriateness is the screen
against which most of the wit sallies are projected. The young people
are as aware of their double selves as an actor in a part and, indeed,
Gatty uses the metaphor: "I hate to dissemble when I need not; 'twou'd





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


look as affected in us to be reserved now w'are alone, as for a Player to
maintain the Character she acts in the Tyring-room" (170). "A single
intrigue in Love," says Courtall, "is as dull as a single Plot in a Play, and
will tire a Lover worse, than t'other does an Audience." "We cannot be
long without some under-plots in this Town," replies Freeman, "let this
be our main design, and if we are anything fortunate in our contrivance,
we shall make it a pleasant Comedy" (121). Two acts of frankness in
friendship are what break through the outer barriers of pretense and
resolve the intrigue, such as it is. "Let us proceed honestly like Friends,
discover the truth of things to one another," says Freeman, and the two
gallants find to their good fortune that they are pursuing different women
(152). Similarly, it is Ariana's and Catty's frank talk (168) that cears
up the business of the forged letters. In broader terms, the lovers know
that appearance and nature are necessarily different; they know when
one's inner nature can be converted into a social, outer fact and when it
cannot be, and that is the key to their competence. The difference be-
tween old and young, then, is simply that pretense has taken over the
old folks' personalities, but not the young lovers' at least not Courtall's
and Gattv's.
The lesser lovers, however, Freeman and Ariana, have begun to show
the same confusion of selves that mars the actions of the older people.
Freeman's explanation to Courtall of his beginning an intrigue with
Lady Cockwxoo is not convincing (173), and suggests that he is play-
ing his friend false. Similarly, Ariana rejects Gatty's frankness; Gatty
demands, "last thou not promised me a thousand times, to leave off
this demureness?" and Ariana answers, "If your tongue be not altogether
so nimble, I may be conformable," suggesting that she, like Lady Cock-
wood, carries social pretense into a relationship where it ought not to be
(102, see also 170).
The denouement resolves these contrasts between town and country,
gallantry and marriage, old and young, liberty and restraint, by com-
promise. Early in the play, when Catty and Ariana successfully trick
Courtall, they speak of turning him into a "Country Clown" (126). At
the end of the play, Catty, speaking of marriage as a kind of confine-
ment, ironically remarks, "These Gentlemen have found it so convenient
lying in Lodgings, they'll hardly venture on the trouble of taking a
House of their own." "A pretty Country-seat, Madam," replies Courtall
gallantly, "with a handsome parcel of Land, and other necessaries belong-
ing to't, may tempt us; but for a Town-Tenement that has but one poor
conveniency, we are resolved well never deal" (174). The young men
accept their confinement and agree to a month's trial before their final
satisfaction: For Courtall, the ways of intrigue seem almost to have





SHE WOU'D IF SHE COU'D 35
passed: "If the heart of man be not very deceitful, 'tis very likely it may
be [a match]." For Freeman, however, the lesser lover, "A month is a
tedious time, and will be a dangerous tryal of our resolutions; but I hope
we shall not repent before Marriage, whate're we do after" (176). The
month's trial, of course, continues the pattern of the various unfavorable
metaphors for love and marriage: that one must obey "the rules of the
game" to achieve satisfaction, submitting to a restraint to win in the end.
There is a hint in Freeman's remark that these marital confinements will
give rise eventually to the same pretense and hostility that mar the Cock-
wood marriage. The older people at the end of the play continue their
pretenses unchanged. "I am resolved," piously says Lady Cockwood,
"to give over the great business of this Town, and hereafter modestly
confine my self to the humble Affairs of my own Family." "Pray enter-
tain an able Chaplain," replies Courtall dryly (178). Sir Joslin and the
unwitting Sir Oliver are just as restless as at the opening of the play as
they prepare to return to country life, a morass of crabbed pretenses
forced on them by the binding effect of social restrictions on natural
desires.
Etherege's second play is quite different from his first, and the change
measures his capacity for growth as a dramatist. Gone are the old de-
vices of parallel plots and character groups. The entire action is built on
a series of contrasts, each of which grows from one central idea: the
felt conflict between social restraints and "natural" desires. The concep-
tion is thoroughly un-Elizabethan, and the form of the play has grown
to meet the conception. While there is an occasional heroic note in Lady
Cockwood's hypocritical cant about her honor, the highness of the high
plot of The Comical Revenge is almost wholly gone, too. The super-
natural element, present in a half-serious way in his first play, has now
been almost eliminated. The Devil appears: everyone in the play is
called a devil at one time or another (126, 129, 150, 151, 157, 158);
Lady Cockwood, in particular, is an "Old Devil" (153, 158) or a long-
Wing'd devil" (121). But the epithet is not meant in any traditional
religious way and there is hardly any heavenly counterpart in the finale;
marriage is taken as a penance for the sins of the gallants (174), Lady
Cockwood is urged to entertain an able chaplain, and that is about all.
The new play is saturated with realism, real taverns, real parks, real
stores, contrasted implicitly to the outlandish atmospheres of heroic
drama. The play is antiheroic, but to heroics heard only in the mind's
ear. So too, the low plot has been absorbed into the single, unified dra-
matic situation. Folly, in this play, has risen to the upper class, though
it still is, as it was for Sir Nicholas Cully, allowing one's pretenses to
take the place of one's real nature.





36 THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES
She wou'd if she cou'd is a study, still somewhat crude, of this kind of
folly. The young people of the play face constantly the risk that their
necessary and proper social pretenses, whether to honor or to vice, may
obstruct their real feelings; they face, too, the warning example of the
Cockwoods. Their success in avoiding this pitfall defines an ethic of
pretense. Etherege's second play has little of the sheer doings of his
first there are neither duels nor slapstick and this suggests a grow-
ing awareness on the part of the characters and their author that "talk
is a very important kind of action."6 Conversation is a performance;
speech, clothing, manners, and other forms of appearance have impor-
tance in themselves because they are separate from the private life of
the individual, his "nature." These appearances constitute the visible,
apparent acquiescence to social and other restraints and are thought of
as separate from the nature that rebels against restraint. But even the
purely private actions of an individual sexual conversation as opposed
to verbal, for example are felt to have this double nature, a visible,
external performance and a personal, internal satisfaction.
The talk Etherege gives his characters bodies forth this sense in
linguistic form. "Now shall I sleep as little without you," cries Courtall,
in his curtain speech, as he is parting from his betrothed, "as I should do
with you: Madam, expectation makes me almost as restless as Jealousie."
These comparisons, a late-seventeenth-century version of Donne's con-
ceits, let a man be passionate but discuss his passion at the same time,
as Donne's do. Impersonally, whimsically, the observer talks about
things which he, by an odd coincidence, happens to be doing.' In later
Restoration comedies, this figure of speech becomes a rhetorical device
of extraordinary complexity: the speaker hides his feelings by the comic
comparison at the same time that by discussing them at all he makes
them more visible and himself transparent in the heroic manner. In She
wou'd if she cou'd the device is not yet used with skill. When the events
of the play move quickly, metaphor drops out. Where characters are
acting or planning action, they speak normally, as when Sir Oliver or
Sir Joslin plan their parties or Lady Cockwood an assignation or when
the gallants hide in the Cookwood house. Figurative speech is reserved
for the obvious occasions when talk is an action itself, such as the time
in the park when the two young men meet the girls or when the final
matches are made. Metaphor is still felt as a frothy formality opposed
to the "weighty affairs" of the play, not yet a part of them. Nevertheless,
Etherege has begun to weld action and language into a way of seeing.
Town and country symbolize opposite poles of experience, liberty and
restraint. Etherege uses this division to split his characters, to show how
in response to the pressure to conform some respond by dissimulation




SHE WOU'D IF SHE COU'D 37
and affectation, and some evolve a golden mean of a restraint, the accept-
ance of which is an expression of self marriage for love. Both language
and action represent human conduct split under the pressure of con-
formity into a visible, social appearance and a personal, private nature.
Folly is the confusion of the two; wisdom is their separation and balance.
She wou'd if she cou'd is a quasi-scientific exploration of divided man,
and this was to be the Restoration comic mode.










5 Love in a Wood; or, St. James's Park

When William Wycherley retired from the stage in 1676, everyone
agreed that he had written the finest comedy since Ben Jonson: even
today it would be hard to decide whether Congreve's polish ever really
surpassed the achievement of "manly Wycherley." His first play is prom-
ising enough, though hardly as gratifying today as it evidently was to
the audiences of the 1670's. The aging Wycherley told young Pope that
he had written Love in a Wood when he was nineteen, that is, in 1659.
While this was a perhaps pardonable attempt to retain "one-upness" in
the large eyes of a rather nasty little genius, it has added one more straw
to the burdens of modern scholarship. Wycherley left England at fifteen,
and not even in the seventeenth century could a fifteen-year-old acquire
such a knowledge of London. While he might have written a first draft
when he was at Oxford and twenty, internal references and the accurate
picture of London life in the play suggest that Wycherley subtracted
eight years: the play was probably finished about 1670, and its first per-
formance took place in the spring of 1671. Whenever it was, it suddenly
brought Wycherley success in the Restoration manner. Two days
after the opening, the Duchess of Cleveland, circling the Mall in her
chariot, leaned out and cheerily called to him: "You, Wycherley, you
are a Son of a Whore." Starting from this novel conversational gambit,
actually a reference to the song at the end of the first act: "Great Wits,
and great Braves/ Have always a Punk to their Mother," Wycherley and
the lady soon became lovers. The dramatist was thus drawn into a group
that included such a varied assortment of people as Jacob Hall, the tight-
rope dancer, the Duke of Buckingham, and the king himself. The lady's
nobler lovers accepted him gracefully, and he quickly became one of
the most noted wits of the court circle.'
Though Wycherley rose higher than Etherege, both in society and in
the annals of literature, he grew as a dramatist in much the same way.
Thus, Wycherley's first play shows the same crudity and use of high and
low plots as The Comical Revenge. The seven years since The Comical
Revenge, however, had made a big difference in dramatic technique.
Wycherley reduced analogy to a minimal function: the high plot differs
so little from the low that the contrast between them forms only a small





LOVE IN A WOOD
part of the meaning of the play. Both plots are realistic. Neither is an
absurd contrast to the other; rather, both show the same sort of action
and the same sort of epistemological flaw. In both plots, there are crossed
lovers, people who stray from their "proper" relationships, where con-
sent is more or less mutual, because they confuse appearance with
nature. In each plot, there is one character who superintendss" the
action: Vincent, the helpful friend of the high plot, and Mrs. Joyner, the
marriage broker of the low. Both stand in the position of matchmakers:
Vincent's name refers equally to vincere, to conquer, and vincire, to
bind. Just as Mrs. Joyner is the only one in possession of all the facts in
the low plot, Vincent is the only one in the high plot to keep his faith
in the misunderstood heroine. While there is analogy between the high
and low plots, however, it is the form of the intrigues that brings out the
meaning in the comical goings-on.
In the low plot, Mrs. Joyner is promoting various unions: Sir Simon
Addleplot, a fool, has disguised himself as Jonas the clerk to enter Alder-
man Gripe's household, so he can marry (for money) either Lady Flip-
pant, Gripe's sister, supposedly rich, or Mrs. Martha, his daughter;
Lady Flippant wants to marry (for money) Sir Simon, but would prefer
to have an affair with Dapperwit; Dapperwit wants to marry (for
money) Martha, and keep his wench, Lucy; Lucy, however, finds Gripe
more prosperous. Martha uses Sir Simon to help her elope with Dapper-
wit (to father the child she is carrying); Gripe marries Lucy to get heirs
in revenge; Lady Flippant falls reluctantly into the reluctant arms of Sir
Simon.
The low-plot intrigue grows out of the confusion of appearance and
nature. Each of the men mistakes his own pretenses and those of others
for reality. The foolish Dapperwit, for example, thinks that because he
affects to be a wit he is actually charming, witty, and clever enough to
deserve an heiress. Sir Simon thinks that because he wears a disguise he
is clever, and that he is a gallant because he uses "the words in fashion,
though I never have any luck with 'em" (84).2 Gripe, a Puritan, pretends
piety: he disguises his attempted seduction of Lucy as redeeming her
from someone else (77). The men's names suggest this theme. "Sir Simon
Addleplot" is, of course, one who cannot keep unconfused his disguised
self and his real self. "Dapperwit" implies a comparison of clothes and
wit, as though Dapperwit's pretensions to wit were a kind of padded
shoulders to cover his actually feeble intelligence. Gripe's name implies
one who clutches his real self close to him, who cannot let it go unless
it be twisted into a distorted shape. Each of the men tricks himself by
confusing his pretended self with his real self or by failing to look
beneath the surface of the woman he pursues. Dapperwit thinks he is





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


witty enough to charm an heiress; unaware of his own limitations or
hers he is duped into fathering Martha's unborn bastard. Gripe, because
he will not let his lechery appear as what it is, disguises it by marrying
- a wench. Sir Simon also is hoist with his own pctar: he is not allowed
to cast off his disguise as Jonas, and he marries Lady Flippant only
because he never finds out whether she was rich or not. Each of the
three men confuses the appearance or pretense of the woman he seeks
with her real nature through his own system of confusions: vanity
(Dapperwit) or hypocrisy (Gripe) or folly (Sir Simon).
The women in the low plot are far more clever than the men at keep-
ing their facades separated from their real selves. "Women," says one
of the high-plot lovers, "are poor credulous Creatures, easily deceived";
but the wiser Vincent replies, "We are poor credulous Creatures, when
we think 'em so" (81). Precisely this ability enables them to dupe the
men: Martha's pretended love for Dapperwit traps him into marrying
her; Lucy's pretense of innocence charms Gripe. Only Lady Flippant
comes close to failing when she almost lets the lechery behind her pre-
tenses betray her real nature to Sir Simon (121). This theme of affecta-
tion is neatly summed up when Dapperwit and Martha pretend not to
recognize that Sir Simon's disguise as Jonas is a disguise (134-139): in
a sense, every other character in the low plot does the same.
This facet of character mockingly develops the principal theme, the
relation of appearance to nature; far more important, however, to the
actual funniness of the play, is the wit at the expense of marriage. "Not
a husband to be had for money," cries Lady Flippant in the opening
lines of the play. Etherege had used the same motif in The Comical
Revenge, but with nothing like the proliferation of Love in a Wood.
Lady Flippant, Sir Simon, Dapperwit, and Lucy are all trying to marry
for money. The opening scene of the play consists of Lady Flippant's
complaint to Mrs. Joyner that she has failed to get her a husband even
though the lady has constantly frequented all the "Publick Marts where
Widows and Mayds are cxpos'd" (74). The constant metaphor for mar-
riage or even simple fornication is gambling or swindling (117,
120, 124, 128, etc.) Dapperwit keeps Lucy, his wench, his "Jewel" in
"a small House, in an obscure, little, retired street"; "the Cabinet" is
hidden "with as much care as a Spark of the Town do's his money from
his Dun, after a good hand at Play" (105). His efforts to sell Lucy to
another man (108) are defeated only because her mother and Mrs.
Joyner are resolved to get a higher price from Gripe (113). Gripe, in
turn, marries her only because "'tis agreed on all hands, 'tis cheaper
keeping a Wife then a Wench" (148).
This sense of marriage as an outward form that represents no inner





LOVE IN A WOOD


core of affection carries over even to the high plot. "Want of mony,"
drily remarks one of the high-plot ladies, "makes as devout Lovers as
Christians" (117). The surest sign of the heroine's madness, her maid
tells her, is that she is eager to marry a man without a penny (96). One
of the high-plot gentlemen, learning of his beloved's fortune, sarcastically
remarks, "Faith, I am sorry she is an Heiress, lest it should bring the
scandal of interest, and design of lucre upon my love" (102).
The high plot is a less heroic version of Calder6n's Mafianas de abril
y mayo.3 Christina, a young heiress, has shut herself in her house, away
from the world, to await the return of her lover Valentine from hiding
after he had won a duel to revenge her reputation. Suddenly, her friend
Lydia bursts in on her. Lydia, while spying in the Park on her philander-
ing fiance Ranger, has been seen by him. He pursues her, and she
persuades Christina to hide her. Ranger now bursts in, but on finding
Christina promptly falls in love with her, much to the discomfort of the
concealed Lydia. Valentine returns, overhears Ranger boast of his "con-
quest," refuses to believe his friend Vincent's protests on her behalf, and
finally sees Christina appear at Vincent's house, apparently for an as-
signation with Ranger. All parties rush off in anger to the Park, where
confusions of identity produce frank accusations and confessions. Both
Ranger and Valentine thus learn that the jealous Lydia forged the note
of assignation. Needless to say, the proper pairs are matched.
The humor of the high plot, like that of the low, grows from the con-
fusion of appearance with nature, but in a much more heroic and less
bestial and less funny way. Thus, Lydia watches Ranger's apparent
faithlessness, and by testing him and spying on him, drives him in
reality further away from her. The confusion of appearance and nature
shows most in Valentine: he fails to rely on what should be his knowl-
edge of Christina's impeccable character; instead, he deceives himself
with the appearance of her infidelity and Ranger's pretensions. Ranger,
too, fails to act on a proper knowledge of Christina's character and relies
on appearances. Only Christina herself and Vincent manage to keep
faith in her integrity and give proper importance to her real nature.
"Open but your Eyes," cries Vincent to Valentine, "and the Fantastick
Goblin's vanished" (141).
In the low plot, love undergoes the usual unfavorable comparisons:
it is "midnight coursing in the Park" (87), fishing (74), hunting (81,
94), and birding (96), gambling (84, 125), fighting (125) with sexuality
being courage (89), and a disease for which pimp and bawd are doctor
and apothecary (84); flirting men are like soldiers (94), pursuing women
like "Bayliffs" (92). "I never admitted a Man to my conversation," avows
Lady Flippant, "but for his punishment certainly" (96). One love must





