History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Restoration

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The Restoration period, during the reign of King Charles II from 1660 to 1685, is mostly celebrated for its satiric comedies, whose main dramatists are William Congreve (1670-1729), George Etherege (1635ca-1692), William Wycherley (1640ca-1715), John Vanbrugh (1664-1726), John Crowne (1641-1712), and Aphra Behn (1640-1689). Relative to English Renaissance theatre, these comedies are characterized by looser mores, especially of a sexual nature. Young and brilliant gallants dominate the stage and the women, played by actresses, unlike the previous generation when women were played by boys, are alluring and often promiscuous. While in Shakespearian comedies authoritarian old men are mostly respected, old men in Restoration comedies are often rakes, fools, or both. In "The country wife", Sparkish complains of modern poets: "Their predecessors were contented to make serving-men only their stage-fools: but these rogues must have gentlemen, with a pox to ’em, nay, knights; and, indeed, you shall hardly see a fool upon the stage but he’s a knight. And to tell you the truth, they have kept me these six years from being a knight in earnest, for fear of being knighted in a play, and dubbed a fool."

The two worthiest comedies of Congreve are "Love for love" (1695) and "The way of the world" (1700), characterized by stunning wit, sharp repartees, cynical outlooks, egotism losing control, man-woman relations based on sex appeal, justly celebrated and comparable in quality to the best of Molière for acute observations on man and woman's foibles and follies. The closest to Congreve is Wycherley's strong wine contained in "The country wife" (1675). Etherege is charmingly bubbly with "The man of mode" (1676), whereas Vanbrugh with "The relapse" (1696), Crowne with "City politics" (1683), and Behn with "The rover (parts 1 and 2)" (1677 and 1681) are cruder but offer more wine than vinegar.

Although Restoration tragedies are generally weaker than Caroline ones, some generate considerable power, including "Samson agonistes" (1671) by John Milton (1608-1674), "All for Love" (1678) by John Dryden (1631-1700), "Oroonoko" (1696) by Thomas Southerne (1660-1746), and "Venice preserved" (1682) by Thomas Otway (1652-1685).

William Congreve dominates Restoration comedy. Portrait by Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723)

"Love for love"[edit]

"Love for love". Time: 1690s. Place: London, England.

"Love for love" text at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Love_for_Love

Because of his dissolute life, Valentine has incurred the displeasure of his father, Sir Sampson Legend and visits by his creditors, such as Trapland, whom he manages to hold off by plying him with drink. To pay off his debts, Valentine is forced to submit to this father's conditions: transferring the right to the family estate after his death to a younger brother back from sea named Ben. Mrs Frail, aunt to Angelica, a rich heiress whom Valentine courts, has learned that there is talk of marriage between Ben and Prue, daughter to her brother, Foresight, from a previous marriage, a girl bred in the country. She sarcastically comments: "Well, if he be but as great a sea-beast as she is a land-monster, we shall have a most amphibious breed. The progeny will be all otters." Mrs Frail confides to Foresight's wife that she hopes to wheedle Ben away from Prue. Ben and Prue are left together to see whether a match is possible between them. Having met the more polished Tattle previously, she shows unhappiness over Ben's rough behavior: "I don't know what to say to you, nor I don't care to speak with you at all," she admits. At this, Ben becomes angry: "Oons, I'll marry a Lapland witch as soon, and live upon selling contrary winds and wrecked vessels." Despite this bad start, without inquiring further, Sampson and Foresight agree to marrying the two the following night. Sampson is then told that Valentine is sick in bed and has begun to speak madly, which he interprets as a trick to defer signing the conveyance. Meanwhile, Valentine's friend, Scandal, aims to sleep with Foresight's wife. He suggests to the gullible husband that he has begun to look sick. Foresight believes him. "Good night, good Mr Foresight," says the hopeful Scandal to himself, "And I hope Mars and Venus will be in conjunction while your wife and I are together." When he starts to flirt with her, she pretends to be shocked; does he know of no honest woman? He answers: "Yes, faith, I believe some women are virtuous too; but 'tis as I believe some men are valiant, through fear. For why should a man court danger or a woman shun pleasure?" She does not. Meanwhile, Ben has found a more congenial companion in Mrs Frail, who warns: "Ay, but, my dear, we must keep it secret till the estate be settled; for you know, marrying without an estate is like sailing in a ship without ballast." But when Sampson is unable to have Valentine sign the transfer, Mrs Frail rejects Ben. After quarreling with his father about Prue and thinking he is to possess Mrs Frail, he is stunned at hearing her cry out: "Oh, see me no more,- for thou wert born amongst rocks, suckled by whales, cradled in a tempest, and whistled to by winds; and thou art come forth with fins and scales, and three rows of teeth, a most outrageous fish of prey." Although to most people, Valentine appears mad, this is not Foresight's opinion, who sees in him a great prognosticator. Angelica discovers this pretended madness and is disappointed at finding him a fake: "I thought your love of me had caused this transport in your soul; which, it seems, you only counterfeited for mercenary ends and sordid interest." She tells Sampson about her desire of marriage, which he interprets as being intended for his person, all the more when she suggests that their seeming match may serve to force Valentine out of his madman's disguise. Meanwhile, Prue has an eye to marrying Tattle, but he dismisses that idea: "Fie, fie, you're a woman now, and must think of a new man every morning and forget him every night." He is led to believe he may marry Angelica in disguise, but instead is tricked into marrying Mrs Frail, who in turn thought she was about to marry Valentine. On hearing of his father's match with Angelica, Valentine recovers his senses and asks his pardon, finally admitting his apparent madness was contrived. When hearing no encouragement from Angelica, he at last agrees to sign: "I have been disappointed of my only hope, and he that loses hope may part with anything." Finally convinced of his love towards her, she tears up the paper.

