King Charles II was restored in May 1660, and within three months he authorized Thomas Killigrew and William Davenant to form companies of players, and they controlled this business. Killigrew had the King’s Players performing by November at Gibbon’s Tennis-Court. The new theatres had a proscenium with a curtain and elaborate sets and theatrical machines. In 1661 Davenant opened the Lincoln’s Inn Theatre with a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In 1662 a royal warrant required that women’s roles be played by females. The Duke’s Players waited for the Theatre Royal to be built and opened in May 1663. The Dorset Garden Theatre was designed by Christopher Wren for the King’s Players and opened in 1671. The other company’s Theatre Royal was destroyed by fire, and another one was built in 1674 and eventually became the Drury Lane Theatre. These two companies divided English plays between them and coexisted until the bankrupted King’s Company in 1682 had to merge with the Duke’s company to form the United Company which had a monopoly until another company formed in 1695. In the 1697-98 season about fifteen new plays failed, and within six years there were some seventy failures.
A wide variety of people came to theatres for performances at 3 or 4 in the afternoon and after 1700 the time was moved back to 6 in the evening. Parliament banned theatrical productions on Sundays, during Lent on Wednesdays and Fridays and all of Passion Week plus January 30 to commemorate the death of Charles I. The theatrical season was from October to June with sporadic performances during the summer. Seats were not reserved, and many people stood in line for three hours to buy tickets at different prices. Charles II patronized the theatres and often attended himself. The actress Nell Gwynn (1650-87) became the mistress of Charles in 1668 for many years. Even popular plays were rarely performed more than nine times because of dwindling audiences, and playwrights received the take for every third performance. During this era they used about 120 old plays and presented more than 440 new ones.
Robert Howard (1626-98) was a royalist soldier during the Civil War and was knighted for valor in 1644 but was imprisoned during the Commonwealth. His first successful play, The Committee, or The Faithful Irishman, was produced in 1662 and featured the comical Irish servant Teague played by John Lacy. The Committee of Sequestrations had been formed by the Puritan Parliament in April 1643 to confiscate delinquent estates and land from royalists and “papists.” In September 1643 the Solemn League and Covenant required estate owners to swear loyalty to the Puritan state. The play has been praised for its capable women.
In 1663 Howard’s sister Elizabeth married John Dryden, and the two men collaborated on The Indian Queen which was produced in 1664. Howard quarreled with Dryden contending that blank verse is better for heroic dramas than rhymed poetry. Howard collaborated with George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, on the political comedy The Country Gentleman for production in 1669; but the play was suppressed and was lost until a manuscript was found in the Folger Library in 1973 and published in 1976. The play presents an exemplary father who favors the country over the city and portrays romantic couples in love games. Howard was elected a member of Parliament and served as Auditor of the Exchequer from 1677 for the rest of his life and became a Privy Councilor in 1688.
On February 20, 1668 The Great Favourite, or the Duke of Lerma by Robert Howard was performed with Nell Gwynn playing Lerma’s daughter Maria. Samuel Pepys was there and wrote in his famous Diary that he thought the play would be interrupted because it showed a king being influenced by his love for a mistress; but apparently Charles II wanted to see her perform. The historical drama based on an earlier work (possibly a lost play by John Ford) portrays the court of Spain from the death of Felipe II to the fall of the Duke of Lerma, who was the powerful advisor of Felipe III. Dryden implied that he had contributed much to this play when he and Robert Howard had collaborated.
In the play The Great Favourite the Duke of Lerma makes an agreement to gain the service of Caldroon. The King’s Confessor tells Lerma that Philip II has died. Lerma is eager to influence young King Philip III. Lerma is afraid he will be banished and urges his beautiful daughter Maria to “shine upon the King.” When Philip III sees her, he cannot punish Lerma. After the King goes out, Lerma tells Maria that she can help him become the deity of Spain. She does not want to give up her virtue but agrees to obey her father. She urges the King to take power over himself and others, and she warns him that removing this power from himself because of his love for her would be treason. The Duke of Medina warns Philip about Lerma becoming a traitorous favorite. The King forgives Medina because of his service to his father, but Medina rejects his mercy and asks him to have mercy for all his kingdom. The King tells Medina to stay away unless he sends for him. Medina tells the Duke D’Alva and the Marquis of Alcara that the King is in Lerma’s pocket. Caldroon informs them and others that Lerma has been named Constable of Spain and Caldroon a marquis and that the Queen has died. Maria persuades King Philip to sign two warrants, and the Marquis of Alcara and Count Bruchero learn that they are banished. Lerma quarrels with Caldroon. Medina advises Maria to repent, but she trusts divine judgment. Caldroon tells Lerma that Maria has gone away. Caldroon is arrested, and Medina warns Lerma that he will be summoned. After Caldroon is executed, Lerma is ordered to the court to answer articles. The King tells Medina, D’Alva, and Alcara to restore Maria or lose themselves. Lerma appears at court dressed as a cardinal and explains that he cannot be tried there and says he will be retiring to a monastery. At the end Philip asks Maria to be his queen. The play reflects English criticism of the Spanish court during its declining empire.
John Dryden was born on August 19, 1631, went to Westminster School as a King’s Scholar and earned his B.A. at Trinity College in Cambridge University in 1654. During the Commonwealth he worked for Cromwell’s Secretary of State John Thurloe. When Charles II was restored, Dryden welcomed him with the poem Astraea Redux written in rhyming couplets. Dryden’s first play, The Wild Gallant, was a comedy written in prose and was not well received in February 1663 by Pepys and others, but his revision in 1667 was more successful. After collaborating with his brother-in-law Robert Howard on The Indian Queen in 1664, Dryden wrote the tragic sequel alone. The Indian Emperor, or the Conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards was performed in spring of 1665. That year the bubonic plague spread in London, and on June 5 the Lord Chamberlain proclaimed the closing of London’s theatres, and they remained closed until late autumn in 1666.
The Indian Emperor in rhymed couplets portrays the Aztec Emperor Montezuma and his family and the conquest by the Spanish army led by Hernan Cortes. Dryden used fictional relatives of the Emperor of Mexico to dramatize romantic relationships and plot twists. He also portrayed Francisco Pizarro motivated by his greed for gold although he was actually serving as mayor of Panama City at the time. Cortez arrives with 400 foot soldiers and 40 horsemen, and Pizarro says that Indians led by Taxallan are supporting the Spaniards. Cortez wants to offer peace first. Emperor Montezuma plans to marry the late Queen’s daughter Almeria, and her brother Orbellan chooses Montezuma’s daughter Cydaria. Montezuma’s sons Odmar and Guyomar compete for the hand of Almeria’s sister Alibech who refuses both. They all retreat from the Taxallans, and Cortez orders Vasquez to fire the cannons, making the Taxallans retire. Montezuma is willing to give up gold not used in sacred rites. Cortez and Cydaria fall in love. Pizarro tells Cortez the fighting has begun, and Alibech tells the princes that she will wed the most courageous. Odmar flees while protecting Alibech, but Guyomar defends his father by fighting with Vasquez and is captured. Cortez tells Cydaria he still offers the same terms, and she becomes jealous of his late wife. Montezuma chooses to continue the war, and Cortez fights Orbellan, wounding his hand.
After two days the besieged city is already running out of food. Orbellan tries to kill Cortez and is slain by him. Guyomar takes Cortez’s sword but gives it back. Montezuma tries to kill Guyomar, but Odmar steps between them. Cortez gives his sword to Montezuma and becomes the prisoner of Guyomar. Almeria tries to kill chained Cortez with a dagger, but he says he is protected by innocence. Her attempt to seduce him into preferring her to Cydaria fails. Montezuma proposes the release of Cortez for an equal peace but decides to fight. Guyomar goes to attack the Spaniards at a grotto. Alibech persuades Odmar to release Cortez and surrender, and he agrees to save lives. Guyomar and Aztecs surprise Spaniards, taking their swords and capturing them, and Alibech agrees to marry him. Angry Odmar allies with Vasquez, who asks for the hand of a beauty, and with Pizarro, who is promised gold. Cortez persuades Almeria to release him, and Cydaria sees him kissing her hand. Almeria tries to stab her with a dagger, but Cydaria gets behind Cortez who is stabbed. He stops Almeria from hurting herself.