42 THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES
cure another, says Dapperwit, as "one poyson expel another, one fire
draw out another, one fit of drinking cure the sickness of another" (105).
In the high plot, love is more heroic. Dapperwit parodies it when he
speaks of his wench's "conquest" of his heart (107) and Ranger corrupts
it, calling his love for Christina his "plague" (98). Love takes the
specific form of a duel: thus Lydia speaks of men as "the common
enemy" (91); when she forges the note of assignation from Christina,
she phrases it as a challenge (124-125), and the metaphor is carried
through to the end (128, 132, 141). The duel, of course, recalls Valen-
tine's initial difficulty, his fight with one Clerimont who boasted (falsely)
of Christina's favors, another instance of excessive concern with forms
and appearances (95). Disguise in the high plot takes the form of
emotional disguise: "Your anger has disguis'd you," says Ranger to
Christina, "more then your Mask" (131) and Christina too accuses Val-
entine of letting his anger disguise his real self (130).
Thus, the action and the metaphors, both in high plot and low, both
funny and not-so-funny, set out the fundamental Restoration "slant" on
reality. Man has an outward self and an inward, an appearance and a
nature. His "nature," revealed in metaphors, is sexual, appetitive, and
aggressive; it conflicts with the requirements of society. Man resorts,
therefore, to the dissimulation, disguise, hypocrisy, affectation, and in-
trigue which make up the action and the characters of these comedies.
In Love in a Wood (and in Wycherley's other plays) women are rather
more successful at these social games than men. It is a woman, Christina,
in Love in a Wood who establishes the ideal against which the other
people are measured.
Christina (her name is, of course, significant) represents a very specific
ideal, one that transcends the conflict between appearance and nature:
she freely expresses her "natural" self. Her first appearance and conver-
sation with her maid (95-96) establish the basic fact about her: that
she will act openly on her love for Valentine regardless of what people
will say. Ranger calls her "an Angel" (99). Mr. Bonamy Dobr6e quite
correctly points out that the contrast between her honest relation to
Valentine and the dishonest affairs of the low plot defines a middle
ground.4 Lady Flippant's epithet for her, "faithful Shepherdess" (96, 99),
and her maid's accusations of "madness" (95, 96) give her an air of
pastoral unreality. But her serious attempt to keep herself above the
comical cross-currents of society fails when Lydia and Lady Flippant
burst in on her from a real park (not a pastoral one). She herself is
forced, finally, to go out into the darkness to bring about the final en-
lightenment.
The Park is an important symbol. It is a piece of country within the





LOVE IN A WOOD


Town, and for Wycherley, the country stands for a place where one's
inner nature is very close to the surface. So, among the deceptions and
pretenses of the Town, the Park brings out one's hidden nature. For the
ordinary light of day is substituted Phoebus' other light, the light of wit
or judgment (91, 92). Surface attributes become invisible: "The Moon
scarce affords light enough to distinguish a Man from a tree"
(142). "A Lady will no more shew her modesty in the dark, then a
Spaniard his courage" (138). The three wits discuss the advantages of
the Park in enabling one to show his real self:

Vincent. A Man may come after Supper with his three Bottles in his head, reel
himself sober, without reproof from his Mother, Aunt, or grave relation.
Ranger. May bring his bashful Wench, and not have her put out of countenance
by the impudent honest women of the Town.
Dapperwit. And a Man of wit may have the better of the dumb shew, of well
trim'd Vest, or fair Peruque; no man's now is whitest.
Ran. And now no woman's modest, or proud, for her blushes are hid, and the
rubies on her Lips are died, and all sleepy and glimmering Eyes have lost
their attraction.
Vin. No observing spruce Fop will miss the Crevat that lies on one's
shoulder, or count the pimples on one's face.
Dap. And now the brisk reparty ruins the complaisant Cringe, or wise Grim-
ace; something 'twas, we Men of virtue always lov'd the night. (87-88)

Even Gripe likes it: "I can conform to this mode of public walking by
Moon-light, because one is not known" (136). "I come hither," says
Lydia, "to make a discovery" (89).
"In a wood," as an idiom, means "confused," and in the complexities
of town life, confusion is exactly what results when the mask of pretense
falls. The play begins, for all practical purposes, with a confusing
episode in the Park and ends with an unconfusing in the Park. In the
first scene, Ranger betrays his philandering, Lydia reveals she knows of
it, and Lydia's flight precipitates the complications of the high plot. In
the second, because Ranger and Christina each mistake the persons
they are talking to, their frank remarks clear up the mistakes of Lydia
and Valentine, respectively. This is a London pastoral.
For the people of the low plot, however, the bringing of their real
selves to light is of no help. Their inner natures are so corrupted with
pretense that only further confusion results, each one "Abus'd by him,
I have abus'd" (149). In the low plot dissimulation continues; in the
high, there is a hint that plain dealing will be the new order, as Ranger
cries:

Of Intrigues, honourable or dishonourable, and all sorts of rambling, I take my
leave; when we are giddy, 'tis time to stand still: why should we be so fond of





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


the by-paths of Love? where we are still way-lay'd, with Surprizes, Trapans,
Dangers, and Murdering dis-appointments:
Just as at Blind-mans Buff, we run at all,
Whilst those that lead us, laugh to see us fall;
And when we think we hold the Lady fast,
We find it but her Scarf, or Veil, at last. (133-134)
Mere outward forms are not to control: in their curtain speech, all the
high plot people agree that it is an imperfect world and marriage an
imperfect institution. Ranger's final cynical couplet sums it up:
The end of Marriage, now is liberty,
And two are bound to set each other free.
Marriage, the social form, should release the private life or nature.
Ideally, the appearance should express one's nature: marriage should
represent freedom within a form: "Two are bound- to set each other
free." More likely, however, it will represent a freedom outside the form,
and that is the comic sense of Love in a Wood. The world is a pretty
imperfect place, and quasi-heroic perfectionists like Christina and Val-
entine have to be comically taught its imperfections by being dragged
through its mire.
Wycherley's first play, like Etherege's, gives scarcely any indication
of what is to come. We can see, however, that Wycherley's manner, even
in this first crude play, is uniquely his. First, the force of the play comes
not from analogy or parallelism, but from the actual events of the in-
trigue: the gatherings in the Park, marrying for money, disguises and
pretenses; whereas in both of Etherege's plays, the actual events are not
so meaningful as the contrasts and similarities among them. Wycherley,
too, is far more acutely aware than Etherege of the difference between
outer appearance and inner nature. His emphases on light and dark,
visibility and invisibility, wit and judgment, show that he has the schis-
matic way of seeing that we will find the fundamental characteristic of
the great Restoration comedies. Finally, Wycherley has a special feeling
for compromise that creates his own special kind of comedy, in which
idealists like Christina are forced to compromise their ideals. Love in a
Wood is crude, but its nucleus of ideas is not. They are only partly
realized, far more in the action than in the language, which Wycherley
has not yet shaped to fit his own peculiarly mordant sense of the comic.
But for a man who was to write the English Misanthrope, it was the
right beginning.







6 Disguise, Comic and Cosmic

Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes, and Locke, Purcell, Rembrandt, Rubens,
Van Dyck, Wren, Vermeer, Bernini, the better parts of Shakespeare,
Cervantes, and Lope de Vega, and Jonson, Donne, Milton, Herbert,
Marvell, Dryden, Racine, Corneille, Moliere, Calder6n, Galileo, Kepler,
Newton, Huyghens, Cromwell, Richelieu, and the gentlemen of the
Plymouth plantation, all these the seventeenth century produced. Alfred
North Whitehead called it the "century of genius"; if anything, an under-
statement. In these hundred years, England had her greatest periods of
prose, comedy, and perhaps of lyric verse. The Restoration itself gave
us Paradise Lost and Pilgrim's Progress, Sir Isaac Newton and the law of
gravitation, and the greatest of all comedies of "manners."
It would be surprising if these comedies did not share in the almost
magical energy of the age. Yet critics of Restoration comedy have been
almost unanimous in pronouncing these plays a meaningless coterie
drama, appealing only to a tiny class, and therefore of no larger signifi-
cance. Just the three that we have examined so far have been filled with
disguises and pretenses, masks and affectations, all of which seem pretty
trivial -and so the critics have assumed. I disagree. I think these
comedies by their use of disguise (even if that use is frivolous) are
probing some of the most basic assumptions of their age and ours. In the
seventeenth century, disguise became a matter of cosmic significance, a
fundamental element in ethical and metaphysical thought, largely as a
result of the new physics. The writers of comedies were connected in
various ways to the newly formed Royal Society and were thus exposed
to this new scientific thought. It behooves us, therefore, at least to con-
sider the possibility that disguise, even in the frothiest of these comedies,
shared in this new importance. After all, their frothiness serves, as Mr.
Empson would say,2 for a kind of pastoral: the dramatist, by describing
an idealized, simplified world, the "Utopia of gallantry" of which Charles
Lamb spoke, gains a vantage point from which he can examine the more
complex world of reality. The single most important element of this
"pastoral" setting is disguise, and to see its implications involves us in
an excursion into the seventeenth-century attitude toward dissimulation,
affectation, pretense, and the like.





46 THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES
In Shakespeare's day, the general feeling was that appearance reflects
nature, that "the body reflects the soul, and, ideally, the outward appear-
ance and the inner reality are the same." 3 Thus, Kate in The Taming of
the Shrew could argue,
Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts? (V.ii.165-168)
and Enobarbus could see a lesson in Antony's decline:
Things outward
Do draw the inward quality after them
To suffer all alike. (III.xiii.32-84)
The union of appearance and nature was, to a writer like Spenser, a theo-
logical bond:
For of the soule the bodie forme doth take:
For soule is forme, and doth the bodie make.

For all that faire is, is by nature good;
That is a signe to know the gentle blood.4
The Elizabethans were not naive on the point; Spenser goes on to
qualify:
Yet oft it falles, that many a gentle mynd
Dwels in deformed tabernacle drownd,
Either by chance, against the course of kynd,
Or through vnaptnesse in the substance fownd. .
And oft it falles (ay me the more to rew)
That goodly beautie, albe heauenly borne,
Is foule abusd ... .5
The rule is by no means absolute; Spenser admits there are exceptions,
but they represent chancece" they run "against the course of kynd," they
are, in short, unnatural.
Nothing so good, but that through guilty shame
May be corrupt, and wrested vnto will.6
In other words, appearance either matches or ought to match nature.
And such is the mos of the drama. People who find appearance and
nature different in a Shakespearian play are either villains like Richard
III, who says,
No more can you distinguish of a man
Than of his outward show; which, God he knows,
Seldom or never jumpeth with the heart. (III.i.9-11)




DISGUISE, COMIC AND COSMIC 47
or men like Duncan, who, deceived by a villain, says,

There's no art
To find the mind's construction in the face. (I.iv.ll-12)
The normal situation is that appearance and nature accord. When they
do not, the action of the play is to expose and remedy the discrepancy.
Even in the rather more decadent plays for the aristocratic "priuat"
theaters, the discrepancy leads either to satire or tragedy. Rare indeed
is the Elizabethan or Stuart play in which a difference between appear-
ance and nature is sustained beyond the final scene.
The tradition, of course, went back to medieval times in the morality
plays in which the chief attribute of Vice was his ability to deceive.
And as the morality plays broadened into secular dramas of political
life, the tradition carried over to political villains. From them, it went
on to the nonpolitical villain.' As such the tradition is directly connected
to medieval scholasticism, which taught that God has given all creatures
"a 'nature' or 'form' in virtue of which they are necessitated both to be
what they are, and to seek that which is proper to them." We find the
point restated by Richard Hooker, the leading English theologian of
Shakespeare's day. "Things natural," he writes, "do so necessarily observe
their certain laws that as long as they keep those forms which give them
their being they cannot possibly be apt or inclinable to do otherwise
then they do; seeing the kinds of their operations are both constantly
and exactly framed according to the several ends for which they serve.""
The whole structure of natural law, of the teleological universe, indeed,
of life itself was bound up in the concept of the interrelation of appear-
ance and nature. For a thing or a person to "be" other than what
his "form" dictated was purely and simply unnatural. What shows either
was or should be a true reflection of what is. In the Restoration things
were different.
"But, good God!" wrote Pepys, "what an age is this, and what a world
is this! that a man cannot live without playing the knave and dissimula-
tion." 0o Pepys was troubled by the Restoration habit of pretense, but
other, less earnest members of his society reveled in it. "At this time,"
writes Bishop Burnet, recalling 1668,

the court fell into much extravagance in masquerading; both king and queen
and all the court went about masked, and came into houses unknown, and
danced there, with a good deal of wild frolic. People were so disguised that,
without being in the secret, none could distinguish them. They were carried
about in hackney chairs. Once the queen's chairmen, not knowing who she was,
went from her; so she was alone, and was much disturbed, and came to White-
hall in a hackney-coach; some say in a cart."





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


The Duchess of Cleveland, who became Wycherley's mistress after
making his acquaintance in the novel way we have seen, is said to have
gone to his chambers in the Temple, "dressed like a country maid, in a
straw hat, with pattens on, and a box or basket in her hand." 2 A letter
of 1670 tells how,
Last week, there being a faire neare Audley-end, the queen, the Dutchess of
Richmond, and the Dutchess of Buckingham, had a frolick to disguise them-
selves like country lasses, in red petticoats, wastcotes, &c, and so goe see the
fair. Sir Bernard Gascoign, on a cart jade, rode before the queen; another
stranger before the Dutchess of Buckingham; and Mr. Roper before Richmond.
They had all so overdone it in their disguise, and looked so much more like
antiques than country volk, that, as soon as they came to the faire, the people
began to goe after them; but the queen going to a booth, to buy a pair of yellow
stockins for her sweet hart, and Sir Bernard asking for a pair of gloves sticht
with blew, for his sweet hart, they were soon, by their gebrish, found to be
strangers, which drew a bigger flock about them. One amongst them had seen
the queen at dinner, knew her, and was proud of her knowledge. This soon
brought all the faire into a crowd to stare at the queen. Being thus discovered,
they, as soon as they could, got to their horses; but as many of the faire as had
horses got up, with their wives, children, sweet harts, or neighbours behind
them, to get as much gape as they could, till they brought them to the court
gate. Thus, by ill conduct, was a merry frolick turned into a penance.13
Burnet says that the notorious Earl of Rochester "gave himself up to
all sorts of extravagance, and to the wildest frolics that a wanton wit
could devise. He would have gone about the streets as a beggar, and
made love as a porter." Once, when Rochester had been exiled briefly
from the court, he disguised himself as a merchant to enjoy the luxury
of the city merchants. "His first design was only to be initiated into
the mysteries of those fortunate and happy inhabitants; that is to say,
by changing his name and dress, to gain admittance to their feasts
and entertainments; and, as occasion offered, to those of their loving
spouses." By railing at the profligacy of the court, Rochester became
so popular that he "grew sick of their cramming and endless invitations,"
and changed his plans. "He disguised himself so, that his nearest friends
could not have known him, and set up in Tower Street for an Italian
mountebank, where he practised physic for some weeks, not without
success." Under the name Alexander Bendo, his advertisement an-
nounced:
However, gentlemen, in a world like this, where virtue is so exactly counter-
feited, and hypocrisy so generally taken notice of, that every one, armed with
suspicion, stands upon his guard against it, it will be very hard, for a stranger,
especially to escape censure. All I shall say for myself on this score is this: if
I appear to any one like a counterfeit, even for the sake of that, chiefly, ought I





DISGUISE, COMIC AND COSMIC 49
to be construed a true man. Who is the counterfeit's example? His original; and
that, which he employs his industry and pains to imitate and copy. Is it there-
fore my fault, if the cheat by his wits and endeavours makes himself so like
me, that consequently I cannot avoid resembling him? 1"
While so toying with appearance and nature, Rochester was visited by
two maids of honor (Miss Jennings and Miss Price) who in turn dis-
guised themselves as orange-girls to consult the new astrologer. The
Memoirs of Count Grammont, that inimitable western Genji, recounts
their misadventures in the playhouse and the street with some of the
more lecherous and less observant members of the court. "Such as these
tricks being ordinary, and worse among them," said Pepys about such
goings-on among maids of honor, "thereby few will venture upon them
for wives." 1" We have seen in the plays the custom of the mask behind
which a woman could carry on her private affairs. We have seen, too,
the speculations to which the mask gave rise: whether the lady when
masked was more or less "herself." Masquerades were evidently a
popular form of amusement at the court."
Disguise, of course, was nothing new. In 1635 Queen Henrietta Maria
had been pleased "to grace the entertainment by putting of[f] majesty
to putt on a citizens habitat, and to sett upon the scaffold on the right
hande amongst her subjects."0 In pre-Revolutionary times it was a
charming gesture on the part of the queen to express her sense of par-
ticipation in the amusements of her subjects. With the Merry Monarch,
however, the purpose and frequency of disguise were somewhat differ-
ent, and "Old Rowley" came to symbolize the monarch's pleasure in
throwing off kingship with his clothes, for example, on the occasion
when Charles II met Nell Gwyn:
Before her acquaintance with the king she is by some said to have been mistress
to a brother of Lady Castlemaine, who studiously concealed her from Charles.
One day, however, in spite of his caution, his Majesty saw her, and that very
night possessed her. Her lover carried her to the play, at a time when he had
not the least suspicion of his Majesty's being there; but as that monarch had
an aversion to his robes of royalty, and was incumbered with the dignity of
his state, he chose frequently to throw off the load of kingship, and consider
himself as a private gentleman. Upon this occasion he came to the play incog.,
and sat in the next box to Nelly and her lover. As soon as the play was finished,
his Majesty, with the Duke of York, the young nobleman, and Nell retired to a
tavern together, where they regaled themselves over a bottle; and the king
shewed such civilities to Nell, that she began to understand the meaning of his
gallantry. The tavern keeper was entirely ignorant of the quality of the com-
pany; and it was remarkable, that when the reckoning came to be paid, his
Majesty, upon searching his pockets, found that he had not money enough about
him to discharge it, and asked the sum of his brother, who was in the samno