"The way of the world"[edit]

"The way of the world". Time: 1700s. Place: London, England.

"The way of the world" text at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Way_of_the_World

Three persons wait outside a chocolate-house to speak with Petulant, who does not wish to see them. They eventually go away angrily. He dismisses this: "Anger helps complexion, saves paint," says the indifferent Petulant. Fainall thinks he understands this attitude: "This continence is all dissembled; this is in order to have something to brag of the next time he makes court to Millamant, and swear he has abandoned the whole sex for her sake." Petulant's rival, Mirabell, warns him he may one day cut his throat for courting her, but Petulant is not impressed but taunts him by announcing that Mirabell's uncle, Sir Rowland, has arrived near the house of Lady Wishfort, Millamant's aunt and Fainall's mother-in-law: "You and he are not friends; and if he should marry and have a child, you may be disinherited, ha!" Lady Wishfort is Mirabell's enemy for having falsely pretended love to her. In St. James' Park, Fainwell accuses Mrs Marwood, his mistress, of preventing Mirabell from marrying Millamant, so that Lady Wishfort's fortune might come to her. Fainwell's wife, hating her husband's sight, lets the two walk on ahead, to which Mirabell comments: "You should have just so much disgust for your husband as may be sufficient to make you relish your lover." "You have been the cause that I have loved without bounds," she retorts, "and would you set limits to that aversion of which you have been the occasion?" To win Millamant, Mirabell has invented the existence of Sir Rowland, actually his servant, Waitewell, but Mrs Marwood, wishing to keep Mirabell as her lover, conveys the plot to Fainwell, who fears he is about to lose his wife's fortune to the one who cuckolds him. Mrs Marwood also intends to reveal the plot anonymously to Lady Wishfort in the form of a letter. Meanwhile, Lady Wishfort wishes Millamant to marry her nephew, Wilful Woudwit. To ruin Mirabell's chances with Millamant, Mrs Fainwell seeks to compromise her by locking her in a room with Wilful and have them discovered, but this ploy does not succeed. She intends to keep up her relations with Mirabell with conditions. "Trifles," she asserts, "as liberty to pay and receive visits to and from whom I please; to write and receive letters, without interrogatories or wry faces on your part; to wear what I please, and choose conversation with regard only to my own taste; to have no obligation upon me to converse with wits that I don't like, because they are your acquaintance, or to be intimate with fools, because they may be your relations." Meanwhile, the supposed Sir Rowland inveigles himself into Lady Wishfort's favor, though she cautions him. "But as I am a person, Sir Rowland," she says, "you must not attribute my yielding to any sinister appetite or indigestion of widowhood; nor impute my complacency to any lethargy of continence." However, her enthusiasm is cooled after reading Mrs Marwood's letter, revealing Sir Rowland as an impostor. He denies it, swearing the letter is an invention devised by Mirabell. He offers to fight him in a duel, but she prevents that, fearing for her reputation. Nevertheless, the disguised servant's tricks are discovered by Fainwell and Mrs Marwood and he is sent to prison, though quickly set free again by Mirabell. Meanwhile, Mrs Marwood has told Fainall of his wife's adulterous relation with Mirabell. Learning this, Lady Wishfort is thankful for her intervention. "Well, friend, you are enough to reconcile me to the bad world,"she asserts, "or else I would retire to deserts and solitudes and feed harmless sheep by groves and purling streams." But when Mrs Marwood and Mrs Fainall accuse each other of adultery, she no longer knows what to think. To get as much money as he can, Fainwell attempts to negotiate a settlement so that his mother-in-law, Lady Wishfort, may be prevented from marrying. "Next, my wife shall settle on me the remainder of her fortune, not made over already; and for her maintenance depend entirely on my discretion," he adds. He also wants part of Millamant's fortune, forfeited by her disobedience in contracting herself against Lady Wishfort's consent to Mirabell, who is forced to resign his marriage contract with her. But Fainall and Mrs Marwood are both thwarted, first by a servant, witness to their adulterous relations, next by the existence of a marriage contract between Mrs Fainall and Mirabell before she married Fainall, so that her property is reverted to Mirabell. This sum is restored to her after he secures Lady Wishfort's consent to marry Millamant.

William Wycherley described the comic clashes between urban and rural modes of living. Portrait by Peter Cross

"The country wife"[edit]

"The country wife". Time: 1670s. Place: London, England.