Odmar and Spaniards have Guyomar and Alibech bound. She refuses to wed Odmar who threatens to kill her, but Guyomar agrees to give her up. Vasquez comes in and says he wants to wed Alibech. Odmar and Vasquez fight, and in the brawl two Spaniards and three Aztecs are killed. Guyomar arrives and fights and kills his brother Odmar. In a prison Pizarro and a Christian priest are torturing Montezuma and the High Priest on a rack to find out where gold is hidden and to make them convert. They discuss religion and express hope for a unifying religion but decline to become Christians. The High Priest is about to give information but dies. Cortez enters and frees Montezuma. Prince Guyomar is still leading the fight. Finally the Emperor stabs himself and dies. Almeria stabs Cydaria and then kills herself. Soldiers bring in bound Guyomar and Alibech. Cortez has them released, and they plan to live north of the mountains.
In 1667 Dryden wrote the poem Annus Mirabilis, The Year of Wonders commemorating English battles against the Dutch and the Great Fire in London in September 1666. Dryden’s heroic tragicomedy Secret Love, or The Maiden Queen performed in 1667 was a popular play for nearly forty years. Charles II saw the play five times within a year, and Pepys went eight times in about two years. Nell Gwyn played Florimell, the comic lead. Eight of the eleven named roles were women, and in 1672 all the roles were played by women. The serious plot is based on the longest novel ever published (1648-53) with about two million words, Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus by Madeleine de Scudéry. While living in Wiltshire during the plague Dryden also wrote his lengthy work Of Dramatic Poesy, which was registered along with Secret Love on August 7, 1667 and published the next year. Dryden’s next comedy, Sir Martin Mar-All, or The Feign’d Innocence, was his adaptation of the Duke of Newcastle's translation of Molière’s L’étourdi (The Blunderer) and Quinault’s L’amant indiscret.
Dryden’s comedy An Evening's Love, or The Mock Astrologer in prose was less successful even though he drew from The Fake Astrologer by Calderon and other sources. After Davenant’s death in April 1668 Dryden was named poet laureate and in 1670 the second historiographer royal. His tragedy, Tyrannic Love, or The Royal Martyr, in rhymed couplets was produced in 1669, showing how Roman Emperor Maximian II (r. 305-13) put to death Saint Catherine of Alexander. This played 14 days and was revived four times by 1702.
Dryden’s heroic tragedy Almanzor and Almahide or, the Conquest of Granada by the Spaniards is in rhymed couplets. The First Part was performed in early December 1670 and the Second Part a month later. This fictionalized historical drama is based loosely on events in 1491. King Mahomet Boabdelin (Boabdil) is reigning over Granada while it is being besieged by the Spanish army of King Ferdinand (Fernando). A conflict has arisen between Abdelmelech, chief of the Abencerrages, and Zulema, chief of the Zegrys. The heroic warrior Almanzor takes the side of the oppressed, and he fights and kills the Zegry Gomel before Boabdelin can have him disarmed. Almanzor declares that he is as free as nature and king of himself, and the King orders him executed immediately; but the King’s brother Abdalla advises against that, and Almanzor urges them to fight together against their common foe, the Spaniards. Both the King and Almanzor command the two factions to lay down their arms. The Duke of Arcos arrives with a message from Ferdinand and Isabella, but Boabdelin replies that the Moors have held Granada for eight centuries. Arcos says that the Moor agreed to be a vassal of Ferdinand, but Boabdelin says that force voided the contract. He refuses to give up any of Granada, but he will recognize what Ferdinand has already conquered.
In the second act Almanzor has captured the Duke of Arcos but learns the Spanish army is larger and frees his foe so that he can conquer them. This irritates Boabdelin. Zulema’s sister Lyndaraxa has promised to wed Abdelmelech, but Prince Abdalla falls in love with her. He tries to use reason to curb his passion and suggests he could take her by force. She is ambitious and persuades him to overthrow his father so that she can be a queen. Abdalla persuades Almanzor to help him fight against the King. Some have proclaimed Abdalla king, and Almanzor and Selin lead the Zegrys. Almanzor tries to win over Almahide. King Abdalla thanks Almanzor who says he wants Almahide. Then he joins with Boabdelin because they have a common foe. Lyndaraxa tells Abdelmelech that she would rather die than marry him. Abdalla asks to marry her and says he has all of Granada in his power except the Alhambra. Almanzor returns from battle with Almahide and frees her. Abdalla tells Lyndaraxa that Boabdelin’s forces are pursuing him. Almanzor arrives and tells Boabdelin that his enemies are fled or slain. Boabdelin says he no longer fears the Spaniards and asks Almanzor what he wants. The hero replies that he wants Almahide. Boabdelin, who is betrothed to her, banishes him, and Almanzor says he will take her with him. The King has him arrested and prepares to wed Almahide. She begs him for the life of Almanzor, and Boabdelin agrees to free him on the condition that she will marry him. When Almanzor learns of this, he asks her to kill him; or he will kill her. He finally agrees to live for her. Abdelmelech reports that Abdalla has fled to the Christian camp, and Boabdelin is going to wed Almahide that night, ending the First Part.
The Second Part of Almanzor and Almahide or, the Conquest of Granada begins with King Ferdinand expressing his intention to free Spain from Moorish tyrants, and he says they are succeeding because of Almanzor’s absence. Prince Abdalla brings letters from discontented chiefs. The Duke of Arcos arrives with the prisoners Ozmyn and Benzayda, and Abdalla says that Ozmyn’s father leads the faction he opposes; but Benzayda, who loves Ozmyn, is from that faction and says he killed her brother whom she felt deserved it. Queen Isabella asks for the lovers to be pardoned, and Ferdinand agrees. King Boabdelin recalls Almanzor to lead the fight and becomes jealous of Almahide for requesting it. Benzayda’s father Selin is pursued in a battle. Abenamar and Moors want to kill Selin and Ozmyn, and they fight. Benzayda brings Abdalla and Spaniards, and Ozmyn stops him from killing Selin who embraces Ozmyn and gives him Benzayda.
Abdalla pledges to get the fortress for Spain, but Abdelmelech and the Moors are victorious. He orders Lyndaraxa spared, though she resents him. When Abdalla and the Spaniards arrive, Abdelmelech retreats. Almanzor tells Almahide he loves her. She says she can never return it because of her husband, the King, but she gives him her scarf to wear. Boabdelin becomes jealous, which destroys love, and he banishes her from his heart. Almanzor tells Boabdelin to love her well because husbands have no right to be jealous as lovers do. Almahide asks for the scarf; he returns it, and she gives it to the King. Abdelmelech asks for help, but Almanzor refuses to fight. Abdelmelech comes back and says Arcos and the Spaniards took Granada. Almanzor decides to fight, and his party captures Abdalla who agrees to be exchanged for his brother Boabdelin. Zulema brings a letter to his sister Lyndaraxa from Abdalla. Zulema asks Ozmyn to give himself up to prevent Selin’s death. Lyndaraxa tells Almanzor she no longer loves Abdalla and tries to seduce him; but reason controls his lust for her beauty, and he accuses her of inconstancy.
In the fourth act Ozmyn and Benzayda, who is dressed as a man, persuade Abenamar to release Selin. Almanzor and Abdelmelech are fighting Spaniards, and Abdelmelech kills Abdalla. Lyndaraxa tells Abdelmelech that she loves him, but he criticizes her betrayal and condemns her. Hamet has learned that Zulema still has passion for the Queen who has warned him not to reveal his folly again. Almanzor gives a diamond to the Queen’s servant Esperanza, and his mother’s ghost tells him that he was born a Christian. Almahide recognizes the pure love of Almanzor, but he desires more. She is so moved that she is about to stab herself, but he stops her and says he will not disturb her virtue again. Abdelmelech makes Lyndaraxa a slave of Queen Almahide who appears running away from Zulema and Hamet. Lyndaraxa takes hold of Abdelmelech’s sword. The King and others come in, and Zulema says that he saw Abdelmelech and the Queen embracing on a couch. Almanzor and Ozmyn doubt the story, but Hamet supports Zulema. The King decides they should fight her champions.
Abdelmelech and Almahide are taken to a scaffold before spectators and are accused of adultery by Zulema and Hamet who fight against Almanzor and Ozmyn. Almanzor slays Hamet. When Lyndaraxa distracts Almanzor by shouting “Treason,” he is wounded by Zulema. Ozmyn is also wounded, but then Almanzor kills Zulema. Abdelmelech and the Queen are released, and King Boabdelin banishes Lyndaraxa who will go to the Spaniards. In private Almahide tells the King she will not share his bed, and she informs Almanzor she will live with vestals. He kisses her hand, and Boabdelin sees them and orders guards to execute them. Almanzor defends her, and Abdelmelech comes in and stops the fight. Arcos tells Ferdinand and Isabella how the Spaniards defeated the Moors. Zegry killed King Boabdelin. During a fight Arcos saw a ruby cross on Almanzor’s arm and realized he is his father. Then the Moors surrendered. Though a prisoner, Abdelmelech manages to stab Lyndaraxa and himself, and both die. Almanzor realizes he was born a Christian, and Almahide converts as Isabella shares her name with her and gives her hand to Almanzor whom she will marry after her year of mourning. Ferdinand will subdue the Moors, and Almanzor joins his war.