50 THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES
situation: upon which Nell observed, that she had got into the poorest company
that she was ever in at a tavern. The reckoning was paid by the young noble-
man, who that night lost both his money and his mistress.'2
One of Charles's biographers describes him in more serious, political
circumstances as "full of Dissimulation and very adroit at it"; another
says, "He had so ill an opinion of mankind, that he thought the great
art of living and governing was to manage all things and all persons
with a depth of craft and dissimulation." n What had been a Machiavel-
lian anathema to Shakespeare's audiences (although probably not to
those who actually played Elizabeth's politics) became to the Restora-
tion an openly avowed political reality. "The People judge by out sides,"
wrote an early eighteenth-century theorist, "and if you avoid the exter-
nal Resemblance, by condemning the Form, you may have the Essence
espoused by 'em."23 The Marquess of Halifax, shortly after Charles's
death in 1680, adopted an equally cynical point of view:
Dissimulation is like most other Qualities, it hath two Sides; it is necessary,
and yet it is dangerous too. To have none at all layeth a Man open to Con-
tempt, to have too much exposeth him to Suspicion, which is only the less dis-
honourable Inconvenience. If a Man does not take very great Precautions, he is
never so much shewed as when he endeavoureth to hide himself. One Man
cannot take more pains to hide himself, than another will do to see into him.24
While the court's behavior is enough to explain the dramatists' interest
in and use of disguise, we ought not to let the limited outlook of
laundry-list scholarship rule out the possibility suggested by these po-
litical quotations, that both court and dramatists were responding to a
larger trend. Attitudes toward disguise, dissimulation, and affectation
had changed across the century. First, there was an increasing belief that
the personality is hard to know under the appearances it puts on;
second, affectation (semi-conscious pretense) was uniformly condemned;
third, dissimulation (conscious pretense) tended increasingly to be
accepted as a necessity. The total attitude toward human conduct that
these three views represent is nothing more nor less than that of the
early plays of Etherege and Wycherley: dissimulation is the rake-hero's
way to success; affectation is a folly because one becomes unable to
stop acting. Of course, there is nothing new in recognizing a difference
between appearance and nature in human conduct. Man has always
thought and joked about the difference between what is and what shows.
The crucial change is that formerly men had felt that what shows either
was or should be a true reflection of what is; now, at the end of the
seventeenth century, men came increasingly to feel that what shows not
only was not but often ought not to be a true reflection of what is.
Human conduct, politics, and comedies, moreover, were not the only




DISGUISE, COMIC AND COSMIC 51
areas in which such a difference was accepted. The same notion of an
outside and an inside applied also, for example, to language. Language
itself was regarded as an outside clothing, ornament, or, in general, a
shell of accidents- within which the real substance, thought, lay hid-
den. The image of clothing for language occurs again and again in
Dryden's essays.25 In one long passage, for example, he compared poetry
to painting and to feminine beauty: expression is to the fable of a poem
as colors are to the design of a painting or as clothes and cosmetics
are to a woman. "The words, the expressions, the tropes and figures, the
versification, and all the other elegancies of sound, as cadences, turns of
words upon the thought, and many other things, which are all parts of
expression" are like colors to a lady's maid, in that "she clothes, she
dresses her up, she paints her, she makes her appear more lovely than
naturally she is." 2 Addison, in The Spectator, referred continually to
words as clothing thoughts. For example, he described the simplicity of
the writings of the ancients as the "Strength of Genius to make a Thought
shine in its own natural Beauties." According to one of his famous defini-
tions, "True Wit consists in the Resemblance of Ideas, and false Wit in
the Resemblance of Words." Thus, in an extended allegory of "The
Region of False Wit," "There was nothing in the Fields, the Woods, and
the Rivers, that appeared natural," but when the goddess of Falsehood
was defeated, "The whole Face of Nature [recovered] its true and genu-
ine Appearance." 27
The idea of language clothing thought was hardly new. On the con-
trary, it was at least as old as Horace, and in medieval times, it had
already become a commonplace.- Sidney, writing in 1580, had said of
Plato that "who so ever well considcreth, shall finde that in the body of
his work though the inside & strength were Philosophic, the skin as it
were and beautie depended most of Poetrie." Edmund Bolton in 1618
had called "Language and Style, the Coat and Apparel of matter," and
the Earl of Stirling in the thirties also said, "Language is but the Apparel
of Poesy, which may give Beauty, but not Strength."30 This is simply
that neo-classical theory of poetry which someone has described as the
belief that "a poem should not be but mean." Literature, said Thomas
Nashe, is "sower pils of reprehension wrapt up in sweete words.""
As the seventeenth century wore on, however, this idea came to be
more and more frequently expressed and to have more and more effect
on literary style. Montaigne became a model for later essayists (Con-
greve, for example, owned four copies of the Essais),2 because, Savile
wrote, "He scorned affected Periods to please the mistaken Reader
with an empty Chime of Words. lie hath no Affectation to set himself
out, and dependeth wholly upon the Natural Force of what is his





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


own."n "Tho' Invention be the Mother of Poetry," wrote Sir William
Temple, Swift's employer, "yet this Child is like all others born naked,
and must be Cloathed with Exactness and Elegance." The meta-
physical style, Temple said, had "Conceit as well as Rhyme in every
Two Lines." "This was just as if a Building should be nothing but Orna-
ment, or Cloaths nothing but Trimming; as if a Face should be covered
over with black Patches, or a Gown with Spangles." 4
What was special about the later seventeenth century's reaction to
metaphor was (1) treating the discrepancy between thought and lan-
guage as a discrepancy between plain prose and ornament, and there-
fore (2) relegating figures of speech to the passions and poetry and
dismissing them in reason and prose as "affectation." Thus, the Earl of
Mulgrave divided poetic composition in two:
Fancy is but the Feather of the Pen;
Reason is that substantial, useful part,
Which gains the Head, while t'other wins the Heart.
It is quite logical in such a frame of reference to compare imagery to
cosmetics:
Figures of Speech, which Poets think so fine,
Art's needless Varnish to make Nature shine,
Are all but Paint upon a beauteous Face,
And in Descriptions only claim a place.a3
"Men apprehend or suspect a Trick," wrote William Wotton in 1694, "in
every Thing that is said to move the Passions of the Auditory in Courts
of Judicature or in the Parliament-House. And therefore, when Men
have spoken to the Point, in as few Words as the Matter will hear, it is
expected they should hold their Tongues." 36 The proper place for meta-
phor is in poetry. "A poet," wrote Thomas Shadwell, the playwright,
"ought to do all that he can decently to please that so he may instruct:
To adorn his Images of Vertue so delightfully to affect people with a
secret veneration of it." "Rhetorick, or Oratory, Poesie, and the like,"
wrote one critic in 1654, "serve for adornation, and are as it were the
outward dress, and attire of more solid sciences they might toller-
ably pass, if there were not too much affectation towards them." 3
This use of the word "solid" suggests what lies behind the limitations
on metaphor. "Solid," in the later seventeenth century, became very
much of a "plus" word, as, for example, in Richard Flecknoe's descrip-
tion of the advent of scenery in the public theaters: "Now, for the dif-
ference betwixt our Theaters and those of former times," he wrote, "That
which makes our Stage the better makes our Playes the worse perhaps,





DISGUISE, COMIC AND COSMIC 53
they striving now to make them more for sight then hearing, whence
that solid joy of the interior is lost."39 John Bunyan apologized for his
allegorical method with the same idiom:
Be not too forward therefore to conclude,
That I want solidness; that I am rude:
All things solid in Shew, not solid be .
My dark and cloudy words, they do but hold
The truth, as Cabinets inclose the Gold.40
To be "a solid and honest" preacher, wrote Glanvill in 1678, "you must
avoid such odd and foolish affectations" as the use of conceits and in-
volved expressions.41 The Tatler contrasted "the most solid philosophers"
with "the most charming poets," and Mr. Spectator complained, "People
are got into a manner of overlooking the most solid Virtues, and
admiring the most trivial Excellencies." 42
"Solid" became a "plus" word because it suggested realness, the mass
and volume the new physics could measure, as opposed to other illusory
and immeasurable qualities such as color, taste, or smell. In effect, the
new physics established a scientific basis for the operation of figures of
speech. "The Ornaments of speaking," wrote Bishop Sprat in telling of
the Royal Society's program for improving the English language, "were
at first, no doubt, an admirable Instrument in the hands of Wise Men
... .to represent Truth, cloth'd with Bodies; and to bring Knowledg
back again to our very senses, from whence it was at first deriv'd to our
understandings." In other words, an image or metaphor appeals to the
senses, as nature does; it makes things "real" to us. But sensory appeal is
not an end in itself. The real end is "Knowledg," that is, understanding
sensory experience in the mind, truth no longer "cloth'd with Bodies."
"Ornaments," Sprat complained, had become ends in themselves, and
therefore the Royal Society took it upon themselves to try to correct
prose style: "to return back to the primitive purity and shortness, when
men delivered so many things almost in an equal number of words"; "a
close, naked, natural way of speaking, positive expressions, clear senses,
a native easiness, bringing all things as near to the Mathematical plain-
ness as they can." 43
Oddly enough, it was probably through this scientific source that the
dramatists were influenced. There were, of course, other bases for lin-
guistic reform, the Puritan interest in a "plain style" for sermons, for
example; but the Puritans had little influence on the playwrights. There
can be little doubt that the playwrights acquired their distrust of meta-
phor through literary connections with the scientific Royal Society.44
Dryden, for example, who wrote heroics, and George Villiers, Duke of





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


Buckingham, who spoofed them, the belle-lettrist John Evelyn, and the
poets Waller and Cowley were all associated with the Society's commit-
tee "for improving the English language."
Through the Royal Society, literary men and even Charles's court had
been brought face to face with the ultimate disguise, the disguise of
reality itself that the new science had revealed. "We must allow that
corporeal things exist," Descartes had written;
However, they are perhaps not exactly what we perceive by the senses, since
this comprehension by the senses is in many instances very obscure and con-
fused; but we must at least admit that all things which I conceive in them
clearly and distinctly, that is to say, all things which, speaking generally, are
comprehended in the object of pure mathematics, are truly to be recognized
as external objects.
As to other things, however, which are either particular only, as, for example,
that the sun is of such and such a figure, etc., or which are less clearly and
distinctly conceived, such as light, sound, pain, and the like, it is certain that
. they are very dubious and uncertain.45
Cartesian science linked the separation of appearance and nature to the
tradition of sensory skepticism.
Of course, the idea that nature consisted of a solid core of substance
and an overlying shell of attributes was not new. "Every substantial
form," Dante had written, following St. Thomas, "that is distinct from
matter, or that is united with it, has a specific virtue collected in itself
which is not perceived unless in operation, nor does it show itself save
by its effect, as by green leaves the life in a plant." 4 Moreover, in 1551,
the separation of appearance from nature had even been made dogma
by the Council of Trent:
If any one shall deny that wonderful and singular conversion of the
whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of
the wine into the Blood, the species only of the bread and wine remaining,
which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantia-
tion; let him be anathema.47
Neither was sensory skepticism new. There had been Pyrrho and his
disciple Sextus Empiricus in the second century, Averroes in the twelfth,
Pomponazzi and Agrippa in the fifteenth, Fulke Greville, Raleigh, and
Montaigne in the sixteenth. But to all of these earlier skeptics, seven-
teenth-century writers and thinkers turned with increasing frequency.4s
There were two new factors in the seventeenth century that made
these two traditional ideas most powerfully reinforce each other. First,
there was the Cartesian emphasis on method, particularly mathematical
method, in studying natural events. Certain phenomena--those that
lent themselves to mathematical description- came to be thought of




DISGUISE, COMIC AND COSMIC 55
as "truer" than others. Mass and volume became part of "nature"; color
or odor became part of mere "appearance." "Solid," as we have seen, be-
came a "plus" word. Second, there were the optical devices that struck
at man's most useful sense. Sextus Empiricus could point to the fact that
a straight stick looks bent in water, but that is not likely to trouble any-
one very much. A Restoration man, however, was confronted with an
oceanic jungle in a clear drop of water and heavens about which two
millennia had been mistaken. "Our faculties," wrote Locke, "are not
fitted to.penetrate into the internal fabric and real essences of bodies."
Had we senses acute enough to discern the minute particles of bodies, and the
real constitution on which their sensible qualities depend, I doubt not but they
would produce quite different ideas in us. This microscopes plainly dis-
cover to us; for what to our naked eyes produces a certain colour, is, by thus
augmenting the acuteness of our senses, discovered to be quite a different
thing.49
Scientific discoveries had shown that truths which not so long before
had seemed blatantly obvious were in fact purely and simply not so.
Men's senses were not to be trusted, and it was science that had shown
their falsity. As I sit at my desk, I cannot say it is hard and green, for
the "true" description is that it is billions of colorless atoms, themselves
only bundles of differential equations. So for the seventeenth-century
man, only those things, as Descartes said, "which, speaking generally,
are comprehended in the object of pure mathematics, are truly to be
recognized as external objects." "Your True Philosopher," wrote the
popularizer Fontenelle in 1686, "will not believe what he doth see, and
is alwaies conjecturing at what he doth not." 50 Thus, that scientifically
minded believer in witchcraft, Joseph Glanvill, wrote in 1664:
What shews only the outside, and sensible structure of Nature; is not likely to
help us in finding out the Magnalia. 'Twere next to impossible for one, who
never saw the inward wheels and motions, to make a watch upon the bare view
of the Circle of hours, and Index: And 'tis as difficult to trace natural opera-
tions to any practical advantage, by the sight of the Cortex of sensible Appear-
ances. He were a poor Physitian, that had no more Anatomy, then were to be
gathered from the Physnomy.51
The unreliability of the senses and the separation of appearance from
nature became axia to the great seventeenth-century philosophers. Locke
we have already heard from. Hobbes wrote earlier -early enough to
have influenced the dramatists directly. He knew, moreover, the court
and the Merry Monarch himself. "This seeming or fancy," he wrote,
is that which men call Sense; and consisteth, as to the eye, in a light, or colour
figured; to the ear, in a sound; to the nostril, in an odour; to the tongue and
palate, in a savour; and to the rest of the body, in heat, cold, hardness, softness,




56 THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES
and such other qualities, as we discern by feeling. All which qualities called
sensible, are in the object which causeth them but so many several motions of
the matter, by which it presseth our organs diversely.
And from hence also it followeth, that whatsoever accidents or qualities our
senses make us think there be in the world, they be not there, but are seeming
and apparitions only; the things that really are in the world without us, are
those motions by which these seemings are caused. And this is the great
deception of sense.52
Paradoxically, seeing had become a problem precisely because science
saw so well.
To the medieval man, "that which was real about objects was that
which could be immediately perceived about them by human senses,"
notes Professor Burtt. "Things that appeared different were different
substances, such as ice, water, and steam." But as the "century of genius"
grew, there grew with it "the doctrine of primary and secondary quali-
ties," "the clear distinction between that in the world which is absolute,
objective, immutable, and mathematical; and that which is relative, sub-
jective, fluctuating, and sensible. The former is the realm of knowledge,
divine and human; the latter is the realm of opinion and illusion." 53
Alfred North Whitehead calls this theory of primary and secondary
qualities, "the state of physical science at the close of the seventeenth
century." "Nature," he says, became the orderliness of "spatio-temporal
relationships." The mind, however, in apprehending, clothes bodies with
sensations which in fact are purely the offspring of the mind itself. Na-
ture became "a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colourless; merely the
hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly." Perhaps this is the rea-
son the gaiety of Restoration comedy sometimes seems forced: the hero
is imprisoned in a set of thoroughly unreliable senses, locked, in effect,
in his own hedonism. "What else [but pleasure] has meaning?" asks one
of Congreve's rakes. Certainly not the orderliness of spatio-temporal re-
lationships.
Instead of assuming that the dramatists simply took their material
from the court, we should recognize that court and dramatists alike were
responding to a common stimulus. The court, for all its frivolity, was not
divorced from the intellectual life of its day. On the contrary, Hobbes,
by virtue of his lively wit, became an honored member of that charm-
ingly irresponsible body. "Order was given," Aubrey notes, "that he
should have free access to his majesty, who was always much delighted
in his witt and smart repartees." 55 Similarly, we find the Duke of Buck-
ingham, than whom history offers few more light-headed individuals,
discussing rather learnedly the relation of appearance and nature to an
idea expressed in Burnet's Theory of the Earth and the doctrine of tran-
substantiation:





DISGUISE, COMIC AND COSMIC 57
Those who maintain the Eternity of the World, are forc'd to say, that the
Matter of it is not changed, but the Accidents only, tho' this be a sort of
Argument, which they will not allow of in others, for when it is by Papists
urg'd in Defense of Transubstantiation in the Sacrament, that the Accidents of
the Wafer remain, though the Substance of it be changed, they reject that, as a
ridiculous Notion; and yet it is not one Jot more absurd to say, that the Acci-
dents remain when the Matter is changed; than that the Matter remains when
the Accidents are changed.56
We have come some distance from Rochester's disguising himself as
an Italian mountebank, but, in a sense, we have come back where we
started. In so doing, we have seen that the separation of appearance from
nature was a central concept in Restoration manners, morals, pranks, pol-
itics, science, and literary and linguistic theory. Clothing, cosmetics, man-
ners, social rules, similitudes, disguise, deception, affectation, dissimula-
tion, reputation (the stuff of Restoration comedies) all acquired special
meaning in the Restoration, just as clockwork devices did in the eight-
eenth century, growing things in the nineteenth, or myths and symbols
in our own. It is highly unlikely that the court was insulated from the
philosophy of its day. On the contrary, those rootless ladies and gentle-
men doubtless found a charming piquancy in the philosophical implica-
tions of their antics.
The drama, too, was not unaffected by the new philosophy. Most
obviously, of course, its language was changed. No longer did the play-
wright use t th thick ragout of metaphor that had gratified pre-Restora-
tion audiences. On the contrary, language became thin and spare;
similitudess" replaced metaphors and not many of those. Professor
Dale Underwood in his book on Etherege shows that his early plays
developed a very special kind of comic language which later dramatists
followed. First, the language is built primarily out of nouns. Second,
these nouns tend to play down sensory experience in favor of "general-
ized classes and categories." Third, the language is primarily engaged
in setting up logical and schematic relations among these categories. It
is almost as though "easie Etheridge" were trying for Bishop Sprat's
"Mathematical plainness." These similitudes, however, are not as rigid
and schematic as Sprat's mathematical talk would have been. On the
contrary, in the hands of a skilled writer, they become a trope of sur-
prising subtlety and flexibility. Professor Underwood quotes from The
Man of Mode: "Women then [when they are ugly] ought to be no more
fond of dressing than fools should be of talking." Explicitly, the sentence
is a simple proportion: ugly women/dressing = fools/talking. But, as in
any proportion, the terms can be transposed: ugly women/fools = dress-
ing/talking. "The dressing," Professor Underwood notes, "becomes a
kind of talking, the talking a kind of dressing; and the fools and women