"The country wife" text at http://www.bibliomania.com/0/6/274/1876/frameset.html

As Horner is followed by a quack doctor, he mutters to himself: "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." When the doctor is asked whether he did as required, he answers: "I have undone you for ever with the women, and reported you throughout the whole town as bad as an eunuch, with as much trouble as if I had made you one in earnest." Given the rumors circulating on Horner's impotence, Jasper Fidget does not hesitate to leave wife and sister at his lodging, but before Horner can explain his true state, both women leave disgusted. Horner is later surprised to learn of Pinchwife's marriage: "From such a whoremaster as you," he says to him, "One that knew the town so much, and women so well". Pinchwife defends himself by saying he made sure to marry a country wife: "’Tis my maxim, he’s a fool that marries; but he’s a greater that does not marry a fool. What is wit in a wife good for, but to make a man a cuckold?" Horner saw Pinchwife at a play with a woman. He and his rakish friends, Harcourt and Dorilant, guess by Pinchwife's blushing that the woman in question was his wife, Margery. Pinchwife foolishly slips out the information that his wife was much admired at the play. He ushers her out as company comes in. To Pinchwife's disgust, a man-about town, Sparkish, praises extravagantly Alithea, his wife-to-be and Pinchwife's sister, before Harcourt's very face. He tries to prevent their speaking together, but is hindered by the foolishly confident Sparkish. At last, Alithea runs towards Sparkish to disclose that Harcourt insulted his wit, which at last arouses him, till she declares he only made trial to be satisfied of her virtue for his sake. Jasper's wife, Lady Fidget, along with Dainty Fidget and Mrs Squeamish, arrives to take Margery to the play, which Pinchwife seeks to prevent by saying she has the smallpox: an ineffective ploy, for they all have had it and consider themselves immune. Jasper invites Horner to follow them, who, taking Lady Fidget apart from the rest, whispers to her his true condition, a far more pleasing prospect to her now. To prevent the worst, Pinchwife insists on having his wife disguised in man's clothes, while Harcourt requests Sparkish to reconcile him to his future wife, the best method for friends to remain so. Despite Alithea's concern about Sparkish's honor, he retorts still with confidence: "That he makes love to you is a sign you are handsome, and that I am not jealous is a sign you are virtuous." When Pinchwife complains again of Sparkish's openness, he replies: "I love to be envied, and would not marry a wife that I alone could love; loving alone is as dull as eating alone. Is it not a frank age?" Harcourt and Dorilant notice how pretty Pinchwife's companion is, the former blurting out how much he resembles the woman he saw at the play and loved at first sight, a word which gladdens Margery. To Harcourt she is: "more beautiful than a poet’s first mistress of imagination." "Or another man’s last mistress of flesh and blood," counters Horner sarcastically, who kisses the disguised woman several times on pretense of giving the woman a kiss on his behalf, a deed which is followed by Harcourt and Dorilant. While Pinchwife goes out to find a coach, Horner takes the disguised gentleman away, who returns a little later running, with her hat full of oranges and dried fruit under her arm, a sight which makes the husband rub his forehead. In preparation of the wedding ceremony, Sparkish presents to Alithea Harcourt's brother, actually Harcourt himself, as the chaplain. Meanwhile, a husband's intense interrogation reveals that Horner did no more than force his tongue between Margery's teeth. Nevertheless, Pinchwife insists on her writing Horner an insulting letter. He dictates a strong one, but she mitigates it with a softer tone. Meanwhile, Jasper catches his wife, Lady Fidget, at Horner's house. She pretends she was looking for china pieces. While she is in the adjoining room and Horner on the way, Jasper calls out to warn her: "My Lady Fidget! Wife! He is coming in to you the back way." She answers: "Let him come, and welcome, which way he will." At his house, Pinchwife discovers his wife writing to Horner another letter, one that he never wished to see. He draws his sword on her, but is prevented from doing harm by Sparkish, invitating him to his wedding dinner. When he returns, Margery lies by saying she wrote the letter on behalf of his sister: "Because, lest Mr. Horner should be cruel, and refuse her; or be vain afterwards, and show the letter, she might disown it, the hand not being hers." He decides Horner should be her husband, for that might prevent his cuckolding him. He leads away what he thinks is Alithea but is actually his wife disguised, towards Horner's house, with a parson to follow soon after, then shows the letter to the disappointed Sparkish, who angrily repudiates the disillusioned Alithea. When Pinchwife comes to marry off Alithea to Horner, Margery, unwilling to lose him, discovers her true feelings, at which Pinchwide offers to draw his sword on Horner, but is prevented by Harcourt and eased in mind when Jasper and others explain Horner's supposed impotence, so that all may end happily with a dance of cuckolds.

George Etherege described the troubles encountered by a fashionable gentleman in quest of a profitable marriage. Portrait by an unknown artist

"The man of mode"[edit]

"The man of mode". Time: 1670s. Place: London, England.

"The man of mode" text at http://www.ourcivilisation.com/smartboard/shop/etherege/index.htm