This heroic drama portrays Moors and shows how virtue using reason can overcome desires and passions. Dryden’s use of rhyming couplets increased in popularity and were adopted by other writers too.
In 1671 Dryden began an extramarital affair with the young actress Anne Reeves, and that year his heroic dramas, especially the Conquest of Granada, were satirized by George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, in The Rehearsal. The Dryden-like author Bayes says that the actress playing Amarillis is his mistress, and the actress who played Amarillis was Anne Reeves.
Dryden’s comedy Marriage a la Mode was probably performed in November 1671 and was published in 1673. The play includes courtly intrigues with a happy ending in blank verse and contains the first successful libertine comedy in prose. Palamede returns to the court at Sicily after five years away and has agreed to wed in three days his father’s choice Melantha, but he falls in love with Doralice who is married to Rhodophil. She is discontented and warmly receives his attention while her husband wants to take Melantha as his mistress. Polydamas has usurped the throne, and his favorite Argaleon summons Rhodophil to court. Many years ago when Polydamas became king, his pregnant wife Eudoxia fled with the previous king’s wife and her infant son. Threatened with torture, the fisherman Hermogenes reported that Eudoxia, the Queen, and her son had died but that the son of Polydamas is Leonidas whom he brought up with his own daughter Palmyra. Palamede learns that his fiancée Melantha is the lady whom Rhodophil wants to make his mistress and that Rhodophil is Doralice’s husband. Rhodophil then finds out that Melantha is going to wed Palamede who says he plans to love both women. King Polydamas orders Prince Leonidas to marry Argaleon’s sister Amalthea. Leonidas is in love with Palmyra and refuses, but Amalthea persuades the King not to banish him. Informed by his spies, Polydamas orders the lowly Palmyra cast adrift in a boat, but Hermogenes proves that she is actually the daughter of Polydamas and that Leonidas is not his son.
Palamede meets with Doralice who is dressed as a boy, and at the same place Rhodophil and Melantha have an assignation. After seeing each other, they lie to each other, and the married couple and the engaged leave separately. Leonidas manages to talk with Palmyra at a masquerade, and they arrange to meet. Both Doralice and Melantha are dressed as boys and insult each other. A former governor tells Palmyra that Leonidas is actually Theagenes, son of the previous king. He wants to overthrow the King, but Palmyra objects and is held prisoner. However, Polydamas arrives and has his guards arrest them as rebels. Palamede uses French words to persuade Melantha to marry him, and Rhodophil and Doralice are reconciled. The men agree to get along as do the women. Argaleon wants Leonidas executed, but his sister Almathea explains he is Theagenes. Rhodophil and Palamede take the side of Leonidas, and they overcome Polydamas. King Theagenes pardons him and plans to wed his daughter Palmyra. Argaleon declines amnesty and is to be imprisoned, and his sister Amalthea is to devote herself to religion. This comedy portrays dissatisfaction with marriage by Rhodophil and Doralice and eagerness for having a mistress by the two men and apparent willingness by the two women, thus creating the possibility of open marriages or a group marriage, though in the epilog the author reminds the audience it was all just talk.
Dryden’s affair with the young actress Anne Reeves went on until about 1675. He called his romantic drama in rhymed couplets Aureng-Zebe a tragedy. The unnamed Emperor was Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58), and he had four sons who fought a civil war. In the play Aureng-Zebe competes with his younger brother Morat (Murad Baksh) for the succession. Aureng-Zebe was performed and printed in 1675. The civil war for the throne between the four brothers began in 1656 and ended when Aurangzeb became the Mughal Emperor at Delhi. He had five consorts and eleven children and ruled until his death in 1707. The romantic intrigues of four men seeking the love of the captured Queen Indamora is apparently fictional.
In the play Aureng-Zebe the old Emperor is married to Morat’s mother Nourmahal, and Morat is married to Melesinda. Asaph Khan says the four armies of the four princes are fighting, and Solyman reports that Darah has joined Aureng-Zebe. Asaph dismisses Sujal as a bigot of a Persian sect and Morat as too insolent and envious. Governor Arimant of Agra notes that Aureng-Zebe fights for his father. Arimant reports that Darah forced Aureng-Zebe to flee, and 40,000 of his men were killed. The Emperor is in love with Queen Indamora and suspects that Aureng-Zebe loves her too. She tells Aureng-Zebe that she is his. Solyman offers Aureng-Zebe 20,000 men. Indamora tells Arimant that he is all she could want in a friend but that his love is not returned. She tells the Emperor,
Force never yet a generous heart did gain;
We yield on parley, but are stormed in vain.
Constraint in all things makes the pleasure less;
Sweet is the love which comes with willingness.1
Empress Nourmahal is jealous. Aureng-Zebe tells his father that he fought for Indamora and claims her. The Emperor says that if he will yield her, Aureng-Zebe shall succeed him; but the prince prefers love. His father says he can take her by force and that Morat shall reign next. Nourmahal embraces her son. Aureng-Zebe says he can lead a private life, but he wants Indamora or death. Indamora tells Morat she wants Aureng-Zebe, but Morat says his half-brother must die. Nourmahal says, “Promiscuous love is Nature’s general law,” and she desires her step-son Aureng-Zebe, who rejects her. Morat asks his wife Melesinda to persuade Indamora that he loves her. When she refuses, he renounces his nuptial ties. Morat asks the Emperor to give up his right to Indamora and says he will seize power. Aureng-Zebe and Indamora are reconciled, but Morat has taken the citadel. The Emperor asks Aureng-Zebe to forgive him, and they escape from the citadel. Indamora tells Morat that virtue is most important, and he says he sacrificed everything for her. Morat is wounded but protects Indamora from Nourmahal. Aureng-Zebe has won a battle and orders all who cease from combat spared. Morat dies. Aureng-Zebe feels distracted by Indamora, but they are finally reconciled and blessed by the Emperor, who gives up his crown to Aureng-Zebe.
Dryden’s tragedy All for Love, or the World Well Lost was performed in December 1677 and was published the same year. Writing in blank verse, he wanted to imitate Shakespeare but focused only on the last days of Mark Antony and Cleopatra in August 30 BC. In the Temple of Isis the priest Serapion prays for Antony, but the Egyptians prefer Octavius Caesar whose Roman legions are besieging Alexandria. Antony has secluded himself alone. The Queen’s eunuch Alexas says that General Ventidius, who was stationed in Syria to protect the Eastern Empire, has brought twelve legions to join Antony. After their flight from the battle at Actium the Queen Cleopatra and Antony are desperate, but Serapion wants them to live. Ventidius tells Antony that his soldiers will not fight for Cleopatra, and Antony agrees to leave her. He tells her that they have loved each other to their ruin. Although he married Caesar’s sister Octavia, he came back to Cleopatra. She says she refused to accept Egypt and Syria from Octavius and offers to die with Antony, and he embraces her. In a ceremony Cleopatra crowns Antony, and then he wins a battle against Octavius. His friend Dolabella now serves Octavius and brings his conditions to Antony. Ventidius arrives with Octavia and her daughters by Antony. She tells him that if he comes back to her, he can rule the East. She can pardon him if he will accept, and his children win him over. Antony invites her to stay the night and says they will go to Caesar tomorrow.
Cleopatra meets Octavia, and they quarrel over Antony. Cleopatra says she would give up everything for Antony, and Octavia withdraws. Antony asks Dolabella to tell Cleopatra his decision, and Alexas persuades Cleopatra to awaken Dolabella’s love for her to make Antony jealous. She feels terrible but does so. Ventidius tells Antony that Cleopatra is Dolabella’s and every man’s, and Alexas confirms the affair. Ventidius asks Octavia to retire, and she agrees to go. Dolabella comes in and says that Cleopatra is madly in love with Antony. Cleopatra arrives, and Antony says that Dolabella and she are both false. She admits she tried to make Antony jealous to regain his love; she still loves him even when he is unkind. She feels she is ruined; but Alexas assures her now that Dolabella and Octavia are gone, Antony is hers. Serapion informs Cleopatra that the Egyptian galleys have joined the Romans. Antony tells Ventidius he is betrayed, but Ventidius says they still have three legions in the city. Alexas comes in and says Cleopatra has stabbed herself to death. Antony asks Ventidius to kill him, but Ventidius takes his own life. Antony falls on his sword, and Cleopatra and her maids Charmion and Iras come in and try to save him. Cleopatra tells Antony she is true and will die with him. Antony dies, and Cleopatra, Charmion, and Iras let themselves be bitten by poisonous asps and die as Serapion and Alexas arrive.