58 THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES
are brought together in a way which enlarges and particularizes the
general relationship explicitly asserted." ST
Though the change is less obvious than that in language, the subject
matter of drama changed, too. Professor Andrews Wanning has pointed
out that the prototype of the change was the development of the novel.
Sixteenth-century romances seem to us, not novels, but mere successions
of events. The real novel (Congreve, by the way, wrote one of the first)
comes as writers begin to have a Lockean interest in psychological laws
that parallel other scientific laws. "The history of the novel," he sug-
gests, "might almost be written as a changing balance in the interest in
outward action for its own sake, or for the inward conflict it symbolizes."
The drama, he points out, reached this interest earlier partly "from the
almost inevitably symbolic value the stage gives to any action upon it,
and partly from the sometimes prophetic genius of Shakespeare." "
Even so, the lines of choice and conflict in Restoration plays are far
more clearly drawn than in Shakespeare (though the plays are not the
better for that); also, characters do far more reasoning about their own
states of mind than Elizabethan characters do (unless the Elizabethans
are disordered). Moreover, the Restoration character is much more
clearly divided into a nucleus of inner self or nature and a peripheral
shell of appearances which may be the product of that inner self or may
be a product of dissimulation, affectation, or disguise. The central
problem in each of our eleven comedies is how the nucleus of person-
ality shows itself through the shell of appearances and how it gets to
know other nuclei through their shells. Clearly, these Restoration com-
edies, no matter how frivolous they seem to us, are probing some of the
most basic assumptions of their century and our own.
The mere fact that these assumptions are abstract, philosophical, or
even scientific ought not to make us overlook their dramatic potential
or make us think them unlikely to have affected such light-hearted types
as our three playwrights. It was common in the seventeenth century for
gentlemen to interest themselves, even if only in a dilettante way, in
philosophical problems. We have already seen how the rakish "Duke of
Bucks" could discuss fairly learnedly the doctrine of transubstantiation
and its relation to the problem of substances and attributes. Furthermore,
seventeenth-century writers almost habitually put abstract thought, prac-
tically unchanged, into their artistic works. Paradise Lost is the most
obvious example, but there are many, many others. Dryden, in his
operatic version of Milton's epic, shifted from the theology of his original
toward the increasingly popular Cartesian philosophy. Thus, in the most
wonderfully naive way, Dryden has his Adam wake for the first time,
saying:





DISGUISE, COMIC AND COSMIC


What am I? or from whence? For that I am
I know, because I think.59
Cogito ergo sum, in a somewhat undigested form.
Etherege, Wycherley, and Congreve were all gentlemen and, though
frivolous, they were both well educated and well read. Congreve's
library of some 620 titles, known to us through Professor Hodges' dis-
covery of his book list,' contained some twenty books of a strictly
philosophical nature, among them Plato's works with Dacier's commen-
tary and, by the three leading philosophers of his own century (to
whom I have referred in this chapter), Locke's Essay Concerning Human
Understanding, Hobbes' Leviathan, and a commentary on Descartes'
system. In addition, Congreve owned a quite surprising number of the
minor works quoted in this chapter, Gilbert Burnet's History of His Own
Time, The Memoirs of Count Grammont, the literary criticism of Sir
William Temple, Thomas Shadwell, and John Dryden; most surprising
of all, he owned The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent. His
library contained (besides some twenty-two works on medicine and
pharmacology) eleven books on mathematics and the physical sciences,
among them Newton's Opticks and a commentary on Newton's system
as a whole and Fontenelle's A Plurality of Worlds. If Congreve's interests
can be taken as typical, then all three of the writers of these comedies
must have been influenced by the Restoration climate of opinion, cer-
tainly by such an intrinsically "stagy" idea as disguise.
In any case, Etherege's, Wycherley's, and Congreve's nondramatic
writings show, as one would expect, a preoccupation with the contrast
between appearance and nature. Of the three, Etherege is the least
explicit, but even he in the few letters and poems he left behind speaks
of human nature as obscured by a shell of accidents (as it is in The
Comical Revenge). Thus, in congratulating two friends on new titles,
he writes:

The favours which fortune bestows move the weak to admire and the false to
flatter; I look upon them as fine clothes which are ornaments to such as nature
has been kind to, and never fail to make them more loathsome who have no
merit. Such as are immediately distinguished from other men by heaven, will
ever be preferred by me to such who only wear the marks [of] a Prince's kind-
ness.
You had no need of a title to make you great. Nevertheless the glitter-
ing favours of fortune are necessary to entertain those who, without examin-
ing any deeper, worship appearances.61
We have already seen in his plays his concern with the problem of
letting appearances intrude in relationships where they do not belong,





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


a habit exemplified by Lady Cockwood, for example. In the same terms,
he tells how, in Ratisbon,
The plague of ceremony infects,
Ev'n in love, the softer sex;
Who an essential will neglect
Rather than lose the least respect.
In regular approach we storm,
And never visit but in form,
That is, sending to know before
At what o'clock she'll play the whore.62
Wycherley was much more explicit. He left behind a large body of
nondramatic works, including an immense number of woefully bad
poems that should be reserved only for the most hardy students of the
Restoration. In these nondramatic works, the theme of inside and out-
side recurs constantly. In particular, large books have bad insides, words
belie actions, and wit and virtue are best shown by hiding them. Thus,
his poem on the theme of "all the world's a stage" contrasts the overt
pretense of the actor with the covert pretenses of society:
Why are harsh Statutes againstt poor Players made,
When Acting is the Universal Trade?
The World's but one wide Scene, our Life the Play
And ev'ry Man an Actor in his Way:
In which he, who can act his ill Part well,
Does him, who acts a good one ill, excell.
Since it is not so much his Praise, whose Part
Is best, but His, who acts it with most Art.


Thus in the World, as on the Stage, we see
Men act, unlike themselves, in each Degree.
But twixtt the World and Stage this Difrence lies,
Play'rs to reform us wear a known Disguise;
We no such warrantable End can boast,
But still are Hypocrites at others' Cost.3
One of his letters translates the separation of appearance and nature into
terms of sensory perception. Wycherley writes to Pope urging him to
take care of those famous eyes:
Pray look to your Eyes, because they] usd to look so kindly on me; and do
not loose your sight in reading, to mend your inward decerning at the expence
of your outward, since you may spoyl your Eye Sight and make it become
weak or dark but you can hardly emprove your reasons insight which can never
fail you; wherefore you may better bear the weakness of your owtward sight,
since it is recompenc'd by the strength of your imagination and inward penitra-
tion, as your Poetic Forefathers were down from Homer to Milton."




DISGUISE, COMIC AND COSMIC


Congreve, too, shows an awareness of the problem of inside and out-
side in writings other than his comedies. One of his poems, for example,
says of a lady:
O she was heav'nly fair, in Face and Mindl
Never in Nature were such Beauties join'd:
Without, all shining; and within, all white;
Pure to the Sense, and pleasing to the Sight.65
Congreve, however, is unique in that he has left behind a critical essay
on the contrast between appearance and nature. It links the scientific
doctrine of primary and secondary qualities to the dramatists' sense of
affectation and dissimulation. In this essay, "Concerning Humour in
Comedy," Congreve gives the following definition: "Affectation, shews
what we would be, under a Voluntary Disguise. Th6 here I would
observe by the way, that a continued Affectation, may in time become
a Habit."" Congreve goes on to define "humour" as something roughly
equivalent to what we mean by "character."
Humour is neither Wit, nor Folly, nor Personal defect; nor Affectation, nor
Habit. Our Humour has relation to us, and to what proceeds from us, as
the Accidents have to a Substance; it is a Colour, Taste, and Smell, Diffused
through all; th6 our Actions are never so many, and different in Form, they are
all Splinters of the same Wood, and have Naturally one Complexion, which
th6 it may be disguised by Art, yet cannot be wholly changed: We may Paint it
with other Colours, but we cannot change the Grain. So the Natural sound of
an Instrument will be distinguished, tho the Notes expressed by it, are never
so various, and the Divisions never so many. Dissimulation may, by Degrees,
become more easy to our practice; but it can never absolutely Transubstantiate
us into what we would seem: It will always be in some proportion a Violence
upon Nature.
A man may change his Opinion, but I believe he will find it a Difficulty, to
part with his Humour, and there is nothing more provoking, than the being
made sensible of that Difficulty. .. Nature abhors to be forced.67
In other words, "Wood" represents "us," the "Grain" being "our Humour."
Both "us" and "our Humour" Congreve includes under "Substance";
they correspond to the "primary qualities" of seventeenth-century science
which I have been calling "nature." These things Congreve puts on one
side as what we "naturally" are. On the other, he sets appearances
created by affectation, dissimulation, or art. Those appearances are no
less real than the paint on furniture, but they arc "Accidents," secondary
qualities, not what we are. To make our real selves over into appearance
requires a "transubstantiation" (and we recall the Duke of Bucking-
ham's remarks). The rake-hero is reformed in the fifth act when he puts
aside his affectations. The affected, precise ladies, the hypocritical mer-
chants, and the rest of the "victims" of Restoration comedy refuse to





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


learn that people cannot make themselves over into what they would
like to seem.
In a very real sense, therefore, these comedies represent a brilliant
synthesis of abstract thought about primary and secondary qualities
with the disguises and affectations of Restoration court life. Only too
rarely do dramatists find intrinsically dramatic abstractions with which
to inform their plays. Shakespeare did: he used the intensely dramatic
interplay between the private and the public aspects of political leaders.
(The problem in its abstract form was central to such Renaissance
political theorists as Gentillet or, on the other side of the fence, Machi-
avelli.) We can watch the concept grow in Shakespeare's mind from
the soliloquies of Richard III, where the Machiavellian villain contrasts
his secret thoughts with his public actions, to the personal inadequacies
of Richard II which become public errors. The concept achieves its great
positive form in Henry V, where the personal exploits of the riotous
prince grow into his famous victories; the stage of history referred to by
the Chorus becomes the dominant image of the play. Shakespeare's con-
cept of public versus private man achieves its great tragic form in
Macbeth where the personal destiny of the man meshes with the political
destiny of Scotland.
Shakespeare was working with the Renaissance version of the theme
of "inside" and "outside." For the Restoration playwright, appearance
and nature are normally different; for Shakespeare, private and public
roles are matched by the end of the play. Where the Restoration writer
of comedies treats the theme in social and personal terms, Shakespeare,
like the writer of heroic drama, treats the theme in political terms the
"outer" man being identified with the historical figure whose actions
have enormous consequences for great numbers of people, and the inner
man being identified with the private person whose actions affect only
himself. For Shakespeare, the political scientist's abstract differentiation
became an informing principle for drama.
Shaw, too, based his plays consciously or unconsciously on an abstract
idea which was intrinsically "stagy": the Hegelian or Marxist dialectic.
The pattern of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis provided Shaw with both
dramatic conflict and resolution. We can see it, for example, in Man and
Superman: the conventions of Ramsden and Tavy (thesis) opposed by
the New Man, Tanner (antithesis), the conflict being resolved by Tan-
ner's engagement to Ann (synthesis). In Arms and the Man, the old
lover Sergius, the old military order, and the old-style romantic play all
represent the thesis; the new lover Bluntschli, the new military style, and
the new style of play all represent the antithesis. The conventional boy-
gets-girl ending makes a synthesis at all three levels between the




DISGUISE, COMIC AND COSMIC 63
persons of the play, between the social orders they represent, and be-
tween Shaw's antiromantic play and the romantic wishes of his audience.
One could go on, in virtually all of Shaw's plays, to fnd this underlying
dialectical pattern of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, derived from the
most abstruse of abstruse philosophies.
The dramatist is indeed fortunate whose age presents him with such
an abstraction, one that has a built-in dramatic potential, and Etherege,
Wycherley, and Congreve are among the lucky ones. Seventeenth-century
metaphysics separated appearance from nature; seventeenth-century po-
litical theorists separated the "natural" man from the social man; and the
Restoration writers of comedy cashed in. Both these ideas have enormous
dramatic possibilities, and Etherege, Wycherley, and Congreve realized
them. Disguise, affectation, dissimulation, pretense, and hypocrisy on
their stage grow from a sense of cosmic disguise. Their seventeenth-
century metaphysic gave them a stage beyond their stage. And if Restor-
ation comedy is merely "a passionate dance-figure, or an arabesque of
words and repartees," as some critics say, the pattern of the dance is the
metaphysic of modern science.






7 The Gentleman Dancing-Master

Wycherley's second play was produced at the new theater, Dorset Gar-
den, apparently in the fall of 1672. It was indifferently received then -
and has been since. No one revives this play; critics rarely give it more
than passing mention. Frankly, I find this hard to understand, because
The Gentleman Dancing-Master stands out as perhaps the most ingenu-
ous and innocuous comedy of the period. Restoration audiences received
it coolly, possibly because it is less smutty than most Restoration com-
edies, but more probably because it was too simple for their tastes:
the intrigue is not very complicated and the humor is more slapstick
than verbal. But the qualities that made the Restoration dislike it are
precisely the things that should make a modern critic or audience prefer
it, for it is intrigue and verbal wit that make most Restoration plays hard
to follow. This, therefore, should be an ideal play for revival. On its own
merits, The Gentleman Dancing-Master has a pretty charm that con-
trasts with and overshadows the small amount of Restoration vulgarity
that remains in it.
By Restoration standards, its plot, based on Calder6n's El Maestro de
Danzar, is almost unbelievably simple. Sir James Formal has adopted
Spanish clothes, manners, oaths, even the name Don Diego. He has
therefore confined his daughter Hippolita to the care of a duenna, her
aunt, Mrs. Caution, until her forthcoming marriage to Monsieur de
Paris, an English fop who returned from France just as French as Don
Diego is Spanish. Hippolita, who is only fourteen, but wonderfully
clever, tricks Paris into bringing her a wit of some repute, Gerrard,
whom she decides to marry instead of Paris. When her father finds them
together, she passes Gerrard off as a dancing-master, although he cannot
dance, and although Mrs. Caution warns Don Diego. While Paris in-
trigues with two prostitutes and Don Diego tries forcibly to translate
his prospective son-in-law's French ways into Spanish ones, Gerrard and
Hippolita plan to elope. After two false starts, they are married by the
parson Paris had brought and the pseudo-Frenchman is left to make a
settlement on the prostitute Flirt, and the pseudo-Spaniard to cover
his humiliation by pretending he knew their plan al along.
The play makes its point simply, directly, and amusingly. In the title




THE GENTLEMAN DANCING-MASTER


lies the theme: the contrast between the dancing-master (one of "those
tripping outsides of Gentlemen"-179)1 and the true gentleman, form
alone as opposed to form plus substance. Dancing itself in the play
serves as one half of a sustained double-entendre (194, 231): dancing is
an outward form that cloaks the real dance of marriage (220) -"Adam
and Eves dance, or the beginning of the World," or at least of its popu-
lating (197). The lovers who concentrate on the substance of their rela-
tion are surrounded by absurd people who devote all their attentions to
appearances: Paris, of whom, when Hippolita asks, "Is he no man?" her
maid replies, "He's but a Monsieur (157-158); Don Diego Formal -
the name is significant whom Paris calls a "capricious, jealous Fop"
(188) and Gerrard calls "old Formality" (198); Mrs. Caution, who con-
sistently attaches more importance to the fact of chastity than to the
state of mind that gives rise to it. In the first scene, Mrs. Caution and
Hippolita discuss the contrast that dominates and shapes the play:
Mrs. Caution. I know you hate me, because I have been the Guardian of your
Reputation. But your Husband may thank me one day.
Ilippolita. If he be not a Fool, he would rather be obligd to me for my vertue
than to you, since, at long run, he must whether he will or no. ...
I have done no ill, but I have paid it with thinking ...
Mrs. Caut. O that's no hurt; to think is no hurt. ..
Hipp. I am for going into the Throng of Temptations. And making my
self so familiar with them, that I wou'd not be concerned for 'em a whit .
And would take all the innocent liberty of the Town, to tattle to your
men under a Vizard in the Play-houses, and meet 'em at night in Masquerade.
Mrs. Caut. There I do believe you again; I know you wou'd be masquerading
... 0, the fatal Liberty of this masquerading Age[l] when I was a young
woman.
llipp. Come, come, do not blaspheme this masquerading Age, like an ill-bred
City-Dame by what I've heard 'tis a pleasant-well-bred-complacent-
free-frolick-good-natur'd-pretty-Age; and if you do not like it, leave it to us
that do. (162-163)
Don Diego also reverses the proper roles of social forms and state of
mind, in a broader sense, of appearance and nature. Thus, he congratu-
lates Mrs. Caution on keeping even priests away from Hippolita:
We are bold enough in trusting them with our Souls, lie never trust 'em
with the body of my Daughter, look you Guarda, you see what comes of
trusting Church-men here in England; and 'tis because the Women govern
with Families, that Chaplains are so much in fashion. Trust a Church-man-
trust a Coward with your honour, a Fool, with your secret, a Gamester with
your Purse, as soon as a Priest with your Wife or Daughter, look you, Guarda,
I am no Fool, look you. (173)
This is Wycherley's peculiarly caustic sense of humor: the ability to
laugh at the whole "masquerading Age," that has given the soul the