Lady Townley and her niece, Emilia, are apprehensive on learning that old Bellair has obtained lodgings in the house where they live, Emilia being the mistress of his son and his cousin, because the father wishes him to marry instead Harriet Woodvill, a woman of greater fortune. To cheer up his glum-looking son, old Bellair assures him: "A wife is no curse when she brings the blessing of a good estate with her." He ushers out his son on his way towards Harriet. Meanwhile, two mistresses of the young rake, Dorimant, namely Bellinda and Mrs Loveit, confer together. To heap divisions between her lover and her rival with Dorimant's approval and pretending she thinks it is her, Bellinda tells Mrs Loveit she saw Dorimant at a play flirting with a masked woman. When Dorimant enters, an angry Mrs Loveit accuse shim of treachery, to which he retorts: "I am honest in my inclinations, and would not, were't not to avoid offence, make a lady a little in years believe I think her young, willfully mistake art for nature, and seem as fond of a thing I am weary of as when I doted on't in earnest." Despite these witticisms at her expense, she wishes to keep him. In turn, he accuses her of flirting with Sir Fopling Flutter, our man of mode, a man she hates. Harriet does not wish to marry young Bellair any more than he does, and so they join hands in agreeing to pretend loving each other until they can get out of it. Dorimant next visits Lady Townley and Emilia, followed by Flutter, all the clothes of the latter being of French make. To free himself from Mrs Loveit, Dorimant assures Flutter that the woman likes him. To help young Bellair, Harriet intends her mother to see her with Dorimant, opining: "She concludes if he does but speak to a woman she's undone— is on her knees every day to pray heaven defend me from him." As the two pass by, Dorimant recognizes Harriet as the masked woman at the play and speaks with her a second time in front of her anxious mother. To make Dorimant jealous, Mrs Loveit intends to flirt with Flutter, which alarms Bellinda, who tries to dissuade her from that. Mrs Loveit assures her: "'Tis the strongest cordial we can give to dying love, it often brings it back when there's no sign of life remaining. But I design not so much the reviving his, as my revenge." She goes on to flirt with him, but Dorimant backs off, suspecting a counter-plot. Notes his friend and bawd, Medley: "But I have known men fall into dangerous relapses when they have found a woman inclining to another." At a dance, Dorimant, in a disguised form because of his reputation as a rake, pretends to fall in with Lady Woodvill's old-fashioned views. He criticizes the young in this way: "They cry a woman's past her prime at twenty, decayed at four-and-twenty, old and insufferable at thirty," to which she agrees: "The depraved appetite of this vicious age tastes nothing but green fruit, and loathes it when 'tis kindly ripened." At the same party, old Bellair dances up to Emilia, unaware yet of his son's relation with her. Meanwhile, Dorimant is beginning to feel attracted to Harriet in earnest, but she gently rejects his advances. After lying in bed with Dorimant, Bellinda is nevertheless still anxious of losing him. She enjoins him to see Mrs Loveit only in public places. Young Bellair has now grown convinced that Harriet is in love with Dorimant: "Why, she's never well but when she's talking of you, but then she finds all the faults in you she can. She laughs at all who commend you; but then she speaks ill of all who do not." Bellinda is afraid a footman will betray her relation with Dorimant to her friend, Mrs Loveit, finds it is not so, but then finds Dorimant visiting her. Still wearied of her, Dorimant gives Mrs Loveit her letters back, but yet she manages to hold him again. When Bellinda enters, Dorimant grows pale and escapes pitifully. Young Bellair and Emilia marry in secret just as his father arrives to marry him to Harriet. Dorimant hears of this and offers his service. As Old Bellair arrives with his son, the chaplain, Smirk, is sure the father must be mistaken, for he has just married his son to another. On learning this, he offers Emilia his hand, but it is Emilia his son married. Mrs Loveit and Bellinda arrive together, a sight which makes Dorimant anxious. Mrs Loveit reveals, to Lady Woodvill's astonishment, that her daughter has been near Dorimant all this time. Yet Mrs Loveit and Bellinda now see they have lost Dorimant altogether. He promises to visit Harriet and her mother in the country, saying to the former: "The first time I saw you you left me with the pangs of love upon me, and this day my soul has quite given up her liberty."

John Vanbrugh described the difficulties encountered in staying faithful within a marriage. Painting by Godfrey Kneller (1646–1723)

"The relapse"[edit]

"The relapse". Time: 1690s. Place: London, England.

"The Relapse" text at http://www.archive.org/details/sirjohnvanbrugh01vanbiala

Lord Foppington is subject to the plots of his younger brother after his money. Foppington played by Colley Cibber (1671-1757), 1696 engraving

Repenting past adulteries, Loveless promised his wife, Amanda, that he will never again relapse. Fashion, younger brother to Lord Foppington, applies to him for more money, but is neglected and ignored. Angry at this ill treatment, he learns from Coupler, a disreputable matchmaker, that his brother intends to marry a country heiress, Hoyden, daughter to Sir Tunbelly Clumsey. Distrusting Foppington's intention to pay him, Coupler offers the "plump partridge" to Fashion instead, who will court her disguised as his brother. When Amanda's widowed cousin, Berinthia, arrives, Loveless immediately lusts after her, despite his previous promise to the contrary. Foppington next visits Loveless, and, mistakenly thinking Amanda susceptible to his charms, he flirts with her. An enraged Loveless stabs him, but only causes a superficial wound. Amanda is also courted by the debonnaire Worthy, who, aware of Loveless' courtship of Berinthia, asks her help in securing his love, which she accepts to do. At night, Loveless enters Berinthia's room and takes her by the hand. She protests against this intrusion, but in a very low voice. Meanwhile, Fashion presents himself to Clumsey and his daughter disguised as his elder brother. He impatiently asks Doctor Bull, the chaplain, to marry them, which he agrees to do. A little later, the real Foppington arrives and the cheat is discovered, at which time Bull is forced to acknowledge the previous marriage. At last Worthy after much effort assails Amanda with vehemence, but, though aware of her husband's relapse, she refuses him as her lover.

"City politics"[edit]

"City politics". Time: 1680s. Place: Naples, Italy.