Dryden’s sexual farce, The Kind Keeper, opened at the Dorset Garden Theatre by the Duke’s Company on March 11, 1678, and in his prologue he complained, “Comedy is sunk to Trick and Pun.” After the third performance authorities closed the play. Aldos returns from France and avoids a marriage arranged by his father by changing his name to Woodall and hiding out in a boarding-house with his servant Gervase, and he soon seduces Mrs. Tricksy, Mrs. Brainsick, and her maid Judith and is nearly seduced by Mrs. Saintly while trying to outsmart Brainsick and Tricksy’s keeper Limberham who proposes to her at the end. Aldos eventually is reconciled with his father and agrees to wed Mrs. Pleasance, and Gervase marries Saintly.
Dryden’s The Spanish Friar, or the Double Discovery was performed in 1681 satirizing a fat Catholic friar while dramatizing Spanish court intrigue during a transition of power in the 15th century while Aragon was besieged by the Moors. In the dedication Dryden hoped that his plays would be read and wrote, “Nothing but truth can long endure; and time is the surest judge of truth.” The prologue is in rhymed couplets; but most of the drama is in blank verse while the comical scenes with the friar are in prose. This play was presented during a time of anti-Catholic sentiment; but when Catholic James II became king in 1685, he banned the play.
In The Spanish Friar a usurper of the throne has recently died. His daughter Leonora is ruling as Queen, and she had promised her dying father she would wed Bertran whom her father had made a duke. The deposed King Sancho is being held in a dungeon. Bertran’s army was defeated three times by the Moors. Torrismond has been raised by Raymond and believes he is his son. The noble Torrismond has led the Christians to victory, and his Col. Lorenzo, son of Alphonso, takes the news. The officer Pedro notes that Leonora feels weighed down by her late father’s crimes while she is praying for blessings. While Bertran is preparing to wed Leonora, Torrismond feels his hopes are vanishing. Lorenzo is attracted to seductive Elvira who is married to elderly Gomez. Torrismond shows contempt for Bertran and tells Leonora that he loves her. Leonora urges Bertran to kill Sancho so that they can marry soon; but she actually wants to marry Torrismond. Lorenzo has gold, and for money friar Dominic offers to help him get Elvira. Lorenzo gives him a letter which he takes to her, advising her that adultery is a silent and crying sin. Dominic brings her letter back to Lorenzo and takes him to her chamber, but Gomez comes home and sees that Lorenzo has a sword. Gomez believes he is a cuckold. Dominic warns Gomez he will be judged for slander, covetousness, and jealousy, and the husband replies that the friar is guilty of pride, hypocrisy, and gluttony.
Raymond reveals that while the Moors were threatening Aragon, Sancho entrusted his son Torrismond to him. Raymond urges the heroic son to take the throne or kill the usurpers. Teresa urges Queen Leonora to marry Torrismond, but he refuses to kill Sancho. Teresa then brings news to Leonora that Bertran killed the King. Dominic is still trying to help Lorenzo get to Elvira, and Lorenzo agrees to have Gomez arrested as a conspirator in the regicide. Elvira with her husband’s gold is running off with Lorenzo when they meet the released Gomez. At court Raymond secretly sends Alphonso and Pedro to arrest Bertran. Leonora wants to marry Torrismond, but Raymond objects because of her guilt and tries to dissuade Torrismond who is more concerned with the living than the dead. Raymond proves to Torrismond that King Sancho is his father. Lorenzo reports that the people want to remove the Queen and that Raymond and Alphonso are trying to stop them. Torrismond asks to be proclaimed king. Raymond wants Leonora punished. Torrismond asks the people to disarm. Leonora says she will live penitently. Meanwhile Alphonso reveals that Elvira is his daughter and therefore sister of Lorenzo. Finally Bertran tells the court that he only spread a rumor that Sancho was killed, and Torrismond assures Leonora that the forgiving Sancho will approve their marriage.
Dryden’s most famous poem Absalom and Achitophel was published anonymously on November 17, 1681; but within a few days the author’s name was known, and the verdict on Shaftesbury’s case was announced on November 24. In the last paragraph of his preface to the reader Dryden wrote,
The true end of satire is the amendment of vices by correction.
And he who writes honestly,
is no more an enemy to the offender,
than the physician to the patient,
when he prescribes harsh remedies to an inveterate disease….
If the body politic have any analogy to the natural,
in my weak judgment, an act of oblivion
were as necessary in a hot distempered state,
as an opiate would be in a raging fever.
In listing the characters at the beginning of the poem Dryden gives the names of 45 contemporary people after the Biblical characters who represent them in the allegory. The principals are King David (Charles II), Absalom (Duke of Monmouth), Achitophel (Earl of Shaftesbury), Bathsheba (Duchess of Portsmouth), Corah (Titus Oates), Pharaoh (Louis XIV), Saul (Oliver Cromwell), Zimri (George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham), and the Jebusites were identified as Papists. Oates was blamed for using questionable evidence to hang some 35 people. Dryden continued his attack on Shaftesbury in his shorter poem “The Medal” which was published on March 16, 1682.
Dryden also wrote poetry about his religion in Religio Laici or a Layman’s Faith (1682), and after converting to Catholicism in 1685 he wrote his longest poem, The Hind and the Panther (1687). In June 1688 he celebrated the birth of a son to Catholic King James II with Britannia Rediviva. After William III became king in 1689, Dryden lost his positions as poet laureate and historiographer royal. His later plays include the operas Albion and Albanus and King Arthur with music by Henry Purcell in 1685, the tragicomedy Don Sebastian (1689), his adaptation of Molière’s comedy Amphitryon (1690), the tragedy Cleomenes (1692), and the tragicomedy Love Triumphant (1694). In 1700 he combined his versions of seventeen poems by Ovid, Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Homer with four of his own in Fables Ancient and Modern. Dryden died on May 12, 1700.
William Wycherley was born in the spring of 1641. His father worked as a steward and gained wealth during the Civil War. William moved to France in 1656 and converted to Catholicism. His father sent him to Queen’s College at Oxford in July 1660, and he reverted to the Anglican Church. In November he went to study law at the Inner Temple in London. He probably spent 1664 in Spain with the English ambassador Richard Fanshawe. Wycherley took part in the naval victory against the Dutch on June 3, 1665. He was influenced by Samuel Butler’s poem Hudibras which satirized the Puritans. In 1669 Wycherley published his Hero and Leander in Burlesque. In 1682 he wrote Epistles to the King and Duke, and he was imprisoned for debt at Newgate and then in the Fleet. King James II released him from prison in 1686 and gave him a pension, which he lost after James was deposed in 1688. Wycherley wrote only four plays, but they were all successful.
Wycherley’s first play, Love in a Wood, or St. James’s Park, opened in March 1671. The widow Lady Flippant is the sister of elderly Alderman Gripe, and his daughter is Martha. Ranger is betrothed to his cousin Lydia, and Valentine is engaged to Christina. Vincent is their friend. Simon Addleplot is a fortune hunter, and Dapperwit is a foppish poet. Mrs. Joyner is a matchmaker, and Mrs. Crossbite, who is a more conniving procuress, has a daughter, Lucy. Lady Flippant wants Mrs. Joyner to find her a wealthy husband. Simon pretends to be the clerk Jonas and gets hired by miserly Gripe so that he can court Martha. Mrs. Joyner tells Gripe, “’Tis as impossible for a man to love and be a miser as to love and be wise.” Lady Flippant loves Dapperwit, but Simon is led to believe she desires him. At night in the park Lydia sees Ranger but hides in Christina’s house. Ranger follows her and thinks it is Christina who goes along with the deception. Valentine has returned to London and is hiding at Vincent’s home where Ranger learns the name of Christina, making Valentine jealous. Gripe desires Lucy, and her mother Crossbite persuades her to give up Dapperwit. Mrs. Joyner brings Gripe to meet Lucy who loathes his sexual advances, and Mrs. Crossbite demands he pay her £500 to keep silent. Meanwhile Ranger and Lydia both make up excuses why they did not meet. Jonas makes love to Lady Flippant who learns later he is Simon, the man she wants to marry. Lydia forges a letter to Ranger from Christina for a meeting. Valentine hears of it and goes to see Christina and learns she does not like Ranger. Both betrothed couples are reunited and decide to marry. The others have a supper at Mulberry Garden where Gripe resents Dapperwit embracing Martha and marries Lucy in revenge. Finally Dapperwit weds Martha who is six months pregnant, and Simon and Lady Flippant marry each other for money.