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


value of the body and the body the value of the soul, the ability to laugh
on one side at the chaplains and the ladies who engage them and on
the other at Don Diego who complains for a wrong reason.
Mrs. Caution's hypocrisy is only a more subtle version of the attention
to forms that constitutes the humors of Diego and Paris. "la is dere
any ting in de Universe so jenti as de Pantalloons?" cries Paris, "any ting
so ravisaunt as de Pantalloons. "I must live and dye for de Pantaloon
against de Spanish hose" (189). Marriage, compared to clothing, is a
mere nothing: "Dere is not the least Ribbon of my Garniture, but is as
dear to me as your Daughter, Jernie" (191). Paris believes almost
logically that since the French have them, the way to achieve good
manners is to imitate the French, to speak one's native English with a
French accent, and the like. Anything English, such as Gerrard, is ipso
facto objectionable (160): "I wou'd not be judg'd by an English Looking-
glass, Jarnie" (190). He thus debases "Civility and good Breeding more
then a City Dancing-Master" (158). He is the real dancing-master (the
outside of a gentleman), and Gerrard is the real gentleman. Fittingly,
then, Monsieur is duped into bringing Hippolita her lover, standing
watch for them, bringing a parson, and guarding them while they are
married.
Don Diego, too, though his pretense is a little subtler than Paris',
values clothing more than his daughter: "He that marry's my Daughter
shall at least look like a wise Man, for he shall wear the Spanish Habit"
(190). Whereas Paris seeks only good manners, Don Diego seeks wisdom
itself. His only mistake is to assume that by putting on Spanish clothes,
beard, and oaths, one achieves "Spanish Care, Circumspection, and Pru-
dence" (198). But Don Diego is at least a shade wiser than his French
counterpart. He can see Paris is "so much disguis'd" (188); he can see
Gerrard is "a very honest man, though a Dancing master" (192) even
if Gerrard is deceiving him as he speaks. He can at least say: "The Hood
does not make the Monk, the Ass was an Ass still, though he had the
Lyons Skin on; this will be a light French Fool, in spight of the grave
Spanish Habit, look you" (202). Most important, Don Diego can make
a turnabout pretense at the end, to fill out the happy ending for the
story (230).
In contrast to these absurd people who pretend almost unconsciously,
stand the witty lovers who know what they are doing, even if they are
impelled by the disturbing influence of love: "Love, indeed," says Ger-
rard, "has made a grave Gouty Statesman fight Duels; the Souldier flye
from his Colours, a Pedant a fine Gentleman; nay, and the very Lawyer
a Poet, and therefore may make me a Dancing-Master" (183). It is an
error to assume that the satire deals only with "nationalities." On the




THE GENTLEMAN DANCING-MASTER


contrary, the satire, both in language and action, contrasts two kinds
of pretense: we might call them clever and foolish, conscious and un-
conscious, pretense as a means as opposed to pretense as an end in
itself, or more accurately, pretending in order to achieve a proper ap-
pearance with which to express one's nature as opposed to pretending
in order to substitute appearances for the emptiness of one's nature.
Wycherley even uses the play as a play to flesh out this contrast: the
actor in a part as opposed to the foolish character he plays makes up a
perfect instance of dissimulation as opposed to affectation. To call atten-
tion to the play as a play, Wycherley uses a number of asides to be
delivered directly to the audience. He also puts in two amusing little
bits, Pirandello-like in the way they break down the dramatic illusion.
Paris, a fictional fool, played by James Nokes, debates with Hippolita
the relative merits of two stage-fools -Edward Angel (who probably
played Don Diego) and James Nokes. (Needless to say, Nokes prefers
Nokes.) At a later point, Hippolita remarks to the audience:
I am thinking if some little filching inquisitive Poet should get my story,
and represent it on the Stage; what those Ladies, who are never precise but
at a Play, wou'd say of me now, that I were a confident coming piece, I
warrant, and they wou'd damn the poor Poet for libelling the Sex; but sure
though I give myself and fortune away frankly, without the consent of my
Friends, my confidence is less than theirs, who stand off only for separate
maintenance. (221)
Paris and Hippolita in these two situations call the audience's attention
to the whole joke: appearance assumed to belie inner nature, the differ-
ence between the conscious pretense of the actor and the unconscious
pretense of the foolish characters. This concentration on the play be-
comes in The Plain-Dealer an even more important device. Here, it serves
to highlight the comedy of pretense.
Women, to Wycherley, are like plays and reality: they deceive. Each
of the women in this play, Mrs. Caution, Hippolita, Prue her maid, even
Flirt, the prostitute, is wiser than any of the men, including Gerrard.
"Let an old Woman make discoveries," cries Mrs. Caution, "the young
Fellows cannot cheat us in any thing. Set your old Woman still to
grope out an Intrigue" (180). Men are no more than pets to women,
albeit an adult taste, "for after the Shock-dog and the Babies [i.e., dolls],
'tis the mans turn to be belov'd" (176). Gerrard very quickly learns that
what he thought was "the Innocency of an Angel" (174) is a rather
terrifying amount of cleverness (178). "The mask of simplicity and
innocency," remarks the fourteen-year-old Hippolita, "is as useful to an
intriguing Woman, as the mask of Religion to a States-man" (174).
Women are as deceiving as the Devil (214): "Fortune we sooner may





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


than Woman trust" (215). Even the foolish Monsieur can see it: "Women
are made on purpose to fool men; when they are Children, they fool their
Fathers; and when they have taken their leaves of their Hanging-sleeves,
they fool their Gallants or Dancing-masters" (217).
Hippolita, it is true, uses pretense, but she uses it to fill out a social
form, not, as her father or Paris use it, to replace substance with an
empty form. Hippolita creates a marriage of love, by a growth from
within, whereas the real pretenders try to impose an empty marriage
from without. She uses pretense to manipulate Gerrard, to bring him to
her and correct his attitudes. Their relation grows from their random
desires at the opening of the play, Hippolita's for "any man, any man,
though he were but a little handsomer than the Devil, so that he were a
Gentleman" (158), and Gerrard's desire for "a new City-Mistress" (169).
At their first meeting, their relation grows to a frank sexuality; they talk
about money matters (II.ii). They come to admire one another's wit
when Gerrard sees Hippolita devise the dancing-master scheme. Finally,
when Hippolita pretends she is penniless, she causes a real meeting of
selves, free of social criteria.
On the other hand, Paris' relations with his prostitute Flirt lead from
aggression on Flirt's part (like Hippolita's initiative) to a quasi-mar-
riage, "keeping" with all the forms of marriage, settlements, maintenance,
house, coach, and the rest, but without affection or cohabitation (228ff.).
The scene in the last act between Monsieur and Flirt adds to the general
contrast in the play. Paris is blackmailed into "keeping"- explicitly
contrasted to marriage at almost exactly the same moment that Ger-
rard and Hippolita are being married in fact.
Not only is there this contrast between Hippolita's more or less gen-
teel pursuit and the pursuing prostitutes: "Bailiffs, Pursevants" (167), a
press-gang to a "hot Service" (168); there is also a continued discussion
and contrast of right and wrong kinds of marriage. In addition to Ger-
rard and Hippolita's marriage based on love, and Monsieur's quasi-
marriage, there is the Don's idea that "as soon as she's marry'd, she'd
be sure to hate him; that's the reason we wise Spaniards are jealous"
(201). Whereas in the world around the lovers money can change a
woman's very nature ("O money, powerful money! how the ugly, old,
crooked, straight, handsome young Women are beholding to thee" -
177), Gerrard cannot part with his love, even when he thinks she is
penniless (211). There are the marriages in which "Cuckolds by their
Jealousie are made" (198), and wives are confined to that absolute
evil, the country (183, 196), marriages in which the husband takes
his privileges in the dark- and the wives by day (158). Opposed to
them is Hippolita's simple announcement and Gerrard's agreement that





THE GENTLEMAN DANCING-MASTER 69
she will have none of it: jealousy is "arrant sawciness, cowardise, and ill
breeding" (220). Some marriages are forced by parents (185) and these,
even Prue the maid can see, are bad (158): Gerrard and Hippolita's
marriage is anything but forced. It becomes, in effect, a symbol for the
harmonious marriage of appearance and nature, just as the various kinds
of false marriage become symbols for false relationships between appear-
ance and nature, the affectations of Monsieur and the Don, for example.
The general movement of the comedy parallels these contrasts: the
action works through barriers of pretense toward an underlying situation.
At the opening of the play, Don Diego's house constitutes a prison of
folly and affectation in which Hippolita is confined like a sleeping
beauty. "Around the castle," the story goes, "a hedge of thorns began to
grow, which became taller every year, and finally shut off the whole
estate." Before Hippolita is irrevocably fenced in (by her forthcoming
marriage to a foolish fop) Gerrard comes, though he has to break through
the gallery window to get to her (174). The action moves further inward
when Gerrard secures his entrance by the dancing-master fiction and
when the lovers go into a closet to be married (225); the final inward
movement would be the consummation after the curtain. "Together they
came down the stairs and the king awoke and the queen and the entire
courtly estate, and all looked at each other with big eyes." But neither
Don Diego (the king?) nor Mrs. Caution (the queen?) is awakened out
of pretense to a true perception of reality. The Don resolves instead on
a further pretense. He makes believe he was never deceived and acts
the part of the pleased father with blessings and gifts:
Rob'd of my Honour, my Daughter, and my Revenge too! Oh my dear Honour!
nothing vexes me but that the World should say, I had not Spanish Policy
enough to keep my Daughter from being debauch'd from me; but methinks
my Spanish Policy might help me yet. I am resolved to turn the Cheat
upon themselves, and give them my Consent and Estate. (230)
Wycherley has turned the opening situation around. Instead of being able
to force the form of marriage on a loveless relationship as he had planned,
Don Diego himself is forced to shape his own formal pretense to fit the
inner reality given outward form in Hippolita and Gerrard's marriage.
"Nature" grown into appearance scores a complete victory over appear-
ance forced on nature.
The Gentleman Dancing-Master pictures two decent people sur-
rounded by a world of folly. Decency means simply two things: the
ability to see through to reality and the ability to make the forms one
puts on reflect one's private life or "nature." Folly, on the other hand,
means the substitution of appearance for one's nature, Spanish clothes
for wisdom, a French accent for good breeding, or the form of mar-





70 THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES
riage for the emotional basis of marriage. This kind of folly blinds its
fools so they see into others no better than they see into themselves. To
Etherege, folly was the confusion of private life with public front.
Wycherley saw that much and more: folly represented a commitment
to a life of pretense. The unconscious pretenders, Don Diego, Monsieur,
and Mrs. Caution, are foolish, even to some extent evil, but without
exception less happy than Hippolita and Gerrard, who pretend for a
limited purpose, binding themselves temporarily to pretense to gain a
permanent freedom from it. Such a contrast shapes a comic action
based almost entirely on intrigue. Comedy becomes a chain of results
set off by an initial discrepancy between appearance and nature or form
and inner reality; for example, the loveless marriage a foolish parent
tries to impose. Wycherley's unique contribution to Restoration comedy
was a sense that folly, evil, and limitations to happiness were all related,
that there is a right way and a wrong way.
Wycherley's awareness of alternatives creates for itself a characteristic
kind of ironic simile: Paris, for example, remarks: "Love, dam Love, it
make the man more redicule, than Poverty, Poetry, or a new Title of
Honeur, Jernie" (199). "Redicule" is the word that energizes the com-
parison. One could say that love, like poverty, poetry, or a new title of
honor makes a man aspiring, absent-minded, careless, or even (that
bdte noire of Restoration writers like Hobbes) enthusiasticck" The com-
parison reminds us that love and poverty and poetry and a new title are
alike in certain ways. Monsieur, however, adds another element him-
self. By saying they all "make the man redicule," Monsieur emphasizes
one possible connection at the expense of the more obvious ones. We,
his audience, contrast in our minds the connections important to Mon-
sieur with other connections. From Monsieur's description of himself and
others who laugh at love, we infer a condition in which reactions are
appropriate, in which people do not laugh at love, poverty, poetry, or
a new title. The simile does not simply compare A to B; it also compares
ways of comparing A to B. That is, the oddity of the stated connection
between A and B (in this case, "redicule") leads us to infer other con-
nections, and we compare the stated connection of A to B with the
inferred connections. Usually, the stated connection tends to be a
"wrong" way of relating A to B, and the inferred connections tend to be
"right." Thus, the real comparisons in these similes are between the
stated wrong way of comparing A to B and the inferred right way.
Monsieur's simile talks not so much about love, poverty, poetry, and
titles as about Monsieur himself and people like him. The simile repre-
sents in itself a kind of dramatic irony.
At another point, Monsieur remarks, "There's little difference betwixt




THE GENTLEMAN DANCING-MASTER 71
keeping a Wench, and Marriage," and the connection between them
seems obvious enough, though we might infer a larger difference than
Monsieur. Monsieur, however, goes on to say, "Only Marriage is a little
the cheaper; but the other is the more honourable now" (228). From
Monsieur's statement, we infer its opposite a way of life in which one
spends more on a wife than on a mistress and in which marriage is more
honorable. The simile becomes a comparison of the way of life implicit
in the word "now" and a more normal way. This right-way-wrong-way
simile is not limited to the absurd characters. Hippolita, for example,
compares a lover to a pet (176), but this simile only clothes the real
comparison, that between the fondling kind of love one has for a pet
and the mature kind of love one ought to have for a lover. The simile
itself has an inside and an outside, just as the pretenses and affectations
of the characters do.
"Right" and "wrong" in these similes can range widely in meaning.
At one end of the scale, "right" can mean merely "socially correct,"
"modish," as in Monsieur's remark about "Poverty, Poetry, or a new
Title of Honeur." At other times, "right" and "wrong" can refer to better
and worse ways of modishness, as in Monsieur's comparison of mar-
riage and "keeping." The "right" way can also mean simply the "suc-
cessful" way. It can even be the morally right way, though "morally"
cannot be thought of in Sunday-school terms Restoration society
was far too loose for that. Nevertheless, within even that loose ethical
framework, some things were clearly "wrong," for a gentleman to kiss
and tell, for example, to cuckold a friend, or to steal money, or for a
lady to take love outside marriage -before she is married. In other
words, a right-way-wrong-way simile can be based on ways which
are more and less modish, more and less successful, or more and less
moral; most often, all three apply at once: In particular, the ideas of
rightness as success and as ethical rightness tend to overlap -a comic
version of the poetic justice of the "serious" plays.
The right-way-wrong-way simile is, moreover, not just a figure of
speech, but a basic frame for the entire action. Etherege's The Comical
Revenge and She wou'd if she cou'd and Wycherley's Love in a Wood
all contrast right ways of behaving (in all three senses) with wrong
ways. As Etherege and Wycherley develop, however, this basic pattern
becomes more complex; the right and wrong ways in their second plays
tend to be hidden under a shell of appearances. Thus, in She wou'd if
she cou'd, both the heroes and the fools pretend; both get lured into
the confinements of marriage and the country; both drink, wench, and
otherwise carouse. One must look beneath the surface to see the differ-
ence. Just as the heroes show up the fools, so the fools stand as ironic





72 THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES
comments on the heroes. In The Gentleman Dancing-Master, both the
lovers and the fools pretend, but from the wrong way represented by
Diego, Paris, and Mrs. Caution, we infer the rightness of the way rep-
resented by Gerrard and Hippolita. The difference between Etherege's
use of this strategy and Wycherley's is simply that Wycherley puts the
right way on the stage, while Etherege either leaves it to inference or,
if he does put it on stage, ironically undercuts it (Freeman as opposed
to Courtall; Dufoy as opposed to Sir Frederick). With both dramatists,
however, this sense of right and wrong way creates the apparently
cynical and satirical tone, because they make the texture of the play the
wrong way. Our reaction to the play, however, consists of contrasting
the situation embodied in the language and action on the stage and an
opposite state of affairs that we infer (or infer the rightness of). The
very immorality of these plays implies an ethic, but an ethic of wisdom.
The hero does what the villain does, and one must look inside to see the
difference.






8 The Country Wife

With his third play, Wycherley hit the jackpot. The King's company
produced at Drury Lane in January 1675 The Country Wife, the first
of the great Restoration comedies. Many critics think it the best; cer-
tainly it is one of the great comedies of all time. With it, Restoration
comedy came of age. The play is often criticized, often adapted (i.e.,
expurgated), and is probably the most often revived of all the Resto-
ration comedies. Too often, however, critics and directors fail to realize
that The Country Wife, like The Gentleman Dancing-Master, is a right-
way-wrong-way play. That is, the significance of the play lies in the
contrast and interaction of three closely woven lines of intrigue. Two of
these intrigues define a "wrong way," a limited, half-successful way of
life. The third intrigue defines a "right way" that contrasts with the
limitations of the other two.
The intrigue of the title makes up one of the wrong ways. Pinchwife,
an aging, conceited rake, has married a naive, simple country girl in
hopes that her ignorance (and hence, he says, her innocence) will keep
her faithful to him, but things don't work out that way. Pinchwife's
constant references to cuckolding plant the idea in his rakish friends'
minds. Moreover, every step that Pinchwife takes to prevent being
cuckolded seems to bring him closer to it--with a little help from
Margery, his wife, and Homer, the rake he is most worried about.
Pinchwife disguises Margery as a boy; this makes Homer think he is
concealing a wench, i.e., fair game, and he flirts with her and kisses
her. Pinchwife forces Margery to write a letter rebuffing Horner; she
cleverly substitutes a love letter. Finally, Pinchwife decides to use his
sister Alithea to bribe Horner into leaving his wife alone; Margery
disguises herself as Alithea, and Pinchwife literally puts his wife in
Horner's arms. Margery, of course, is the most delightful character of
the play. "Mrs. Margery Pinchwife," wrote Hazlitt, "is a character that
will last for ever, I should hope; and even when the original is no more,
if that should ever be, while self-will, curiosity, art, and ignorance are
to be found in the same person, it will be just as good and just as intelli-
gible as ever in the description." 1
Pinchwife is not by any means as charming, and most critics say so.