"City politics" text at http://archive.org/details/dramaticworksjo06logagoog

Florio is heartily glad Paulo Camillo has just been elected chief magistrate of the city, for now he should have freer access to his wife, Rosaura. He has a surprising rival, Craffy, Paulo's son from a previous marriage. When Florio cries out against incest, Craffy retorts: "I don't think it is any more incest to lie with the same woman my father does than to drink in the same glass, or sit in the same pew at church." To him, "marriage-promises" are only "churchmouth-glue". Though not the viceroy's choice of chief magistrate, Paulo asks the governor of the city whether he may be knighted by him, but the governor refuses to introduce him. Pietro enters Paulo's house pretending to be sick and near death and to regret the cause: past debaucheries. But when the husband goes off to do his civic duties and then returns without warning, he is caught in his wife's embraces. A crafty Rosaura pretends Florio is fainting from an apoplectic fit and leads him away to cuckold her husband. Recognizing Florio's success, his acquaintance, Artall, enjoys the same favorable result with Lucinda, young wife of an old lawyer, Bartoline, marked by a defective speech for having lost all his teeth, who thought her safe in the house of the sober Paulo. A messenger from the viceroy sends word to Paulo to avoid raising the militia unnecessarily, but since his knightship was refused, he dismisses him. Paulo requests Bartoline's advice to fight against the viceroy, while the latter requests the same service. The lawyer accepts the money from both sides, provided he need not divulge it publicly. To fool the chief magistrate all the more, Florio pretends to have heard of the arrival of a French fleet. "Six of the principal commanders lurk in the disguise of pilgrims about Mount Vesuvio to burn the town by night," he warns. Paulo pretends he already knows about it and prepares to raise the militia. To fool the inexistent invaders, he goes off disguised as a bricklayer while his wife remains with Florio. However, they are interrupted by a drunk Craffy, who attempts to seduce her despite being told her husband is sleeping nearby in his bed, actually the disguised Florio. All three are surprised by the arrival of Paulo and the bricklayer in military gear. Craffy knocks his father down while Rosaura conveys Florio away. Still fearing the French, Paulo orders for a regiment of the militia: "I'll have a sentry at every door in my house, two at every post of my bed, and one under my bolster," says he. Later, a sober Craffy renews his suit towards his stepmother, but is surprised on his knees by his father. To save face, he pretends to ask for his blessing. Still pretending he is near death, Artall asks Bartoline to act as executor. The unsuspecting husband accepts, recommending Lucinda to take him to bed. "Come, chake yish poo genkleman, and lay him upon our bed, and cover him warm, and shit by him, and, gee hear? chalke goly to him." Meanwhile, Craffy has discovered Florio's illicit relation with Rosaura and alerts his father: "A whore and a rascal are associated in that room; I mean, your wife and Florio are there joined in one close abominable bond of lewdness, and cuckold you, as if they were to be hanged if they did not despatch it in a minute. The sight has shot me to my soul, my soul!" However, Paulo is distracted by Bartoline, who thinks Artall is Florio near death and leads them to the wrong room, permitting Florio to escape with Rosaura but interrupting Artall's intent. Nevertheless, a client of Bartoline surprises Artall in the arms of Lucinda and reveals it to the husband, yet Artall is not worried, knowing Bartoline takes him for Florio. When Paulo interrogates Craffy further concerning his wife, he persists in telling the truth, but then denies it when Rosaura insinuates he may eventually have his way with her. To Paulo, this shows madness in a son, so that he orders him locked in a room inside his house. To promote Florio's adulterous relations, a friend of his makes Paulo believe the viceroy intends him for the post of lord treasurer. Paulo is conveyed to his own house, which he mistakes for the viceroy's court, where he is surprised to find his son, escaped by picking the lock. The governor and his guards enter next, having arrested Paulo's entire faction for disturbing the city with agitations. With Craffy's help, the governor discovers Florio in the arms of Rosaura and then Bartoline expressing the lawfuless of the faction's right of arms, an opinion directly contrary to the one voiced to the viceroy. Florio is accused of letting in the French, as Artall is by another false witness, the latter at last revealed as himself. The governor orders the arrest of all concerned.

Aphra Behn described the amorous-like behaviors of a fashionable gentleman. Portrait by Peter Lely (1618-1680, 1670

"The rover, part 1"[edit]

"The rover, part 1". Time: 1670s. Place: Naples, Italy but belonging to Spain.

"The rover, part 1" text at http://drama.eserver.org/plays/17th_century/rover/

During carnival time, Florinda and her sister, Hellena, frolic in the guise of gypsies. Florinda greets Belvile, her lover, whom she instructs on how to take her away from the house of her brother, Pedro, who wants her to marry a wealthier man, Antonio, the viceroy's son. Hellena greets Willmore, a man with a roving disposition, and they devise on how to get her away from a convent. Meanwhile, the masked Pedro has an eye on Angelica, a courtesan, until intercepted by Antonio, against whom he draws his sword for scorning his sister, Florinda. In the ensuing brawl between Spaniards and Englishmen, Willmore fights off Antonio, who attacked him for removing Angelica's picture on her balcony, a sign she belongs to him. Impressed by Willmore's manner, Angelica yields her charms to him for free, after which the masked Hellena is mortified to hear Willmore brag to Belvile: "Does not my fortune sit triumphant on my brow?" Willmore next flirts with Hellena, to Angelica's surprised anger. To test his constancy, the disguised Florinda offers Belvile a jewel, but he refuses it. She leaves it with him, who sees it is her picture. At night while waiting for Belville in her garden, Florinda is disgusted at seeing Willmore arrive drunk: "Sweet soul, let me salute thy shoe-string," he says, "why, thou may'st be free with me, I'll be very secret. I'll not boast who 'twas obliged me, not I, for hang me if I know thy name." "Heavens!" she exclaims, "What a filthy beast is this!" They struggle bodily as Belvile enters, both men beaten away by Pedro's servants. After being berated by Belville for his rowdiness, Willmore meets Antonio in front of Angelica's house again and they fight him with swords. Antonio is hurt, but officers of the law seize Belvile by mistake, set free by his rival, to whom he would least be obliged. As a result of his wound and as a return for this favor, Antonio asks Belvile to impersonate him while challenging Willmore to a duel, which Belvile believes is for the sake of Florinda, but is actually for Angelica's. Belvile and Willmore fight with swords, but are interrupted by Florinda. Pedro is so impressed by this show of bravado that he offers to the false Antonio (Belvile) his sister's hand, whereby Belvile reveals himself apart to the relieved Florinda, but this plot is marred by Willmore, who amiably greets Belvile, so that Pedro takes his sister back again. Enraged at being insulted by the man she just slept with, Angelica confronts Willmore, who, on learning of Hellena's fortune, wishes to go off with her, while Hellena herself enters disguised as a man to spy on him. Willmore discovers her disguise but thinks she is only his gypsy and ignores her. Seeking to escape from her brother, Florinda hides in the house of Blunt, a man recently cheated by a whore and willing to avenge himself on her instead as a reprensative of all women: "I will smile and deceive thee, flatter thee, and beat thee, kiss and swear, and lie to thee, embrace thee and rob thee, as she did me, fawn on thee, and strip thee stark naked, then hang thee out at my window by the heels, with a paper of scurvy verses fastened to thy breast, in praise of damnable women," he threatens. But when she names Belvile and gives him a ring as a pledge of her truth, he releases her. Blunt next receives the rowdy visit of Belvile and Willmore, who wish to speak with him. Not satisfied with the answers to their questions, Belvile and Willmore break down Blunt's door and then mock him, until Belvile recognizes Florinda's ring. They are accompanied by Pedro, who watches the masked Florinda enter without recognizing her, but goes away after hearing a rumor about her flight from his house. While Belvile and Florinda go off to marry, the vengeful Angelica enters and aims a pistol at Willmore's breast, but is prevented from shooting him by Antonio. However, when Antonio recognizes who the man is, no less than his rival, he aims the pistol at him, but is prevented in turn by Angelica. When Pedro next discovers Belville married with Florinda, he accepts her marriage at last, as a form of revenge against Antonio for sending another man to fight in his place. He also accepts his other sister's choice of marrying Willmore. Concludes Hellena: "I have considered the matter, brother, and find the three hundred thousand crowns my uncle left me (and you cannot keep from me) will be better laid out in love than in religion, and turn to as good an account."