Two days after she saw Love in a Wood, beautiful Barbara Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland, who had been the mistress of Charles II and bore him five children, met Wycherley. They became friends, and he dedicated the published play to her at the end of the year. He also became friends with the court wits Charles Sedley and the notorious John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. During his affair with the duchess Barbara introduced him to her cousin George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. Sedley and Rochester persuaded Buckingham, the Master of the Horse, to get Wycherley the position of equerry of the royal household, and Charles II gave him £100. He also knew the playwrights John Dryden and Thomas Shadwell; but his group looked down on them because they wrote for money.
The farce The Gentleman Dancing-Master was Wycherley’s least successful play, and it was somewhat based on Calderon’s El Maestro de Danzar and Moliere’s School for Husbands. The play was published with the date 1673, and that year Wycherley helped Buckingham raise troops for the Third Dutch War and drilled them on Blackheath Common near London. Wycherley was commissioned a captain in the company on February 28, 1674 but resigned the next week.
In The Gentleman Dancing-Master the merchant James Formal is so enamored of Spanish customs that he is called Don Diego. His 14-year-old daughter Hippolita is soon to marry an Englishman, a Gallophile called Monsieur de Paris who speaks with a French accent. She has returned from boarding school and is confined to the house for a year. Diego directs his widowed sister Mrs. Caution to protect Hippolita as her duenna. The young gentleman Gerrard persuades M. Paris to let him give Hippolita dancing lessons, though he is only pretending to know dancing. She tells Gerrard that she has £1,200 a year and a coach with six horses, and he wants to elope with her. Their scheme is protected by her maid Prue. Diego likes Gerrard and persuades him to give his daughter three lessons a day so that she will be prepared for her imminent wedding, but he dislikes Paris and tries to get him to adopt Spanish ways. Paris is attracted to Mistress Flirt at an inn but rejects the seductive Prue. Mrs. Caution persuades her brother that something is wrong. Hippolita suspects Gerrard wants her for her money, says she has no income, and refuses to go with him. He is afraid of being exposed as a fraud and breaks the violin strings. Diego asks him to bring musicians to the wedding. At the last lesson Gerrard and Hippolita are reconciled. Paris has made so many promises to Prue that he agrees to marry her, and he helps the lovers get married secretly by fending off angry Diego. The father refuses to admit he was fooled and rationalizes that he did not want his daughter to marry a coward like Paris, and he likes Gerrard better anyway. Hippolita is happy and ends the play with the lines
When Children marry, Parents shou’d obey,
Since Love claims more Obedience far than they.
Now considered Wycherley’s best play, The Country Wife opened on January 12, 1675 and was published that year and again in 1683, 1688, and 1695. The sexual comedy was often performed until 1753, and then it was considered too risqué and was not performed again until 1924 in London. David Garrick provided a sanitized version called The Country Girl in 1766 that was popular during the interval. Wycherley was influenced by Molière’s L’Ecole des Maris and L’Ecole des Femmes and The Eunuch by Terence.
The Country Wife begins with a Quack telling womanizer Horner that he has spread the word that Horner has become impotent from venereal disease while in France. Horner wants husbands to trust him with their wives. He assures Jaspar Fidget that he is no danger to his wife Lady Fidget or her sister Dainty Fidget. Horner believes that so-called honorable women care more about their reputations than their persons; they would avoid scandal but not men. Dorilant, Harcourt, and Sparkish soon learn of Horner’s problem. However, Pinchwife has a country wife and, not informed of the rumor, he becomes jealous and afraid of Horner who believes a woman of wit can make her husband a cuckold or at least jealous. Pinchwife’s sister Alithea warns Mrs. Margery Pinchwife that her husband is afraid she will take a lover; but Margery advises her husband that when he forbids her, he makes her desire it. Pinchwife is concerned that Horner and his wife saw each other at the theater.
Harcourt tells Alithea that marriage is more about interest and money than love. Alithea goes to a play with Harcourt and Sparkish. Horner meets with Lady Fidget, Dainty, Mrs. Squeamish, and Jasper Fidget who is not worried. Lady Fidget believes that money makes up for all that is lacking in men. Horner tells Jaspar he wants to share his secret with his wife, and Jaspar says he is an innocent play-fellow. Horner admits that a reputation for impotency is as hard to recover as for cowardice. Margery resents Pinchwife’s jealousy and wants to go out. Sparkish is planning to marry Alithea, but Harcourt is also in love with her. Horner says that a jealous husband makes women hate him and is her first step to another lover. Pinchwife has his wife dress as a man. Sparkish urges Alithea to be friendly with Harcourt. Horner recognizes Margery and kisses her.
In act 4 Alithea’s maid Lucy wisely asks, “Can there be a greater cheat or wrong done to a man than to give him your person without your heart?” She also warns that “marrying to increase love is like gaming to become rich” because you only lose what little stock you had. Harcourt dresses as a parson and marries Alithea and Sparkish. Pinchwife realizes that his wife is in love with Horner and makes her write him a letter to discourage him, but she adds a loving postscript. He locks her in her chamber. Jaspar Fidget discovers his wife embracing Horner, and she says he is helping her to buy china. Old Lady Squeamish persuades Horner to kiss her granddaughter. Pinchwife gives the letter to Horner. Sparkish tells Pinchwife he has married his sister. Later Pinchwife catches his wife writing Horner another love letter and draws his sword, but Sparkish comes in. Margery signs the letter Alithea so that Pinchwife will think she is telling her to leave her new husband, though she wants to leave her husband and marry Horner. Pinchwife tells Sparkish that Horner wants his bride. Alithea explains she would prefer Harcourt. At Horner’s residence Margery tells Horner she wants to marry him. Pinchwife, Alithea, Harcourt, Sparkish, Lucy, and a parson arrive, and Pinchwife threatens his wife with his sword. Then the Fidgets and the Squeamishes come in, and Lucy tells Pinchwife that his wife is innocent, though Margery says she loves Horner. Dorilant arrives with the Quack who asks what is wrong. Pinchwife is informed that Horner is a eunuch, and he says Mrs. Pinchwife is innocent.
Wycherley’s most popular play at the time, The Plain Dealer, was performed in December 1676 and was published in three editions in 1677. He freely adapted Moliere’s The Misanthrope, was influenced by Marston’s Malcontent, and from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night he adopted a cross-dressing romance involving Olivia. Captain Manly dislikes hypocrisy and has returned to London after his ship was sunk by the Dutch. Lord Plausible calls upon him and urges him to ask influential friends to get him a ship instead of waiting for one to be assigned, but Manly disdains that approach and dismisses Plausible. Manly orders two sailors to keep people away from him except for his lieutenant Freeman. With him he discusses his preference for speaking honestly while Freeman argues that no one could succeed these days without dissembling. The rich widow Blackacre barges in; but Manly speaks to her because she is the cousin of Olivia, his fiancée. The widow asks him to testify for her in a lawsuit and threatens to subpoena him if he does not. Freeman knows she is wealthy and begins courting her. She has a son his age and says she does not want to marry because she wants to manage her own money.
Manly has entrusted his savings with Olivia and goes to find her. She wants to avoid him because she has married his best friend, Vernish. She claims to be a plain dealer and criticizes her cousin Eliza, Plausible, and others for criticizing people behind their backs but praising them in person. She says she does not love Manly. He had sneaked into her apartment and overhears her. After the others depart, he tells her that he despises her. After Freeman and the page urge Manly to get his cash and jewelry back from Olivia, they go to her and ask for them. She tells them that her husband has the money, but she is attracted to Manly’s page, who is Fidelia dressed as a boy because she fell in love with Manly and wanted to go to sea with him. Manly agrees to send the page as a messenger between them.
Freeman meets the widow’s son Jerry and begins to plot how to use the law to win her. The next day he and Manly testify in court for her. Jerry complains his mother will not give him money until he comes of age; but Freeman gives Jerry money to become his friend. Freeman persuades him to appoint him his guardian so that he can handle his money and legal documents. Manly sends the page to arrange a meeting with Olivia, and he plans to fill in for the page in the dark to cuckold her husband. He overhears her say mean things about him and becomes even angrier. The widow meets with Freeman and her son and says she can do nothing because they have the documents, and Freeman is Jerry’s guardian. She warns them she will prove him illegitimate so that he cannot inherit his father’s estate.