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


Though one finds the seduction of Margery "grim tragedy," 2 most feel
that Pinchwife, for the sake of social justice, ought to be cuckolded.3
Even Steele, probably the most insistently moral of Wycherley's early
critics, dismisses Pinchwife as "one of those debauchees who run through
the vices of the town, and believe, when they think fit, they can marry
and settle at their ease." Other critics find in the Pinchwife plot a
narrow, tidy little moral. "The Country Wife," writes Henry Ten Eyck
Perry, "is built around the idea that jealousy is petty, mean, absurd,
and ultimately fatal to its own ends." 6 "The Country Wife," says L. J.
Potts, "has a moral, and a sound one: that the husband who mistrusts his
wife and tries to keep her from other men will merely stimulate her
desires and teach her to deceive him, however ill-equipped she is with
natural cunning. This is in accord with the rationalism of the period." 6
It is true, of course, that each step Pinchwife takes to prevent his being
cuckolded brings him closer to it, but Wycherley, I think, is dealing with
matters much more basic.
Pinchwife boasts constantly, "I understand the town, Sir" (20ff.),7 but
he actually knows only enough to hate and fear the liberty the Town
offers a woman. His speech is riddled with quasi-heroic images of hos-
tility. For example:
Good Wives, and private Souldiers should be Ignorant. (19)
There is no being too hard for Women at their own weapon, lying, therefore
Ill quit the Field. (29)
Damn'd Love Well I must strangle that little Monster, whilest I
can deal with him. (55)
If we do not cheat women, they'll cheat us; and fraud may be justly used
with secret enemies, of which a Wife is the most dangerous; and he that has a
handsome one to keep, and a Frontier Town, must provide against treachery,
rather than open Force. (59)
Pinchwife threatens with his sword twice in the play (66, 84); he
threatens Margery in the famous letter-writing scene (IV.ii): "Write
as I bid you, or I will write Whore with this Penknife in your Face"
(56). Wycherley, of course, had not read Freud: we cannot expect
that he was aware of the overtones of swords and knives. Nevertheless,
his insight here is brilliant. Pinchwife- his name is significant fears
and distrusts women; these fears create a hostility that tends to make
him an inadequate lover: unconsciously, he satisfies his aggressive in-
stincts by frustrating and disappointing women he makes love to.8 Dis-
appointing women, in turn, creates further situations that increase his
fears. Thus he falls into the typical self-defeating spiral of neurosis. As
Pinchwife himself puts it, free of the cumbersome jargon of psychology,





THE COUNTRY WIFE 75
"The Jades wou'd jilt me, I cou'd never keep a Whore to my self" (20).
Set off against the defeat of Pinchwife are the successes of Horner,
successes achieved by a fabulous device that Wycherley probably took
from Terence's Eunuchus. Horner has announced to the town that he is
a eunuch, that, after a recent visit to France, the pox emasculated him.
His strategy is to find out by their abhorrence the ladies "that love the
sport" and then, by letting them in on the secret, to guarantee the safety
of their reputations. His ruse brings Sir Jaspar Fidget, delighted to have
found a safe playfelloww" for his wife. That lady, delighted that she can
keep her "honour" (i.e., reputation) intact, promptly and joyfully be-
comes the first victim. Later, however, when she shares the secret with
her girl friends, she learns, much to her annoyance, that Homer has
also shared "the dear secret" with them. In the final scene, Sir Jaspar
and Pinchwife begin to worry when they find their wives in Horner's
apartment, but all turns out well: the ladies force Margery to lie and say
Homer is impotent, and the husbands go away satisfied.
At least some critics see Homer as a villain: Mr. Bonamy Dobr6e
compares him to Tartuffe and calls them both "grim, nightmare figures,
dominating the helpless, hopeless apes who call themselves civilized
men." Is he a villain, though? He is undeniably a bad man who does
bad things, but he is not a villain in the sense that, say, lago is, for he
does not prey on innocents. The people Horner victimizes, his cuckolds
and mistresses, are either far worse than he, or, like Margery, do not
feel that they have been harmed. Homer is meaningful in other ways.
His pretense that he is a eunuch, for example, is nicely symbolic one
might call it an anti-phallic symbol. Insofar as it is a pretense, it
satirizes the importance of pretense in the town, particularly the con-
ventional and convenient pretense on society's part that sexual desires
do not exist. Horner is simply carrying into actuality the conventions of
Reader's Digest morality. Insofar as his ruse is a maiming, it suggests
the psychological and moral impotency of Sir Jaspar, Lady Fidget, her
entourage, and Pinchwife; it parallels also the stultifying effects on
Margery of her confinement to the country. Most important, it suggests
Homer's own maiming; part of him has died. There are few things in
his world above the belt-line, none higher than eye-level. His world
never rises above the natural, and for him, the natural never rises above
the animal: "A Quack is as fit for a Pimp, as a Midwife for a Bawd;
they are still but in their way, both helpers of Nature" (11), he says as
the curtain rises; and his metaphors never get much higher.
These two lines of intrigue, the Homer plot and the Pinchwife plot,
define the play's "wrong way" deception. It may be Horner's deceiv-
ing others or Pinchwife's deceiving himself, but the generic idea is that





76 THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES
of forcing an appearance on a contrary nature. Insofar as the two plots
contrast with each other, they set off town against country. Thus, Pinch-
wife's emphasis on appearance leads him to believe a country wife will
be different. "I have marry'd no London wife," he says proudly. "We
are a little surer of the breed there [in the country], know what her
keeping has been, whether foyl'd or unsound," to which Homer drily
replies, "Come, come, I have known a clap gotten in Wales" (19). Town
and country are, of course, different; their difference is the contrast
between Lady Fidget on one hand, and Margery on the other. "The
Country is as terrible," laughs a ladies' maid, "to our young English
Ladies, as a Monastery to those abroad" (52). "A Country Gentlewomans
pleasure," says Alithea of walking, "is the drudgery of a foot-post" (22).
The country is a place of bad manners (27) and restrictions. "The
Town," however, is a place of pleasures, "Plays, Visits, fine Coaches,
fine Cloaths, Fiddles, Balls, Treats"; it is no wonder that Margery, who
begins by preferring the country, soon learns to like the town (23). It
can be a place of "innocent liberty" (22), or "free education" (72): to
poor, silly Margery a "London woman" is the very standard of clever-
ness (58).
But these are superficial differences- real, but appearances never-
theless. Underneath, human nature is the same in town or country. "I'm
sure if you and I were in the Countrey at Cards together," writes
Margery to Horner, "I cou'd not help treading on your Toe under the
Table" (58). When Pinchwife brags how different women in the country
are, Horer comments simply, "There are Cozens, Justices Clerks, and
Chaplains in the Country, I won't say Coachmen" (19). This, then, is
the irony of Pinchwife's repeated assertions, "I understand the Town,
Sir" (20ff.) He understands the town only enough to know that he
might be cuckolded--not enough to know that the human nature
underneath the social appearance is what matters, that a woman's state
of mind is the index to the physical fact of her chastity, not vice versa.
Even Sparkish, the fop of the play, can call Pinchwife "a silly wise
Rogue" that "wou'd make one laugh more than a stark Fool" (26). "If
her constitution incline her to't, shell have it sooner or latter" (70).
The only underlying difference between town and country is the
amount of pretense each involves. It is worth noting, for example, that
while Horner's ruse is necessary for his seduction of Lady Fidget, it
plays no part whatsoever in his seduction of Margery Pinchwife. The
Country Wife knows what she wants- Horner. And says so: "Don't I
see every day at London here, Women leave their first I husbands, and
go, and live with other Men as their Wives?" she asks Horner. "You
shall be my Husband now" (82). The town wife, on the other hand,




THE COUNTRY WIFE 77
Lady Fidget, goes through elaborate subterfuges and pretenses. She
pretends to hate the pretended eunuch, she rants about her "honour,"
and she speaks in the most elaborate periphrases, for example, the
famous "china scene" (61-63).
Lady Fidget is interrupted in Homer's closet and enters the room
apologizing: "I have been toyling and moyling, for the pretty'st piece
of China, my Dear." The lady who interrupted (and who is in on "the
dear secret") asks if she can have some china, too, and Horner replies:
"This lady had the last there," and so on. The word "china" is used six
times in the scene and much of the sardonic, Swift-like force of the
episode, as Professor Bateson points out,1' derives from these insistent
repetitions. The double-entendre is funny itself, but, at the same time,
a simile of extraordinary complexity. "China," as a vessel for food, makes
one more of the many conversions of love (or sex) down to mere appe-
tite. China, furthermore, is an object of surface aspects. Originally mere
clay, it has become worked and decorated to the point where its ap-
pearance now completely hides its earthy origin. So sex for Horer
and Lady Fidget and their kind has become almost fantastic and alle-
gorical, it is so separated from any of its original emotional or biological
purposes. Moreover, as Wycherley handles the dialogue, not only is
Homer's virility compared to china; also relatively right and wrong
ways of relating them are contrasted. At first, the comparison of Homer's
sexual energy to china simply conceals his relation with Lady Fidget;
china stands for virility by way of appetite and fancy earthiness. As
the conversation continues, that more or less reasonable relation is con-
trasted with the idea of Homer as a universal donor of china -and
virility. "I cannot make China for you all," he tells Lady Fidget's friend,
"but I will have a Rol-waggon for you too, another time" (63). The
comparison of china to virility ultimately compares a monogamous
appetite with a promiscuous one. Homer, as Professor Bateson puts it,
becomes "a Grotesque or mere mechanism." 11
Contrasted both to the concealed, elaborated earthiness of the town
wife and the direct earthiness of the Country Wife, there is the "right
way" of the lovers, Harcourt and Alithea. In this, the third line of
intrigue, Alithea, an intelligent and sophisticated girl, is about to marry
the fop Sparkish, whom she has accepted only because he shows no
jealousy, even when Harcourt, the lover-hero, and Homer's friend, de-
clares his love and urges her to drop Sparkish and marry him. Actually,
of course, Sparkish can afford to be indifferent because he only wants to
marry her estate. In the complications coming from Margery's disguise
as Alithea, Sparkish accuses her of having given herself to Homer, so
that Alithea drops the fop and marries Harcourt who still believes in





78 THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES
her. The action of this third line of intrigue is the education of Alithea.
She has to learn two things. First, she must learn not to substitute a
mere appearance (Sparkish's lack of jealousy) for inner nature (Har-
court's merits), as she does when she says of Sparkish: "I own he wants
the wit of Harcourt, which I will dispense withal, for another want he
has, which is want of jealousie, which men of wit seldom want ....
'Tis Sparkishs confidence in my truth that obliges me to be so faithful
to him" (51). In effect, she must learn not to let her knowledge of the
deceptions of the town make her "over-wise"; thus, in her moment of
revelation, she cries:
I wish, that if there be any over-wise woman of the Town, who like me would
marry a Fool, for fortune, liberty, or title; first, that her husband may love
Play, and be a Cully to all the Town, but her, and suffer none but fortune to
be mistress of his purse; then if for liberty, that he may send her into the
Country, under the conduct of some housewifely mother-in-law; and if for
title, may the World give 'em none but that of Cuckold. (77)
Second, she must learn a wisdom of ends, a faith in love, a willingness
to prefer love as an end to "fortune, liberty, or title."
Alithea and Harcourt reflect this concern with ultimate ends in their
speech, which is starred with conversions upward, celestial, even reli-
gious images. Harcourt loves Alithea, the "Divine, Heavenly Creature,"
the "Seraphick Lady" (53), "the most estimable and most glorious
Creature in the World" (42); he loves her "with the best, and truest
love in the world" (44) "above the World or the most Glorious part of
it, her whole Sex" (25), a love that "can no more be equall'd in the
world, than that Heavenly form of yours" (44), and so on. It is symbolic
that Harcourt disguises himself as a priest to court her. Alithea herself
talks the same way. She twits her admirer: "You look upon a Friend
married, as one gone into a Monastery, that is dead to the World."
"Tis indeed, because you marry him," replies Harcourt (25). So, too,
Alithea converts Pinchwife's "greasie" comparison of a masked woman
to a covered dish to: "A Beauty mask'd, like the Sun in Eclipse, gathers
together more gazers, than if it shin'd out" (37).
The persons of the wrong way, like Lady Fidget, cannot grasp this
kind of simile:
Lady Fidget. But first, my dear Sir, you must promise to have a care of my
dear Honour.
Homer. If you talk a word more of your Honour, you'll make me incapable
to wrong it; to talk of Honour in the mysteries of Love, is like talking of
Heaven, or the Deity in an operation of Witchcraft, just when you are
employing the Devil, it makes the charm impotent.
La. F. Nay, fie, let us not be smooty; but you talk of mysteries, and bewitching
to me, I don't understand you. (60)




THE COUNTRY WIFE 79
And Horner dutifully converts the image to one of money: "I tell you,
Madam, the word money in a Mistresses mouth, at such a nick of time,
is not a more disheartening sound to a younger Brother, than that of
Honour to an eager Lover like my self." "They fear the eye of the
world, more than the eye of Heaven" (59).
Practical reality dominates the metaphors of all but Harcourt and
Alithea. Thus, to Pinchwife, as to the pompous Sir Jaspar, a woman is
a possession, like money. "Our Sisters and Daughters," says Pinchwife,
"like Usurers money, are safest, when put out; but our Wives, like their
Writings, never safe, but in our Closets under Lock and Key" (75). "To
squire women about for other folks," sneers Sir Jaspar, "is as ungrateful
an employment as to tell money for other folks" (61). Both these gentle-
men look down on what they suppose to be the frivolities of Homer
and his friends. "Business," counsels Sir Jaspar, "must be preferred always
before Love and Ceremony with the wise Mr. Homer." "And the im-
potent Sir Jaspar," laughs the supposed eunuch (13). "I have business,
Sir, and must mind it," says Pinchwife, "your business is pleasure, there-
fore you and I must go different ways" (45). Pinchwife's and Sir Jaspar's
concern with a supposedly practical reality contrasts with and highlights
Harcourt and Alithea's achievement of an impractical reality, romantic
love.
In the pretenses of the "low" plots, love, honor, and all abstractions
are converted downward to physical facts. Thus, honor is a collateral
or security (34), or, to Alithea's maid, "a disease in the head, like the
Megrim, or Falling-sickness" (51). Love is something one can be
cheated of, just as money is "the common Mistriss" (38). Marriage,
Pinchwife describes as giving "Sparkish to morrow five thousand pound
to lye with my Sister" (19). Love is most often compared to food (45):
thus the town offers "such variety of dainties" rather than the "course,
constant, swinging stomachs in the Country" (19). Lady Fidget, for
example, is puzzled to know why gallants prefer to eat in an ordinary,
"where every man is snatching for the best bit" rather than "be the only
guest at a good Table" (80). "A woman mask'd," says Pinchwife, "like a
covered Dish, gives a Man curiosity, and appetite, when, it may be,
uncover'd, 'twou'd turn his stomach" (37). "A Rival," says Sparkish, is
"as good sawce for a married Man to a Wife, as an Orange to Veale"
(68). Even Mrs. Margery, walking about London, cries with outrageous
innocence, "I han't half my belly full of sights yet" (41). Disease, too,
is a word for love: "the London disease" (68). "Wife and Sister," com-
plains Pinchwife, "are names which make us expect Love and Duty,
Pleasure and Comfort, but we find 'em plagues and torments" (72-73).
Homer's supposed maiming impliedly contrasts the old heroic idea of





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


the "wound of love" with the venereal diseases or "that worse Distemper,
love" (11), just as Dufoy's disease in The Comical Revenge did.
These two last conversions downward suggest the other important
kind of metaphor: what we have called in The Gentleman Dancing-
Master, the right-way-wrong-way simile. Wife and sister can mean love
and duty or plagues and torments. One can have Homer's "wound of
love" or Harcourt's. Thus, Lady Fidget says, "Our Virtue is like the
State-man's Religion, the Quaker's Word, the Gamester's Oath, and the
Great Man's Honour," and so far the comparison is more or less innocu-
ous, "but to cheat those that trust us" (80). The hearer is left to com-
pare in his mind the society Lady Fidget describes in which these things
are related by their falsity to a better society in which they would be
related by their truth. The "given" of the play raises the same kind of
question. Horner's pretending to be a eunuch not only compares -
rather graphically love as an ideal to love as a venereal fact; it also
contrasts the ways in which society will react to him. As long as he is
thought a eunuch, he is received with joy by the husbands and contempt
by the ladies; once they know his secret, however, the ladies receive him
with delight. In a different society, he might as a supposedly real eunuch
be received with sympathy; as a pretended eunuch -one simply mar-
vels at Restoration mores. The opening scene of the comedy develops
exactly these right and wrong ways, thereby setting the tone. Homer's
doctor puzzles at the effect of the ruse; Sir Jaspar crows over the eunuch;
Homer affects to be surprised the ladies have not more sympathy for
him (11-15).
Not just the language, but the whole action of the play and all of its
characters develop this right-way-wrong-way comparison. The wrong
way is symbolized by Horner, the maimed man. In his way of life,
limited to the world, the flesh, and the devil, things are never what they
seem to be. Two kinds of deception, deceiving others and deceiving
oneself, shape the absurdities of human life. One deceives others by
pretending to a character one does not have. "A Pox on all that
force Nature, and wou'd be still what she forbids 'em," cries Homer.
"Affectation is her greatest Monster" (16). He is himself, of course, his
own worst offender. He pretends to be a "shadow" (15), a "sign of a
Man" (17) to hide his sexual intrigues. Knowing that no one would
believe he had reformed, he pretends to virtue by assuring the town he
has been forced into it. Lady Fidget affects more obviously: she pre-
tends to honor "as critics to wit, only by censuring others" (31). "Your
Virtue is your greatest Affectation, Madam," Horner calmly assures her
(13). Lady Fidget adopts the outward appearance of a precise woman
of honor, to hide her inner, lecherous nature. Sparkish also pretends -