"The rover, part 2"[edit]

"The rover, part 2". Time: 1680s. Place: Madrid, Spain.

"The rover, part 2" text at http://drama.eserver.org/plays/17th_century/rover/

After the death of his wife, Hellena, Willmore the rover is again "for woman in abundance". He heads straight for La Nuche, a courtesan, despite the presence of his rival, Carlos. In the ensuing brawl, Englishmen beat off the Spaniards, Willmore impressing a gentlewoman, Ariadne. On hearing about Blunt and Fetherfool's intentions on courting two rich but deformed Jewish women, Willmore disguises himself as a mountebank to fool them. Though Ariadne is contracted to marry her cousin, Beaumond, nephew of the English ambassador, neither love one another, she with her eye on Willmore, but he still on La Nuche. Blunt and Fetherfool draw lots on who will get the giant, who the dwarf, among the two Jewish women. The little one considers their suitors dumb. "No, my little diminutive mistress, my small epitomy of womankind," Blunt assures her, "we can prattle when our hands are in, but we are raw and bashful, young beginners; for this is the first time we ever were in love: we are something awkward, or so, but we shall come on in time, and mend upon encouragement." Fetherfool ceremoniously kisses the big one thanks to a ladder, but she is not impressed when he mentions he may become her man. "My man? My mouse. I'll marry none whose person and courage shall not bear some proportion to mine," she says. To spite La Nuche for her mercenary interests, the undisguised Willmore intends to court the giant, too, but when Ariadne, disguised as a man, proposes to take her away, he draws his sword on her, an altercation disrupted by Beaumond. During the following night, Beaumond mistakes Ariadne for La Nuche. While the latter scolds Beaumond, Willmore saunters over towards Ariadne in her true shape, who is content to leave Beaumond in the arms of the courtesan, though Willmore warns her: "I'm none of those spirits that can be conjured into a wedding-ring, and dance in the dull matrimonial circle all my days." Before he can get to her, Willmore visits La Nuche, but the impatient Beaumond breaks her door down and offers her a pearl necklace and diamond pendants, against which Willmore cannot hope to compete: "Look ye, sir, will not these pearls do better round my neck than those kind arms of yours?" asks she, "These pendants in my ears than all the tales of love you can whisper there?" Disgusted, Willmore leaves her for Ariadne, with Beaumond ashamed of his rival's generosity. Meanwhile, the disguised Ariadne encounters Beaumond, who, not recognizing her, counterfeits his friend's voice and by such means takes her away. The disappointed Willmore next encouters the disguised La Nuche, and, not recognizing her, attempts to seduce her, with no result, so that he wanders back towards Ariadne again, though this move is countered once again by Beaumond. At the same time, Fetherfool and Blunt lose their prizes to two other Englishmen. Blunt also loses the treasure in jewels he thought to have secured from La Nuche's defecting bawd, while Fetherfool must be clystered for having swallowed pearls he absconded from the giantess. After much confusion, Beaumond at long last agrees to marry Ariadne, while Willmore agrees to stay a little longer with La Nuche.

John Milton reached new poetic heights in the tragedy of the Biblical character, Samson. Portrait by an unknown artist, 1629

"Samson agonistes"[edit]

"Samson agonistes". Time: Antiquity. Place: Gaza, Palestine.

"Samson agonistes" text at http://archive.org/details/miltonssamsonago00miltuoft

Delila robs Samson's strength by cutting his hair, portrayed by Max Liebermann (1847-1935)
Samson at the mill with slaves, portrayed by Lovis Corinth (1858–1925)

As the bond-slave to the Philistines, Samson bemoans his present state to the tribe of Dan while resting from hard labors during the festivities meant for Dagon, idol-god of the Philistines. To control his considerable strength, he has been blinded by his people's enemies: "O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon/Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse/Without all hope of day!" he cries out. His father, Manoa, intends to free him by giving the Philistines ransom money. Meanwhile, Samson's wife, the Philistine Dalila, who betrayed him in sleep by cutting off his hair, where his strength lies, delivering him to his foes, advances towards him in hope of being forgiven. She committed this atrocious deed out of fear of losing him, thinking he would be kept as a prisoner and in her arms. Samson accuses her of betraying him for money, which she denies, specifying that she was solicited and threatened by Danite magistrates and princes to deliver him: "And the priest/Was not behind, but ever at my ear/Preaching how meritorious with the gods/It would be to ensnare an irrelegious/Dishonorer of Dagon: what had I/To oppose against such powerful arguments?" "Being once a wife, to me thou was to leave/Parents and country; nor was I their subject,/Not under their protection, but my own,/Thou mine, not theirs-" He counters, rejecting her advances. "Thy fair enchanted cup and warbling charms/No more on me have power, their force is nulled:/So much of adder's wisdom I have learnt/To fence my ears against thy sorceries." Samson is next visited by Harapha, a Philistine warrior, who grieves at never having had a chance to prove his strength against him. Samson rudely spurns him away, to the consternation of the Danites, who fear worse will befall him. Samson replies: "But come what will my deadliest foe will prove/My speediest friend, by death to rid me hence,/The worst that he can give, to me the best." A public officer arrives to inform Samson he must be put to trials of strength during the festival. At first Samson refuses, then, struck by a new idea, accepts willingly. The Danites soon hear a very alarming sound. Out of breath, a messenger informs them that Samson has pulled down a pillar, crushing to death thousands of Philistines along with himself.