In the evening the page goes to Olivia and escapes when her husband Vernish shows up. Later the page comes back with Manly who refuses to seduce Olivia and leaves. When Vernish comes in, Fidelia says she is a woman and cannot cuckold him. His attempt to molest her is stopped by the entrance of Olivia, and Fidelia goes out the window. Manly does not know that his friend Vernish is Olivia’s husband, and he tells him he had sex with her before she married, making Vernish want to catch her with her latest lover. The widow decides to give her son an allowance and Freeman an annuity. When Manly and Fidelia visit Olivia, Vernish comes in and loses a duel with Manly. Olivia embraces Manly. In the struggle Fidelia is exposed as a woman. Manly likes her beauty and proposes marriage. He offers Olivia some of his jewels, but she declines. Fidelia tells Manly that she is an heiress, and he says she has made him friends with the world.
George Etherege was a friend of Charles Sedley and John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. Etherege had a daughter by the actress Elizabeth Barry and married Mary Arnold about 1680. He wrote three comedies. The Comical Revenge, or Love in a Tub, produced in 1664, has a heroic plot in rhymed couplets showing Sir Frederick and Widow Rich bantering about love and three other plots with common characters, and in one Frederick’s servant Dufoy is imprisoned in a tub. Etherege’s second play She Would If She Could, played in 1668, involves heroes and heroines wrestling with how honest or dissembling they should be. The older ones retreat to the country. Etherege was in the diplomatic service for Charles II in Constantinople (1668-71), in The Hague in 1671, and at the Imperial Court in Ratisbon (Regensburg), Bavaria (1685-89).
Critics agree that Etherege’s most mature and best play is The Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter which opened on March 2, 1676 and is considered an initiator of the comedy of manners. The title character is the skilful lover Dorimant.
In the first scene of The Man of Mode a woman selling oranges tells Dorimant and his friend Medley (identified with Charles Sedley) that an attractive young woman with a fortune has come to London and seen him, and Medley figures out she is Lady Woodvill’s daughter Harriet. First Dorimant has to explain to his mistress Mrs. Loveit why he has not seen her lately. Young Bellair asks Dorimant about Bellinda whom he saw her with at a play. Old Bellair has come to town and is lodging where Emilia lives. He has arranged for his son to marry Harriet, or he will marry and disinherit his son who is in love with Emilia. Bellinda tells Loveit she thinks the woman at the play with Dorimant was Loveit who becomes jealous. She questions him, and he says that in love there is no security for the future. He accuses Loveit of being involved with Fopling. Bellinda is relieved to know that he no long loves Loveit, but she is afraid he might dismiss her also. Harriet and Young Bellair agree they will never marry each other, but they pretend to be in love to fool his father and her mother. Dorimant asks Bellair to visit him at five in the morning. Loveit tries to rekindle Dorimant’s love by making him jealous as she flirts with Foppish; but he is disgusted that she could fall in love with a fop. Dorimant endeavors to overcome the sexual tension with Harriet and tells the audience that he loves her but dares not tell her. Yet he still desires to meet with Bellinda, and in the morning has her sneak out the backstairs and take a coach. However, she is taken to the house of Loveit who becomes more jealous and questions Dorimant. He doubts she ever loved him and says it is time to part, giving back her letters. Finally Dorimant renounces all other women and tells Harriet he will marry her and be happy on her country estate. Young Bellair and Emilia have been secretly married, and his father, who wanted to wed her himself, accepts his son’s marriage. Lady Woodvill wants to take Harriet home, but she says she will marry no one but Dorimant. Loveit tells Foppish to leave her alone.
Thomas Shadwell (c. 1642-92) attended Cambridge University briefly before studying law at the Middle Temple in London. He married an actress about 1665, traveled, and began writing plays in 1668 with The Sullen Lovers, or the Impertinents, based on Molière’s Les Fâcheux, applying Ben Jonson’s humors theory. In the preface he criticized the comedies of John Dryden, and they quarreled for several years, Dryden satirizing him in his poem MacFlecknoe in 1678. Shadwell’s witty comedy Epsom Wells in 1672 followed the style of Sedley, Etherege, and Wycherley. Shadwell wrote about twenty plays including adaptations of Shakespeare’s Tempest in 1674 and Timon of Athens in 1678. A True Widow was produced in March 1678, and Dryden contributed the prologue. Shadwell blamed the comedy’s failure on the difficulties of the time and the anger of those exposed by the satire. When farces and propaganda were popular, he wrote The Woman Captain (1679) and The Lancashire Witches (1681). In 1682 Shadwell attacked Dryden with his poem, The Medal of John Bayes: a Satire against Folly and Knavery. He supported the Protestants and succeeded Dryden as poet laureate and royal historiographer in 1688. Shadwell also wrote the sentimental comedies, The Squire of Alsatia (1688) and Bury Fair (1689).
Shadwell’s tragedy The Libertine was produced in June 1675 and was published the next year. Also considered a black comedy, this extraordinary play exaggerated the legend of Don Juan made famous by Tirso de Molina in The Trickster of Seville in 1615 and adapted often in Spain, Italy, and France. Shadwell’s version condemns the libertine John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, who in 1674 had published the poem A Satyr Against Reason and Mankind in which he argued that honesty is against common sense because men must be knaves to defend against mankind’s dishonesty. In his diary on June 25, 1675 Robert Hooke called The Libertine “atheistical” and “wicked.” During a political crisis in May 1682 the play was revived as The Libertine Destroy’d. In his preface Shadwell agreed with those who considered his play “rather an useful moral, than an encouragement to vice,” and the Prologue warns that it is “As wild and as extravagant as th’ age.”
In The Libertine Don John and his friends Don Antonio and Don Lopez revel in their wicked ways of satisfying their desires as the “liberty of nature.” Don John’s servant Jacomo is more skeptical and worried, and he notes that his master made both his sisters pregnant and murdered his own father. John says the valiant gentleman never repents. Jacomo says that John has ravished nuns and countless others and committed some thirty murders. He knows no right or wrong but only pleasure, but John calls it a “noble life of sense.” Leonora has been deceived, but she still loves John and follows him. Jacomo says John has married six women in the last month and promised fifteen more. John delights in danger and kills Don Octavio in a fight. Maria loved Octavio and seeks revenge. John uses deception to enjoy her too, for he never forgets to break his oaths. The play goes on like this. The ghosts of his father and others he has killed haunt him. A hermit warns them, “Lay by your devilish philosophy, and change the dangerous and destructive course of your lewd lives.”2 John even kills faithful Leonora, then Maria and Don Francisco. Ghosts warn John and his friends of the everlasting fires. After another deadly fight over nuns they end up in a church. Ghosts give John, Antonio, and Lopez glasses filled with blood, and they throw them down. Devils sing a song. Finally the three men refuse to feel any remorse and after thunder they sink down with the devils.
Shadwell's comedy The Virtuoso was produced in 1676 and was often revived. The play satirizes scientists of the Royal Society which had been formed in 1660. The witty gentlemen Bruce and Longvil are in love with Clarinda and Miranda respectively; but Clarinda loves Longvil, and Miranda loves Bruce. Sir Thomas Trifle is also courting Clarinda, and Sir Samuel Hearty is trying to woo Miranda. Bruce and Longvil pretend to be interested in the experiments of Sir Nicholas to get into his house. Transfusing the blood of a sheep causes a man to grow a tail, and they are bottling fresh air in the cellar. Lady Gimcrack is married to Nicholas but desires both Bruce and Longvil and has Hazard as a lover. Mrs. Flirt is having affairs with Nicholas and Hazard. Weavers are afraid that a machine invented by Nicholas will put them out of work, and they rise up. Eventually Bruce and Longvil decide to love the women who love them. Nicholas learns he is losing his mortgaged estates, and his uncle Snarl has married the whore Mrs. Figgup. The nieces of Nicholas have made Bruce and Longvil guardians of their estates and cannot help their uncle, and Mrs. Flirt rejects him because of his ruined finances.