THE COUNTRY WIFE


he is a remarkably complex instance of the type-character of the fop.
He pretends to conversational wit: that is his foppishness. But his fop-
pishness is itself a pretense to cover up his small, scheming nature.
Under both these pretenses, Sparkish seems rather well endowed with
a self-serving wit. Just as Horer uses his well-known lechery to create
an appearance of virtue, so Sparkish rather cleverly uses his own dis-
interest in Alithea. It enables him to be unjealous, and that lack of
jealousy persuades Alithea he has a real faith in her and very nearly
enables him to marry her estate.
As with Etherege, pretending to a nature one does not have brings
two results. First, by long usage, it corrupts both one's pretended outer
appearance and also one's inner nature. The pretense and the self be-
come so ludicrously confused that the pretense can never really be put
away. Thus, Lady Fidget, even at the moment she is about to give
herself to Homer, is saying: "You must have a great care of your con-
duct; for my acquaintances are so censorious, (oh, 'tis a wicked cen-
sorious world, Mr. Horer,) I say, are so censorious, and detracting,
that perhaps they'll talk to the prejudice of my Honour, though you
should not let them know the dear secret" (60). Secondarily, however,
continued pretense also gives the deceiver a certain cynical wisdom
about human nature: an awareness that since one's own appearance does
not reveal one's own nature, the same thing is probably true of the rest
of mankind. "Most men,"' says Harcourt, who knows his way about the
town, "are the contraries to that they wou'd seem" (17). Horer bases
his whole plot on this kind of shrewd knowledge of social pretense:
I can be sure, she that shews an aversion to me loves the sport. And then
the next thing, is your Women of Honour, as you call 'em, are only chary of
their reputations, not their Persons, and 'tis scandal they wou'd avoid, not
Men: Now may I have, by the reputation of an Eunuch, the Privileges of One;
and be seen in a Ladies Chamber in a morning as early as her Husband. (14)
Even Sparkish is clever in this way: to Pinchwife, he says, "Let me tell
you Brother, we men of wit have amongst us a saying, that Cuckolding
like the small Pox comes with a fear, and you may keep your Wife as
much as you will out of danger of infection, but if her constitution
inclines her to't, she'll have it sooner or latter" (70).
At the same time, however, one can be overwise, as Alithea is at the
beginning of the play. One can deceive oneself by substituting appear-
ances for a real satisfaction of "natural" desires. Sir Jaspar, for example,
wants his wife to have the appearance of having a gallant, he forces
Homer on her -and is cuckolded. All of Pinchwife's ruses, disguises,
and other pretenses represent appearances designed to frustrate Mar-
gery's innocently lecherous desires and they end only in Pinchwife's





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


cuckolding. Similarly, Alithea substitutes (at first) Sparkish's lack of
jealousy for Harcourt's naturalness. All of these people are "overwise,"
in that they substitute appearances for nature.
Opposed to the wise and overwise is Harcourt, who seems by contrast
bumbling and ineffective. His schemes consistently misfire. lie is ridi-
culed by the fools of the play, Sparkish and Pinchwife. Sincerity is the
essence of his apparent folly. Everyone laughs at his sincere declarations
of love, and they get him nowhere until Alithea finally learns the differ-
ence between the superficial appearance of faith and real faith. Har-
court's pretending to be a parson is symbolic enough, but only acci-
dentally useful in the plot. The real key with which he unlocks the
situation is his offer to marry Alithea even when she has apparently
given herself to Homer. lie succeeds only when he shows he is willing
to make a fool of himself for her. In the end, though, his is the greater
achievement. He brings about a real union with the woman he loves;
Horner settles for fleeting affairs. Harcourt wins reality; Horner wins
pretense.
Wycherley contrasts the women, too. Margery, the naively direct
country wife, is set off against Alithea, the sophisticated London girl.
Here, sophistication wins. Whereas in Harcourt's case, a bumbling sin-
cerity succeeded, Alithea's strength comes from her knowledge of town
ways. Wycherley is not being inconsistent. He is comparing two kinds
of wisdom, a wisdom of means and a wisdom of ends. To select one's
ends rightly is a matter of faith, and this wisdom sets Harcourt and
Alithea off from the rest of the people. To achieve these ends. however,
one must have the wisdom of means, the "free education" of the town.
Even Lady Fidget's silly friends know "women are least mask'd, when
they have the Velvet Vizard on" (80). Margery, however, while she can
by flashes of ingenuity cut through the social barriers Pinchwife puts
up, cannot sustain her effort and, ultimately, fails. Margery knows she
wants love, and though her aim is the same as Alithea's, she cannot get
it. Margery's Intuitions are right, but she lacks the social acumen to
carry them out. In other words, she has an intuitional wisdom about
ends, but intuition will not give her a knowledge of means. She cannot
translate her love for Homer into an enduring social form.
This, then, is the measure of success in the play the extent to which
the characters can free themselves from pretense by openly translating
their "natural" desires into visible, enduring social forms. Homer's
world, for example, is dosed, defined by his pretense. It initiates the
action, and, in the end, the husbands can be persuaded of their wives'
fidelity only when Margery is forced to lie and keep up the pretense of
Homer's impotency. Margery's love for Homer is open and honest, but




THE COUNTRY WIFE


she cannot translate it into the outward fact of marriage, even though
she calls Homer her "husband." Lady Fidget openly reveals her relation-
ship with Horer (V.iv) to her girl friends; her openness leads only to
them have been pretending and must continue to do so. Another open
act is Horner's sympathy for Harcourt's love: "Thy wedding" he says to
Sparkish. "I'm sorry for't. .. ..Tis for her sake, not yours, and another
man's sake that might have hoped, I thought (Aside) Poor Harcourt,
I am sorry thou hast mist her" (67). Yet Horner's sympathy must remain
untranslated into action. When Harcourt demands that Horner clear
Alithea's honor by assuring the company he has not slept with her, he
cannot comply. Despite his willingness, he has become so enmeshed in
his own pretenses that he cannot help his friend (83-84). Sir Jaspar
and Pinchwife, at the end, resign themselves to further pretense, taking
a cold, epistemological comfort: "For my own sake fain I wou'd all
believe./ Cuckolds like Lovers should themselves deceive" (87). The
only open, unpretended impulse that can be translated into permanent
social form is Harcourt's love for Alithea. Only these two are completely
successful, first, because they know how to achieve their aims in the
social framework of pretense and, second, because they each realize the
importance of an aim that goes beyond the merely social and answers
one's inner nature. Each of the others is confined to the social box he
has helped make, forced to continue a pretense that must finally corrupt
the concealed inner nature. Only Horner is corrupt enough and wise
enough to use social pretenses for his own purposes, to master them
instead of being mastered. He, however, wins only a limited success.
lie is, in effect, maimed, cut off from the real and permanent happiness
represented by the exuberant union of Harcourt and Alithea, and for
which Horner expresses a half-regretful longing: "I alas, can't be [a
husband]" (87). This is Wycherley's sense of the two ways: one accepts
limited social aims; the other transcends them.
The play, however, does not deal simply with one right way versus
one wrong way; it deals complexly with a gradation of "ways." The
basic division is between Harcourt and Alithea on the one hand and
all the rest of the characters on the other. Harcourt and Alithea are the
most successful and the most right ethically; they seem foolish but turn
out to be wiser than all the rest. Among the other characters, there is
another right way, Horner's, more limited than Harcourt's and hardly
ethical, but successful in a narrow sense on its own terms. We could
diagram the action of the play as in the accompanying chart (using the
semanticists' trick of subscripts to denote the two senses of "right"
involved, right, meaning successful and rights meaning ethically right).





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


Personal World Social World
Right. Wrong,
Seemingly foolish, Seemingly wise,
ultimately wise. ultimately foolish.
Seeming failure, Seeming success,
ultimate success ultimate failure.

HARCOURT + I Right
ALITHEA I-MREY---- I
MARGERY [ iI Ei
Least sccessful
CUCKOLDS Wrong,



Margery, and perhaps this is why she is the title character, stands at
the center: her country na'ivet6 links her to the sincerity of Harcourt
and Alithea, but she lacks the social acumen they have to make her
sincere aims survive. The action of the play brings Harcourt and Alithea
out of the social whirl into a private world. The happy ending, as so
often in comedy, affirms the idea of poetic justice: right2 equals right,;
the good succeed, and the bad fail unless they are Horner. For it is
he and the complexity associated with him that keep The Country Wife
from having simply a "happy ending."
Nevertheless, we can see that the right-way-wrong-way structure has
undergone a change in Wycherley's mind. The Country Wife repre-
sents a development beyond The Gentleman Dancing-Master toward
the final, magnificent The Plain-Dealer. The Gentleman Dancing-Master
was also a right-way-wrong-way play, but most of the dramatic interest
was concentrated in the wrong way, the antics of Don Diego and Mon-
sieur. The right way, moreover, was thoroughly realistic: Gerrard was
a typical Restoration gllant and Hippolita a flirtatious Restoration
coquette. In The Country Wife, the dramatic interest is still focused on
the wrong way, the doings of Homer, Margery, and Lady Fidget; but
the right way has become more idealized in the person of Harcourt
whose ineffectual schemes are definitely not typical of the hero of a
Restoration comedy. The Plain-Dealer will carry the trend even further
- the dramatic interest in that play centers on the misanthrope of the
title who represents an almost supernatural, totally unreal "right way."
The Plain Dealer, moreover, is perfectly opposite to the typical Restora-
tion hero, and so is the girl he finally becomes engaged to. The right way





THE COUNTRY WIFE 85
of The Country Wife represented by Harcourt and Alithca, becomes in
The Plain-Dealer, a colorless, half-successful center position.
The chronology of this trend in Wycherley's work is deceptive. Restor-
ation comedy is, so far as the three major writers are concerned, nearing
its apex. The antiheroic phase has ended, and the first of their five great
comedies has appeared. Yet what is usually thought the first full-fledged
"comedy of manners," The Man of Mode, has not yet been produced.
And even in that supposedly heartless play this double sense of Wycher-
ley's appears, though Etherege portrays the ideal far more ironically
than Wycherley does in Harcourt. These later plays- including The
Country Wife -constitute a second phase after the purely antiheroic
comedies like The Comical Revenge. Though the heroics have dwindled
to a faint overtone (Homer's castration can be thought of as a heroic
"wound of love" like Dufoy's venereal disease), the dual structure per-
sists. The two alternatives, however, are not heroic and antiheroic, but
right way and wrong way, in the sense of successful and unsuccessful,
but also in the sense of good and evil.
These comedies have far more meaning than the term "comedy of
manners" suggests. The presence in one play both of an ideal and of
activities like Homer's creates a very complex meaning indeed. The
ideal developed by this pattern is not all the imposing of a code of
manners on the self; it is just the opposite adapting social forms to the
expression of "natural" desires. But the ideal is nonetheless an ideal, and
the presence of an ideal in a realistic situation signals the beginning of
what we think of as eighteenth-century sentimentalism. The dreary
"weeping comedy" of the "reformed" eighteenth-century stage was
simply that the presentation of an ideal in a realistic setting. The
strength, then, of this second phase of plays (which includes all five of
the "great" Restoration comedies) stems from a trace of that sentimental-
ism which literary historians almost unanimously relegate to the eight-
eenth century. The Country Wife, by showing an ideal in a realistic
context, shows both the beginning of the great period of Restoration
comedy and its decay.











9 The Man of Mode; or,

Sir Fopling Flutter

There have been few audiences in history as lucky as the one that in
1676 braved the March weather of London and the crowding at Dorset
Garden to see Etherege's new play, destined to be his last. The Man of
Mode was a tremendous success; its easy, witty dialogue was the finest
yet to appear, and its hard, brilliant portrait of the Restoration rake was
never to be equaled. Etherege, however, had not taken over the sense of
good and evil that Wycherley had begun to develop in The Country
Wife. The Man of Mode still treats cleverness as the ultimate virtue.
The play develops its theme and humor from the contrast between
two parallel lines of intrigue, one "high" and one "low." The high in-
trigue involves Harriet, Young Bellair, and Emilia. The low involves
Mrs. Loveit, Dorimant, and Bellinda. In each, a young man is involved
with two women, one he wants and one he does not want but who
pursues him: Dorimant wants Bellinda, but is pursued by Mrs. Loveit;
Young Bellair wants Emilia, but is pursued by Harriet, or, more prop-
erly, she is forced on him by their families who wish the match. In each
line, the young man uses another young man to decoy the extra woman
away: Dorimant uses Sir Fopling for Mrs. Loveit, and Bellair helps
Dorimant's relationship with Harriet along. Dorimant thus occupies a
pivotal position in both lines of intrigue: he is the decoy for the "high"
line and he is the man pursued in the "low."
In more detail, Dorimant, at the beginning of the play, has begun the
exchange of an old mistress, Mrs. Loveit, for a new and younger one,
Bellinda. To do the business Bellinda uses Dorimant's attention to a
masked lady (actually Bellinda herself) to work Mrs. Loveit into a
jealous rage, while Dorimant accuses her of flirting with Sir Fopling
Flutter, the "man of mode." In the second intrigue, young Bellair, one
of Dorimant's friends, is in love with Emilia, but his father is forcing
him to marry Harriet. Dorimant falls in love with Harriet, but she pre-
tends to be in love with Young Bellair just long enough to let him fool
his father and marry Emilia, and, unknown to her, long enough to let





THE MAN OF MODE


Dorimant consummate his affair with Bellinda. Finally, however, Dori-
mant succumbs to Harriet's charms and agrees to go off to the country
(no less!) to court her.
Etherege contrasts the characters as he does the two plot lines. Most
critics agree that the play sets off the sleek competence of Dorimant
against the strained effects of Sir Fopling. Actually, however, not just
these two, but all the principal characters are ranged on a scale. For the
men, affectation is the negative value and the worst offender is, of
course, Sir Fopling, who absurdly and magnificently incarnates the idea.
He has no inner personality, only externals -clothes, attendants, and
mannerisms. For example, he criticizes Dorimant for not having a mirror
in his drawing room, for "In a glass a man may entertain himself."
"The shadow of himself," remarks Dorimant. Medley, Dorimant's gos-
sipy friend, ironically adds: "I find, Sir Fopling, in your Solitude, you
remember the saying of the wise man, and study your self" (260-261).,
Sir Fopling's self is totally outside: there is neither inner man nor inner
desires.
Medley, Dorimant's confidant, slightly older than the other young
men of the play, is almost as bad. He too remains always a spectator of
the action, never a participant (255). For his natural self, he has sub-
stituted the gossip the ladies enjoy, so much so that Emilia calls him
"a living Libel, a breathing Lampoon" (225), and Dorimant, "the very
Spirit of Scandal" (226). Medley is also rather effeminate, the only char-
acter who indulges in "the filthy trick these men have got of kissing one
another," or who calls Dorimant, "my Life, my Joy, my darling-Sin"
(191). Young Bellair is next to Medley in the scale of affectation. "By
much the most tolerable of all the young men that do not abound in
wit," "ever well dress'd, always complaisant, and seldom impertinent,"
are the judgments of his peers (201-202). Harriet, more subtle, says of
him: "The man indeed wears his Cloaths fashionably, and has a pretty
negligent way with him, very Courtly, and much affected; he bows, and
talks, and smiles so agreeably, as he thinks. Varnish'd over with good
breeding, many a blockhead makes a tolerable show" (220). He is to
Dorimant what the heroic people of The Comical Revenge were to Sir
Frederick Frolick, but Etherege has developed: the contrast is much
subtler.
The cynical, witty Dorimant is far more "wild" and "bewitching" (218)
than earnest Young Bellair, but even he, as Harriet sets him out, has
some affectation. His reputation as a lover is as important to him as
clothing is to Sir Fopling. Thus, Dorimant speaks of his long affair with
Loveit as old clothes (194) and compares his own person to a bauble
or a fashion (229). This play has not just one "man of mode," but two:





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


Dorimant, as well as Sir Fopling, both occupying similar places in the
structure. Etherege is laughing at the hero as well as the fop.
There is, then, a second pattern on which the men are ranked: sexual
success, an alternative kind of affectation. Thus, the ladies laugh at Sir
Fopling; Medley achieves some popularity, but no particular successes;
Young Bellair reaches consummation, but only within the framework of
marriage, while Dorimant has two successful illicit affairs and one matri-
monial courtship. This scale parallels the other; modishness is a sublima-
tion of sexuality, or replaces it. Sir Fopling thus sees men and women
simply as clothes, equipage, or the like (230); he treats his own gown
as a person (253). In short, he is one of "the young Men of this Age"
who are "only dull admirers of themselves, and make their Court to
nothing but their Perriwigs and their Crevats, and would be more con-
cern'd for the disordering of 'em, tho' on a good occasion, than a young
Maid would be for the tumbling of her head or Handkercher" (245).
Sir Fopling's importance is not so much that he is affected about clothes
and "manners," but that his affectation supplants his sexuality, indeed,
his very self.
Etherege sets up this relation between Sir Fopling and Dorimant in
his brilliant post-seduction scene (IV.ii); the dialogue contains some
appalling insights into the ways of womankind. Critics have complained
of the frank stage direction calling for Dorimant's manservant "tying up
Linnen." His inconspicuous, useful presence, however, is a meaningful
realistic note, an ironic comment on the fancy speeches of Dorimant and
Bellinda downstage. She escapes just as Sir Fopling enters. He, by way
of contrast to Dorimant's sexual affectation, immediately starts to dance
by himself and to talk of mirrors and clothes. The juxtaposition of the
fop's affectations with the hero's, like the juxtaposition of the false court-
ship of Bellinda and the "real" courtship of Harriet, reveals Dorimant's
Don Juanism for what it is, simply another kind of affectation.
Etherege puts the ladies of the play into a pattern based on the oppo-
site of affectation: "Wildness," which shows itself mostly as sexual
promiscuity. Just as Dorimant displays a permissible, or at least curable,
kind of affectation, so a woman must be only "as wild as you wou'd wish
her," and should have "a demureness in her looks that makes it so
surprising" (193). Mrs. Loveit is far from this ideal. Her affair with
Dorimant is the common gossip of London. At the slightest provocation
she tears a passion to tatters with a welter of invective (out of Restora-
tion tragedy): "Insupportable! insulting Devil! this from you, the only
Author of my Shamel" and so on. Her inner self is always on the surface.
She has virtually no concern with appearances, no "affectation," as that
word applies to the men. Bellinda is next in the scale. Although she