John Dryden's remake of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra is one of the best tragedies of the Restoration period. Portrait of Dryden by an unknown painter, 1670

"All for love"[edit]

"All for love". Time: Ist century BC. Place: Alexandria, Egypt.

"All for love" text at http://www.bibliomania.com/0/6/192/1089/frameset.html

Cleopatra ably guides Antony in their love relations, as depicted by Agostino Carracci (1557-1602), but not so well during the course of military action

After the lost naval battle against Octavius at Actium, Antony withdraws from life. An old soldier, Ventidius, attempts to rouse him with news that twelve legions have submitted to him as leader for further battles. Though unwilling to abandon Cleopatra, Antony at last says: "And I will leave her; though, Heaven knows, I love/Beyond life, conquest, empire, all, but honour;/But I will leave her." Missing Antony, Cleopatra exclaims: "Now come, Octavius,/I have no more to lose! prepare thy bands;/I’m fit to be a captive: Antony/Has taught my mind the fortune of a slave." To hold Antony at all costs, Alexas, her eunuch servant, gives jewels to his officers, including Ventidius, who rejects the gift, yet Antony accepts a bracelet and agrees to see her again, at which Ventidius moans: "Her eyes do Cæsar’s work." Likewise, Antony moans on their "mutual ruin": "I saw you every day, and all the day;/And every day was still but as the first,/So eager was I still to see you more." To prove how much she loves, Cleopatra shows him a letter from Octavius, allowing her to keep Egypt and Syria, which she is willing to decline provided Antony stays with her. In view of this sacrifice, he yields to her again, at the same time fighting against Octavius' troops in Egypt. A worthy soldier, Dolabello, arrives from Octavius' camp to work out conditions of peace, while Ventidius brings in Antony's wife and Octavius' sister, Octavia, with their children. But Antony decides her he cannot be reconciled with her brother: "For I can ne’er be conquered but by love/And you do all for duty." However, on seeing his children, he yields, promising that "Tomorrow/Caesar and we are one." To counter this William Blake maneuver, Alexas counsels his mistress to approach Dollabella, for: "He stands already more than half suspected/Of loving you: the least kind word or glance/You give this youth, will kindle him with love:/Then, like a burning vessel set adrift,/You’ll send him down amain before the wind,/To fire the heart of jealous Antony." Dollabella reveals to Cleopatra Antony's imminent departure and his own love, but she rejects any thought of making Antony jealous. Seeing Dolabella smitten and supported by Octavia, Ventidius lies to Antony by saying that Cleopatra bore easily the news of his departure while flirting with the messenger. Antony does not believe him, until Alexas arrives to confirm the falsehood. Seeing her husband unresponsive, Octavia prepares to go: "So, take my last farewell; for I despair/To have you whole, and scorn to take you half." When Antony sees Cleopatra in company with Dolabolla, both seem false. Meanwhile, Octavius' navy returns. The Egyptian fleet joyfully greet them and betray Antony. Innocent at this turn of events but fearing Antony's desperate anger, Cleopatra flees to her monument. To calm his rage, Alexas lies to him by saying Cleopatra stabbed herself to death, while Ventidius encourages him to engage once more in a soldier's life, to "die warm together". But, thinking Cleopatra dead, Antony will fight no more, "for all the bribes of life are gone away." He requests Ventidius to kill him, but the soldier turns the sword against himself instead. Antony follows him but misses the heart. He is discovered bleeding by Cleopatra and dies in her arms. In despair, Cleopatra poisons herself along with her two servants from the bite of aspics.

Thomas Southerne tragic action in the midst of slavery. Print from a book, 1879.


"Oroonoko". Time: 1690s. Place: West Indies.

"Oroonoko" text at https://archive.org/details/britishdramaaco03unkngoog

Oroonoko, played by Savigny, is intent on stabbing his wife without looking at her. Theatre handout, London, 1776