Aphra Behn was a playwright, poet, translator, and novelist. She may have been born in 1640 as Aphra Johnson or perhaps a few years later. She apparently lived with Catholics in Flanders for a while. She claimed her father died on the way to govern in the West Indies, and she visited Suriname in 1664. About that time she may have been married to Johan Behn. If so, he either died about 1665, or they were separated. She brought back Indian feathers and gave them to Thomas Killigrew’s King’s Company, and they were used in The Indian Queen by Dryden and Robert Howard. She returned to London in 1666 burdened by debt but avoided prison, and, recommended by Killigrew, she worked as a spy in Antwerp for Charles II. In 1668 Davenant died, and his widow Henrietta Maria managed the Duke’s Company for the next two years. Aphra earned money as a scribe for them and the King’s Company.
Her first play in 1670, The Forced Marriage, or The Jealous Bridegroom, was a romantic tragicomedy and criticized arranged marriages. The Amorous Prince, or The Curious Husband (1671) was also successful, but her third play, The Dutch Lover, failed in 1673. Behn wrote nineteen plays using the name Astrea. She and her lover John Hoyle admired the philosophy of the Epicurean Lucretius and denied an afterlife. She admired the golden age of joyous sexuality before religion and laws.
The Rover, or The Banished Cavaliers opened in March 1677 and established her reputation. The two parts are based on Thomas Killigrew’s unperformed 10-act Thomaso, or the Wanderer which was written in 1654 and published in 1663. Aphra changed the setting of the first part from Spain to Naples. She used the name Willmore to represent the rake John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, and his mistress Elizabeth Barry played Hellena but in revivals enacted Angellica. Hellena is a virgin and intends to be a nun. Belvile has saved the life of Pedro’s sister Florinda and fallen in love with her, but Pedro wants her to wed Antonio and tells her governess Callis to watch her. The sisters Hellena and Florinda go to the carnival with their cousin Valeria dressed as gypsies accompanied by Callis. Florinda meets Belvile; ship captain Willmore woos Hellena, and Frederick falls for Valeria. Antonio and Pedro fight for the attention of the beautiful courtesan Angellica, but they are parted by Willmore and Blunt. Willmore seduces her into loving him without paying, but Angellica finds out he is courting Hellena and becomes jealous. The country bumpkin Ned Blunt hires Angellica and loses most of his clothes. Willmore is poor but a gentleman who believes in love and mirth with wine and women.
While drunk Willmore makes advances on Florinda who cries rape. He offers her money, and she is offended. They struggle, and she shouts, “Murder!” Belvile and Frederick come in to rescue her. Florinda runs out. Pedro and his servants arrive and beat down the others. Willmore tells Belvile he thought Florinda was a harlot. Willmore and Antonio fight with swords, and Antonio falls. Belvile comes back, and Willmore leaves with masqueraders. Officers come in and arrest Belvile for wounding Antonio who makes Belvile agree to fight a duel against Pedro as Antonio. Florinda stops the fight and pleads for her brother Pedro. Disguised Belvile says he loves her, and Pedro approves her marrying Antonio. Willmore arrives and draws on Pedro, but Belvile stops him. Jealous Angellica is furious at Willmore, and Hellena arrives dressed as a man. Willmore recognizes her and tells Angellica he did not agree to marry Hellena; but Angellica vows revenge. Blunt tries to rape Florinda; but Frederick comes in, and she gives Blunt a diamond ring. Later Belvile identifies it as the ring he gave her. Although Pedro as a Spaniard has the longest sword, Florinda chooses Belvile. Angelica in a mask with a pistol threatens Willmore who offers her gold. Antonio comes in, take the pistol from her, and offers to shoot Willmore. Pedro learns that Belvile has married his sister. Hellena arrives and agrees to wed Willmore who bargains but agrees. Finally Blunt comes in wearing ridiculous Spanish clothes.
The Feigned Courtesans, or A Night’s Intrigue was produced in 1679, and Aphra Behn begins the prologue complaining of the political plots that are making plots on the stage seem less important and not as interesting. Fools have become politicians and persecuted Catholics for suspected “Popish” conspiracies. Her farcical comedy is set in Rome near the Vatican, and the English heroes end up marrying Catholic Italians. Henry Fillamour defends the beauty of Roman art, and he is contrasted to an iconoclastic Puritan. Marcella rejects an arranged marriage and falls in love with Fillamour while her sister Cornelia avoids a nunnery to seek love. They pretend to be courtesans. Much cross-dressing and deceptive identities create farcical and confusing complications. Finally Galliard is to marry Cornelia, and Julio ends up with his fiancée Laura Lucretia.
The Second Part of the Rover was performed in 1681, and in her dedication to Catholic Duke James of York she praised him almost as divine. In this play Willmore’s wife Hellena has died, and in Spain he competes with the English ambassador’s nephew Beaumond and old Don Carlo for the love of the beautiful Spanish courtesan La Nuche. Beaumond has more wealth and social standing to offer her, but he is engaged to Ariadne and decides to marry her. The clever Willmore tries to make money selling potions as a mountebank, but mostly he offers La Nuche his love. Part 2 also provides farcical comedy with Ned Blunt and the country squire Nicholas Fetherfool. Willmore is accompanied by the officers Shift and Hunt, and they help him prevent Blunt and Fetherfool from marrying a Jewish giantess and a dwarf for their money. John Wilmot had died of syphilis at the age of 33 in July 1680, and in this play Willmore wins the love of La Nuche played by Elizabeth Barry, mother of Wilmot’s daughter in December 1677.
Aphra made fun of the Puritans for their hypocrisy and dreariness, and in her play The Roundheads, or The Good Old Cause, produced in 1681, she criticized the Commonwealth and the Whigs for prosecuting the Oates plot, the Exclusion Bill, and for the activities of James of Monmouth and Shaftesbury’s political manipulations. Based on The Rump by John Tatham published in 1660, the power struggle at the end of the interregnum involves Lambert and Fleetwood with Lord Wariston supporting one and then the other. Their buffoonery and cowardice reflects on the contemporary Whig leaders. The Council votes to give pensions to their members, and they all get drunk. General Monk brings order, and people celebrate by roasting rumps in preparation for the restoration of the Stuart King Charles II. Behn included intriguing romantic complications with the political farce.
In 1682 Behn’s comedy The City Heiress, or Sir Timothy Treat-All satirized the Whig politician Shaftesbury. Timothy disinherits his nephew Tom Wilding because he is a profligate Tory. They both court the heiress Charlot Get-All. Tom tries to distract his uncle by sending his mistress Diana to seduce him. Tom disguises himself as a Polish aristocrat and offers the crown of Poland to Timothy who accepts. Tom enjoys Lady Galliard, a rich widow, but she is tricked into marrying Tom’s shy older friend Charles Melville who is pushed into winning her love. Tom leads robbers, and they take money and papers from his uncle, enabling him to wed Charlot. Lusty Timothy settles for Diana, but the seditious documents silence his political activity.
Mrs. Behn’s The Lucky Chance, or Alderman’s Bargain produced in April 1686 is another successful romantic comedy of intrigue. Bellmour, who was exiled for killing a man in a duel, returns to London and learns from his friend Gayman that his fiancée Leticia, believing he is dead, is going to wed Sir Feeble Fainwould. Gayman is living in a poor neighborhood because he wasted his money on his mistress Julia, who has married Sir Cautious Fulbank. Bellmour pretends to be Feeble’s nephew and learns that Feeble has his pardon document, and he delays Feeble’s wedding by persuading him to visit Cautious. Julia steals gold from her husband Fulbank and sends it with the apprentice Bredwell, pretending to be a devil, to Gayman, asking for a meeting. Gayman suspects black magic and is led to believe that Julia is an old hag. They are interrupted by Feeble who returns home to find Leticia eloping with Bellmour. Gayman and Cautious gamble to see who will spend a night with Julia, and Gayman wins. Bellmour pretends to be a ghost to scare Feeble and goes with Leticia to the home of Cautious who takes Gayman to Julia. She returns to being his mistress, and Bellmour is reunited with Leticia. The two merchants lose out, and Bredwell is to marry Feeble’s daughter Diana.
The Emperor of the Moon was produced in March 1687 and was influenced by Italian commedia dell’arte. Doctor Baliardo’s daughter Elaria loves Cintio, and his niece Bellemante likes Charmante. Baliardo wants them to marry lunar deities, and Harlequin and Scaramouch help the young lovers to convince the doctor that they are the king of the moon and a thunder-land prince. The masque utilizes elaborate machinery, and the cast includes Kepler and Galileo. The play was very successful and had at least 130 performances by 1749.
Aphra Behn published her best novella, Oroonoko, or The Royal Slave: A True History, in 1688. She was in Suriname from 1663 to 1664 and may also have drawn from George Warren’s Impartial Description of Surinam that was printed in 1667. The English had founded that colony in the 1640s, and in 1663 Charles II sent Francis Willoughby to govern Barbados with William Byam as his deputy in Suriname, but the Dutch were granted it in the Breda treaty of 1667 after the Second Anglo-Dutch war. The novel is considered the first about a “noble savage” and is an early description of slavery in America.