THE MAN OF MODE


conceals her affair with Dorimant, she lets her passionate, private self
burst the outer restraint of reputation. She cannot control herself, even
though she sees how Dorimant used Loveit (274). Emilia does not hide
her affectations so adeptly as Bellinda, but she is considerably more
chaste. Yet even her virtue is not above suspicion: Dorimant cynically
hints that once she is married he might have better luck with her (202).
Harriet alone is so completely in control of her passions as to confine
her wildness to the dressing table (219). She is outraged that anyone
should think her "easy" to marry, let alone to be seduced (279). Yet
to Dorimant she can say: "My Eyes are wild and wandering like my
passions, / And cannot yet be ty'd to Rules of charming" (248). She is
hardly passionless: she simply does not allow her wildness any unfitting
expression.
The comedy opens with two brilliantly drawn characters who appear
only once: Foggy (i.e., puffy) Nan the orange-woman and Swearing
Tom the shoemaker who call on Dorimant at his levee. They introduce,
the critics say, a touch of low life and suggest vices among the lower
classes like those of the aristocracy. While they certainly do these things,
they occupy a good deal of valuable space at the beginning of the play
for purely gratuitous bits of local color. One must, I think, find some
sort of keynote they represent, or else conclude that Etherege erred
seriously in starting with two irrelevancies instead of exposition. Actu-
ally, they serve as "sign-post characters." They establish the two scales
along which the other characters are ranged. Nan's business is fruit,
something appropriate to one's natural self as opposed to one's social
front. (The rest of the ladies in the play face chiefly this problem,
expressing their "natural" desires within the limits of society.) Thus,
fruit is used later in the play (267) as a double-entendre for Bellinda's
misbehavior: "She has eaten too much fruit, I warrant you." "'Tis that
lyes heavy on her Stomach." "I was a strange devourer of Fruit when I
was young, so ravenous -" says Mrs. Loveit's ingenuous maid. Har-
riet's mother criticizes the appetite of the age for "green Fruit," instead
of ladies like herself, "kindly ripen'd" (246). Swearing Tom, on the other
hand, deals in shoes, and the men in the play are ranked by clothing or
other factors of appearance. Secondarily, he is concerned with his own
inner vices "too gentile for a Shoomaker." "There's never a man i' the
town," he says, "lives more like a Gentleman, with his Wife, than I do"
(198). Just as Medley and Dorimant are called atheists by Bellair, the
orange-woman calls Tom an atheist, religious devotion being a continued
metaphor in the play for love (278ff.). Tom's chief attribute, swearing,
reflects Dorimant's pretended loves and broken vows.
Besides the main characters and these "sign-post" characters, there are






THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


three older people. Harriet's mother and Old Bellair (who falls in love
with Emilia) make themselves ridiculous by their flirtatious efforts to
impose their outmoded selves on the young. Lady Townlcy, however,
Young Bellair's aunt, is urbane and sophisticated, wise enough to accept
her role as elder stateswoman, a charming instance of the wisdom "the
Town" offers: how to express one's inner nature in outward forms that
will withstand time.
To the satirical contrasts between the two plots and the characters
associated with them, Etherege adds further contrasts; for example, the
differing treatments of love in the two plots. To Loveit, in the low plot,
love is subject to disease and death (217), for which jealousy is the
best medicine (239). Dorimant, before Harriet brings him from the low
plot to the high, calls love a sickness (242), a disease, a "settled Ague"
or "irregular fitts" (249), for which intercourse is the cure (260); an
appetite, though one can very quickly get one's "belly full" (257). It
is a deception: "Love gilds us over," says Dorimant, "and makes us show
fine things to one another for a time, but soon the Gold wears off, and
then again the native brass appears" (216). To the people in the low
plot, love seems a kind of adversary proceeding, a duel (201), no differ-
ent for people than for "game-Cocks" (224), for an affair is "a thing
no less necessary to confirm the reputation of your Wit, than a Duel
will be to satisfied the Town of your Courage" (231). Love affairs are
lawsuits (208), carried on with ladies who are "practising Lawyers"
(228). Love is a game, in which a woman ought to lose her reputation
fairly (269): "The deep play is now in private Houses" (228). Sex, in
the low plot, is thoroughly animal: poaching (190), hunting (207, 217),
or fishing (242). Only while Dorimant is still in the low plot can he
think of Harriet as a business enterprise, requiring "Church security,"
or speak of their relation as gambling (235). In the high plot, however,
the loves of Harriet, Emilia, and Young Bellair are described in half-
serious religious images, "Faith" as opposed to "sence" or "reason"
(198-199).
Etherege contrasts the two plots further by their use of acting and
dissembling. In the Bellinda-Loveit intrigue, all the affairs are illicit and
must be concealed. The whole atmosphere is one of dissimulation. In
the Emilia-Harriet plot, acting is a mere feu d'esprit. The orange-woman
sets the tone when she describes Harriet's playful imitation of Dorimant
(191), for Harriet does indeed enjoy "the dear pleasure of dissembling"
(222), as do Emilia and Lady Townley when they mimic Old Bellair
(233). They and Harriet and Young Bellair, however, play-act only to
"deceive the grave people" outside the threesome. In the Bellinda-Loveit
intrigue, the pretenses are to deceive the people within the threesome:





THE MAN OF MODE 91
Bellinda and Dorimant conceal their affair; Mrs. Loveit feigns an interest
in Sir Fopling. In the low plot, Loveit can say: "There's nothing but
falsehood and impertinence in this world! all men are Villains or Fools"
(286); "Women, as well as men, are all false, or all are so to me at least"
(265). Dorimant sees "an inbred falshood in Women" (269). Acting is
not sport but deadly earnest, to hurt, as when Dorimant imitates Sir
Fopling (267) or pretends indifference to Loveit (238), or to deceive
and manipulate Bellinda's pretenses (V.i) or Loveit's feigned indiffer-
ence to Dorimant (242).
Etherege provides still a third contrast. In the low plot, everyone -
Loveit, Bellinda, even Medley--is a "Devil" (193, 208, 210, 214, 218,
270), though Dorimant "has something of the Angel yet undefac'd in
him" (210), and is charming enough to "tempt the Angels to a second
fall" (237), as indeed he does. True love and the high plot, on the other
hand, represent Heaven, at least linguistically. Dorimant establishes the
metaphor in the opening speech of the play when he compares his being
forced to write a billet-doux "after the heat of the business is over," to
a "Fanatick" paying tithes. Medley and Young Bellair also discuss in the
first scene the contrast between the "Heaven," "Faith," and "Salvation" of
true love and the "doubts and scruples" of the rakes (199). But in the end,
the most cavalier of Cavaliers gives up his skepticism for "repentance"
and "the prospect of Heav'n" (278).
In this, as in most Restoration comedies, the action involves a cure or
therapy for one of the characters, and the important therapy of this play
is to tame Dorimant. He must be brought out of the "hell" of the low
plot where pretense is the normal order of business, "good nature and
good manners" (216); where it is laughable when one's emotions show
(as Mrs. Loveit's or Young Bellair's do); and where sex comes not from
love, but from hostility. "There has been such a calm in my affairs of
late," says Dorimant, summing up this stormy way of life, "I have not
had the pleasure of making a Woman so much as break her Fan, to be
sullen, or forswear her self these three days" (195). He must be brought
into the "heaven" of the high plot in which the emotional, natural
desire can be made a social fact. The critics' sympathies for Loveit and
Bellinda in this situation are simply wasted words. By Restoration, or
for that matter Victorian, standards these ladies are irretrievably lost,
condemned to an endless series of pretenses. The fault in the situation
is not that Dorimant gives up his mistresses in favor of a wife, but that
the ladies wrongfully succumbed to his blandishments. Neither of them
expects Dorimant to marry her; all they ask is that he continue his
illicit relationships. Surely Dorimant is more to be praised than censured
for preferring the honorable course of matrimony.





92 THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES
It is, of course, Harriet who performs the cure. She very quickly
realizes what is wrong with Dorimant: affectation in a much broader
sense than the other characters conceive it for example, Young Bellair
in the dialogue quoted above. She knows that Dorimant concerns him-
self too much with superficial sexual affairs that answer only his vanity:
"begging the Ladies Good liking, with a sly softness in your looks,
and a gentle slowness in your bows, as you pass by 'em as thus, Sir
- [Acts him] Is not this like you?" (236). She realizes that Dorimant is
used to a group that keeps appearance from revealing the private self,
to whom dissembling is the normal condition. She therefore refuses to
have anything to do with the oaths that Bellinda and Loveit had
regarded as such important tokens, and that Dorimant had broken so
lightly (216, 227, 259): "Do not speak it, if you would have me believe
it; your Tongue is so fam'd for falsehood 'twill do the truth an injury"
(278). Before she will let him come over to the way of life she shares
with Young Bellair and Emilia, she puts him through a sort of initiation:
Harriet. I was informed you used to laugh at Love, and not make it.
Dormant. The time has been, but now I must speak -
Har. If it be on that Idle subject, I will put on my serious look, turn my head
carelessly from you, drop my lip, let my Eyelids fall and hang half o're my
Eyes Thus while you buz a speech of an hour long in my ear, and I
answer never a word
This is, of course, exactly the same kind of play-acting she fell into so
naturally with Bellair. But while that was to "deceive the grave people,"
this is to achieve a catharsis in Dorimant. Dorimant, however, resists.
Har. why do you not begin?
Dor. That the company may take notice how passionately I make advances of
Lovel and how disdainfully you receive 'em.
Har. When your Love's grown strong enough to make you bear being laugh'd
at, Ill give you leave to trouble me with it. Till when pray forbear, Sir.
(249-250)
Submitting to being laughed at is only the beginning.
Dorimant's final submission or "initiation" comes in Act V. It is
marked by the transition from Act V, scene i, at Mrs. Loveit's, where all
the characters of the low plot are treacherously deceiving each other, to
Act V, scene ii, Lady Townley's house, where all the pretenses are broken
down and all is camaraderie and good fellowship. (In both scenes, three
women work on Dorimant, in each case, two ladies and a maid. Not
much is made of the parallel in the text; it is more in the director's realm,
to be brought out in the grouping of the players.) Whereas the earlier
scene is a study in continued deception, Dorimant having betrayed both





THE MAN OF MODE


the ladies, the initiation scene moves from deception to truth. At first,
Harriet quite consciously plays Dorimant's game to make him play hers;
she makes herself appear indifferent to force him to commit himself;
tar. [Aside turning from Dorimant.] My love springs with my blood into my
Face, I dare not look upon him yet.
Dot. What have we here, the picture of a celebrated Beauty, giving audience in
public to a declared Lover?
Hat. Play the dying Fop, and make the piece compleat, Sir.
Dot. What think you if the Hint were well improved? The whole mystery of
making love pleasantly designed and wrought in a suit of Hangings?
Har. 'Twere needless to execute fools in Effigie who suffer daily in their own
persons. (277)
Half-serious religious imagery marks Dorimant's progress toward the
"heaven" of the high plot:
Har. In men who have been long hardened in Sin, we have reason to mistrust
the first signs of repentance.
Dot. The prospect of such a Heav'n will make me persevere, and give you
marks that are infallible.
Har. What are those?
Dor. I will renounce all the joys I have in friendship and in Wine, sacrifice to
you all the interest I have in other Women -
Har. Hold Though I wish you devout, I would not have you turn Fanatick -
(278-279)
Because she knows Dorimant is in the habit of hiding or suppressing his
emotions, Harriet insists now, in effect, that he train himself into the
habit of letting his actions reflect his state of mind. If Dorimant is to
love Harriet, she laughingly insists, not only must he submit to being
mocked, he must pursue her into the country: "To a great rambling
lone house, that looks as it were not inhabited, the family's so small;
there you'll find my Mother, an old lame Aunt, and my self, Sir, perch'd
up on Chairs at a distance in a large parlour; sitting moping like three
or four Melancholy Birds in a spacious vollary Does this not stagger
your Resolution?" (287). As in Etherege's earlier plays, the country was
to be understood by his audience as a place highly unpleasant because
close observation forces the inner self to conform to visible mores; it is
therefore a suitable House of Holiness for Dorimant's penance:
Har. What we're you say, I know all beyond High-Park's a desert to you, and
that no gallantry can draw you farther.
Dor. That has been the utmost limit of my Love but now my passion knows
no bounds, and there's no measure to be taken of what I'll do for you from
any thing I ever did before.
Har. When I hear you talk thus in Hampshire, I shall begin to think there may
be some little truth inlarg'd upon. (279)





THE FIRST MODERN COMEDIES


Dorimant, Professor Underwood points out, is undergoing the conflict
between reason and passion which is traditional for comic heroes,
though in this case the "reason" is that of the libertine and Machiavellian
school of naturalism.2 The passion, moreover, is antirational and fideistic.
Harriet has forced Dorimant from the finite loves of the low plot to
a love nominally, at least, infinite. Appropriately enough, she can now
sneer at Mrs. Loveit, "Mr. Dorimant has been your God Almighty long
enough, 'tis time to think of another- and suggest a nunnery as the
fashionable place for her retreat. Harriet has made it quite clear she
does not want Dorimant to abandon his naturalistic desires, but to
translate them into marriage: "Though I wish you devout, I would not
have you turn Fanatick." In the play's terms, she does not want a per-
manent residence in the country which would stifle Dorimant's energy
and competence. What she does want is to teach him to bring his natural
desires to the social framework of marriage. Only "this dear Town," as
Harriet calls it, admits the full expression of self.
This, then, is the action of the comedy and its sense of humor: to
bring Dorimant -and through him the audience- from the low plot
where the private self fights social restrictions by deception to the high
plot where one can realize his private life in viable social forms. Old
Bellair, in these last few lines of the play, hails Sir Fopling indignantly,
"What does this man of mode do here agen?" as though Etherege wanted
to underline his point: that Dorimant has left that status in favor of a
richer kind of modishnesss."
In other words, the play is nothing more nor less than the old senti-
mental story of the rake reformed, indeed redeemed, by the love of a
good woman. At least that would be the basic form of the action, were
it not so variously undercut by irony. One very basic irony is the fact
that Harriet (the good woman) occupies a position in the plot structure
that corresponds to Mrs. Loveit's; similarly Dorimant functions as a
decoy like Sir Fopling. Harriet's making Dorimant court her in the
country, in fact, her whole "holding out" for marriage is nothing but a
more elaborate and safer form of the oaths and conditions Bellinda
required from Dorimant. The entire first scene of the play makes
Dorimant look arrogant and arbitrary by showing him as he berates and
badgers his servants in his slovenly, helter-skelter household. In general,
the opening scene provides a variety of episodes running the gamut of
love from the poor whore's trade to Young Bellair's neoplatonic adora-
tion; all these episodes serve to strip the conventions and formalities
from life and lay bare the naturalistic substratum at the core of every
social pretense. There is still more ironic crossfire in the final scene: at
the very moment when Dorimant is agreeing to go off to the country





THE MAN OF MODE


to court Harriet, he is deftly assuring Loveit (out of one side of his
mouth, as it were) that he is only marrying Harriet for her money and
(out of the other side) trying to make another assignation with Bel-
linda.3 The play bristles with so many ironies, all undercutting one
another, that it is difficult to say what, if anything, Ethcrcge wants us
to take seriously. Virtually every action of every character becomes a
gambit in a great and meaningless social game.
One thing is clear, however. The comedy does not simply laugh at
those who do not have "manners." There are two absurdities. One lies
in substituting arbitrary formalism for the inner self, as Sir Fopling does.
He lists some French rules of courtship and Medley drily comments,
"For all this smattering of the Mathematicks, you may be out in your
Judgment at Tennis" (251). The opposite kind of absurdity is Loveit's
ranting, an attempt to impose her unformalized inner self on others:
"Horrour and distraction seize you, Sorrow and Remorse gnaw your
Soul, and so on (215). "Ill customs," wrote Etherege from his diplomatic
post at Ratisbon, "affront my very senses, and I have been so used to
affectation that without the help of the air of the court what is natural
cannot touch me. You see what we get by being polished, as we call
it."* Precisely this kind of "affectation" is the value the comedy half-
seriously puts forward: to express the private self in a social form
which is decorous, natural, and even redeeming, or, as Old Bellair some-
what crudely puts it (280): "To Commission a young Couple to go to
Bed together a Gods name."










10 The Plain-Dealer

No self-respecting commentator on Restoration comedy passes by Wych-
erley's last play without leaving behind a purple passage of tribute.
This is the one play that everyone calls moral and Wycherley is the one
Restoration dramatist who all the commentators think shows an earnest
and proper disgust with his age. This play is more discussed than any
other Restoration comedy except The Way of the World, yet no play is
more commonly misunderstood. The Plain-Dealer, first produced in De-
cember 1676, is supposed to be an unequivocal damnation of Restoration
society, including or even, perhaps, especially the graceful Harriets
and Dorimants.
The confusing factor is the title character, the nominal hero Manly.
Wycherley describes him in the Dranatis Personae as "of an honest,
surly, nice humour and chusing a Sea-life, only to avoid the World"
(104).1 Most critics, despite this ambiguous description, assume that
Manly speaks for Wycherley. As a result, the play has had its critical ups
and downs. The critic John Dennis recorded its reception when it was
first produced; "The Town, as the Authour has often told me, appeared
Doubtful what Judgment to Form of it," and it took all the efforts of
the court wits to get it accepted.2 Dryden called it "one of the most bold,
most general, and most useful satires which has ever been presented on
the English theatre."' Hazlitt praised the play for his Romantic readers
with only a little more precision: "It penetrates to the core; it shows the
immorality and hateful effects of duplicity, by shewing it fixing its
harpy fangs in the heart of an honest and worthy man." Leigh Hunt,
however, described Manly as having a "gusto of desecrated animal pas-
sion, fit only for some ferocious sensualist who believed himself as great
a rascal as he thought everybody else."3 Macaulay, of course, damned
it, and Meredith called it a "coarse prose adaptation of the Misanthrope,
stuffed with lumps of realism." 6 Finally, however, The Cambridge His-
tory of English Literature, Volume VIII, appeared. "Here at last," notes
Heldt, "it is openly and distinctly said that Wycherley was a moralist."
"The savage blasphemer in the halls of beauty and of art," declared The
Cambridge History, "is, after all, at heart a moralist, indignantly flagel-
lating vice as well as gloating over her deformities."




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