To increase their fortunes, Lucy follows her elder sister, Charlotte, to the West Indies. Charlotte being disguised as a man, Widow Lackitt becomes keen on marrying her. Charlotte informs the widow she is resolved to marry off her sister first. The widow proposes her booby son, Daniel. Lucy and Daniel get acquainted, he very intent of doing so by kissing her repeatedly. Lucy is not impressed, yet agrees to marry him. The prince of Angola, Oroonoko, is one of the men captured by Captain Driver and led in chains as the lord-governor's slave, represented in his absence by his attendant, Blandford. Oroonoko tells Blandford of his marriage with Imoinda, daughter of a white friend who became his wife. However, Oroonoko's father lusted after her and he never saw her again, either poisoned or sent far off, as he thinks. By coincidence, the lieutenant-governor loves one of Blandford's slaves known as Clemene but truly Imoinda. The lieutenant-governor asks Blandford to buy her, but he refuses. An impending revolt is set to go off on the part of black and white slaves at the plantations, but Oroonoko successfully defends white people against the slaves. Amid general thanks, Oroonoko is stunned on discovering his long-lost wife among the slaves. ", " says the overjoyed royal slave. Aboan, his friend in Angola, is also discovered, who encourages Oroonoko to raise a force for their freedom. But he declines the offer because they were acquired by trade. However, when reminded that the lord-governor may wish to take his wife to bed, he agrees to revolt. Now that Lucy is married, the widow claims Charlotte for herself, but the latter reveals she is already married to a woman living in England, though having arranged to have her poisoned by a friend. Convinced of this story, Lackitt offers her 1,000 pounds in gold and jewels as gifts. Likewise, though Daniel no longer cares for Lucy, she herself is content with his fortune. Amid the commotion caused by the rising of the slaves, Charlotte leaves the gold and jewels to her friend, Stanmore, for safekeeping, then reveals herself as a woman. He is overjoyed and asks to marry her. She accepts and readily favors his cousin's intention to marry the widow. Confronted with Charlotte's true sex, Lackitt agrees to it. In the confrontation, Oroonoko stabs to death Captain Driver. To limit any further damage, the lieutenant-governor offers pardon to them all. Though Oroonoko refuses, the troop of slaves fall on their faces. He only agrees to surrender after Blandford's promise that nothing will be done to him. However, the lieutenant-governor treacherously seizes Oroonoko after he drops his sword and, lusting after his wife, separates her from him. Blandford and Stanmore combine to confront the lieutenant-governor, requesting him to set Oroonoko and Imoinda free. He accepts, but pretends not to know where she lodges. After the visitors leave, he takes hold of her, intent on rape, but she removes his sword as the suspicious Blandford emerges from hiding to secure her release. Oroonoko is freed from prison and meets a bleeding Aboan, mistreated by his masters with rods and whips, who requests the means to kill himself. When Oroonoko gives him a dagger, he stabs himself to death. On his way out, Oroonoko crosses Imoinda's path. Disheartened by their masters' treacheries, she proposes to follow Aboan. He agrees but is unable to kill her. She lays her hand on his to give the death-blow. When the authorities arrive, he pretends to give up then stabs to death the lieutenant-governor and himself.

Thomas Otway described political conflicts within the Venetian state. Portrait by William Blake, 1800s

"Venice preserved"[edit]

"Venice preserved". Time: 17th century. Place: Venice, Italy.

"Venice preserved" text at http://www.bibliomania.com/0/6/275/1878/frameset.html


The doge's palace, Venice, Italy, painted by Pietro Malombra (1556–1618)

Priuli, a senator of Venice, accuses Jaffier of seducing his only child, Belvidera. Jaffier's friend, Pierre, informs him of the evil intentions of officers-of-law he has met: "They told me, by the sentence of the law,/They had commission to seize all thy fortune-/Nay more, Priuli's cruel hand had signed it." He recommends that Jaffier meet friends of his, for tonight they'll speak of "precious mischief" afoot against the state of Venice, no less than a conspiracy: "For thou'rt to mix with men/Fit to disturb the peace of all the world,/And rule it when 'tis wildest." To one of the conspirators, Bedamar, Pierre seems "lovelily dreadful". Pierre daydreams thus concerning their armed revolt: "How lovelily the Adriatic, then,/Dressed in her flames, will shine! Devouring flames/Such as shall burn her to the watery bottom,/And hiss in her foundation!" He introduces Jaffier in their midst. Instead of confidence, the conspirators express distrust of him. As a result, Jaffier offers a pledge: his wife, Belvidera. But the following day, Belvidera is unwilling to serve as hostage of "that assembly, all made up of wretches". Jaffier reveals to her of the full extent of the conspiracy, how they will kill her father and the entire senate. She in turn informs him that one of the conspirators approached her bed: Renault, and presumes the worst from that. Distraught at such news, Jaffier tells Pierre about Renault's act, whom he calls a "winter rogue". Jaffier confronts Renault, suggesting he was nearly wronged as her husband. To rid himself of Jaffier, Renault says to the others he senses "danger in him" and that for their safety they should kill him, a proposal dismissed by Pierre, who wishes to protect his friend. Alone with her husband, Belvidera presses him to reveal the conspiracy to the senate. When the senate meets, Priuli informs them of rumors circulating in the city, how they are all "on the brink of gaping ruin". When called in their presence, Jaffier confirms the rumor and proposes to reveal the entire plot in exchange for clemency to all. The senate agrees. Officers very quickly seize Pierre and the others. To the senate Renault says only this: "Death's the best thing we ask, or you can give." To the conspirators, Jaffier appears as the worst of traitors. To Pierre, Jaffier says: "The safety of thy life was all I aimed at,/In recompense for faith and trust so broken." Yet the senate is forsworn, the prisoners will die: "Nay, cruelest racks and torments are preparing/To force confession from their dying pangs," reveals the aggrieved Belvidera. Jaffier blames Belvidera for this unfortunate turn of events and is about to stab her, but then desists, pleading with her to "fly to thy cruel father, save my friend,/Or all our future quiet's lost forever." Belvidera tells her father that Jaffier carries a dagger for her, "a hostage for his truth". Priului yields to his daughter's pleading easily, but his "ill-timed mercy" comes too late. As Pierre is about to be broken on the wheel as a traitor to the state, Jaffier manages to stab him to death before his torture begins, then stabs himself to death. Even before hearing of her husband's death, Belvidera grows distracted and seems to see her absent husband before her face: "I have got him, father! Oh!/My love! my dear! my blessing! help me! help me!/They have hold of me, and drag me to the bottom!/Nay—now they pull so hard— farewell." And dies.