She narrates Oroonoko and claims she was an eye-witness to many events. The natives are “reddish-yellow” and mostly naked. They believe one’s word is sacred and call the Governor a liar. Oroonoko’s story begins in the Dutch fort Cormantien on the coast of West Africa. An African general is killed by an arrow while protecting Prince Oroonoko who is given his place. He learns French and is proud of his European education. He is handsome and falls in love with the late general’s daughter Imoinda, offering her 150 slaves and vowing to make her his only woman; but the King, Oroonoko’s grandfather, has her join his wives. Despondent Oroonoko foregoes pleasures. His friend Aboan and the royal wife Onahal help him get to the harem (otan) and eventually to Imoinda’s bed. She tells the King that Oroonoko ravished her. The King considers her polluted and secretly sells her as a slave to another country, saying she was put to death. Oroonoko mourns but soon returns to fighting. An English ship arrives, and Oroonoko has had business with them. He meets with the captain but is treacherously taken as a slave. He refuses to eat but believes the captain’s oath that he will be treated well and persuades the other slaves to cooperate. Yet they are sold to merchants to separate them. The Cornish gentleman Trefry buys Oroonoko, names him “Caesar,” and assigns him land, a house, and a business on the plantation. He offers him pretty Clemene who is Imoinda and joins him as his wife.
In some colonies the slaves outnumber the whites. The narrator describes how her father, who was to govern several colonies in the West Indies, died on the voyage there, and she says that she arrived and was given a fine house. Oroonoko kills a tiger with a sword. The English are also afraid of the Indians in Suriname. On a voyage Oroonoko has good relations with both, but he urges the slaves on the plantation to free themselves. The English gather 600 militia, and Byam and Trefry persuade Caesar to surrender on his conditions. However, he is whipped, and pepper is rubbed on his wounds. Trefry takes him back to his plantation and treats him well. Oroonoko respects Col. Martin, but he wants revenge against Byam. When the Dutch take over, they hang some and send others away in chains. Caesar is to be hanged; but believing that Imoinda would be raped and tortured if he killed Byam, he decides to kill her and himself. She agrees to die; he kills her and then goes days without eating. When found, he cuts open his stomach. A doctor sews him up, and they mutilate his body until he finally dies.
Aphra Behn died April 16, 1689, and her body was entombed in Westminster Abbey. Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own wrote, “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.”3
Aphra Behn’s The Widow Ranter, or The History of Bacon in Virginia was performed in November 1689 after her death. The tragicomedy depicts the rebellion in Jamestown led by Nathanael Bacon in 1676. Dryden wrote the prologue which was spoken by a woman. Hazard arrives in Jamestown and meets his pal Friendly who informs him they have armed the Indians against themselves but were forced to make peace. Without a governor there a council rules, and some are transported criminals. Bacon has studied the lives of great men and is ambitious. He has led fights against the Indians but is in love with their queen. Hazard observes that the brave man’s crime “is serving his country without authority.” Friendly urges Hazard to see Madam Surelove because her aged husband is in England. Later with his sword Hazard scares off the councilor Timorous. Deputy Governor Col. Wellman convenes the Council. Downright says Bacon has no commission, but Wellman notes he has an army of volunteers. Downright says the truce is ending tomorrow. Whimsey suggests they can “hang any general that fights against the law.” The widow Ranter loves the soldier Daring, but he is pursuing Mrs. Chrisante who admits her father is opposed. Surelove drinks with Ranter who has inherited £50,000, and Hazard introduces himself with a letter. Friendly tells Chrisante he has a commission to fight the Indians. Richly dressed Bacon meets with the Indian King Cavarnio and Queen Semernia. The King complains that the English received hospitality but made their friends slaves. The Queen mediated the truce. Parson Dunce brings a letter to the King from the Council.
Daring says the Council will give Bacon a commission for the war. Bacon tells Semernia he loves her. Hazard tells Surelove he adores her. Friendly quarrels with Dullman and Timorous but declines to fight them. Three councilors with soldiers try to capture Bacon who with Fearless kills three men, capturing Whimsey and Whiff. The rabble follows them to Wellman. Bacon has his followers retire and admits they saved his life and shows his commissions, but Wellman has guards arrest him. Bacon grabs a sword and tries to keep back the rabble, but they seize Wellman, Dullman, and the others. Bacon lets them go. Later Wellman calls the councilors cowards and dismisses them. Dunce reads an order for a £300 reward for the traitor Bacon dead or alive. Timorous urges three councilors to surrender to Bacon, who welcomes those who will follow him and lets others depart in peace.
The Queen tells the King she dreamed he was killed by a lion, but she hopes her beauty has captivated Bacon. He leads the fight against the Indians and kills the King. Ranter is dressed as a man, looks for Daring, and offers to fight him, but Fearless tells Daring that she loves him. Daring admits he likes her in breeches. Soldiers capture the four councilors. Bacon goes to rescue the Queen. Wellman has his men protect the ladies. Semernia is dressed as a warrior. Bacon fights against the Indians and wounds her, and she dies in his arms. Ranter takes valuables off two dead councilors. Bacon in despair takes poison, but Daring tells him they are victorious. Bacon warns him not to let ambition replace duty and dies. Daring says the war is over and sends his articles to the Council. Friendly is to marry Chrisante; Daring proposes to Ranter; Flirt accepts Dunce; and Surelove agrees to wed Hazard. Wellman forgives the cowardly councilors and replaces them with gentlemen of honor.
Nathaniel Lee went to Westminster School and earned his B.A. degree at Trinity College, Oxford in 1668. He became an actor in 1672 and wrote the following historical dramas: Nero, Emperor of Rome (1675), Sophonisba, or Hannibal's Overthrow and Gloriana, or the Court of Augustus Caesar in 1676, The Rival Queens, or the Death of Alexander the Great (1677), Mithridates, King of Pontus (1678), Caesar Borgia (1679), Theodosius, or the Force of Love and Lucius Junius Brutus, Father of His Country in 1680, The Princess of Cleve (1681), Constantine the Great (1684), and The Massacre of Paris (1689). Lee also collaborated with Dryden on Oedipus (1679) and The Duke of Guise (1683). Lee and his plays were very emotional. He was a friend of the libertine John Wilmot, became an alcoholic, went mad, and spent five years (1684-89) in Bedlam Hospital. He died while drunk in 1692.
Lee’s tragedy Lucius Junius Brutus was produced in late 1680, but the government censor banned it after six performances. Although Lucius Junius Brutus was the grandson of a Tarquin king, in 509 BC he opposed their tyranny and led the revolution that established the Republic of Rome; but his sons Titus and Tiberius supported the Tarquins.
In Lee’s play Titus is in love with Tarquin’s daughter Teraminta, and he informs his father Brutus that they are married. Brutus is very upset and rejects the marriage. Lucrece tells her husband Collatinus that a Tarquin threatened her with a sword and raped her. She asks for revenge and kills herself with a dagger. Ventidius arouses the plebeians against the King with his oratory. Consul Brutus tells the citizens to take up arms and drive out the Tarquins, and he sends Valerius to command them. Brutus orders Titus not to touch his wife on their wedding night and to leave her. Titus swears he will comply. He explains to Teraminta, who knows he loves her and accepts the separation. Tiberius tells Collatinus that Brutus has been hailed as deliverer of lost Rome, shield of the Commonwealth, sword of justice, scourge of tyrants, and lash for lawless kings, but they both remain loyal to the King. Brutus tells Valerius that his fellow Consul Collatinus must be removed, and he summons him to the Senate. There Brutus accuses Collatinus of betraying the people’s liberty and tells him to resign his office since he is a royalist. Collatinus yields his office to Valerius and goes out. A priest urges Tiberius to restore the King and join the imperial troops. Titus tells his wife that he is resolved to die, and he calls her to his bed. She says she will not come until he backs the Tarquin king. Titus refuses to fight for or against the King, but he will defend him against his father. Thus he joins with Tiberius in serving the King. The royalists burn and crucify some prisoners and drink their blood.
Titus arrives and asks Tiberius to repent because tyranny should not prevail. Valerius, Ventidius, and guards arrive and arrest the brothers as the priests escape. Brutus tells Valerius that both his sons must die, and Teraminta pleads for Titus who admits his guilt. Brutus promises he will not be cruel, and she thanks him and leaves. Titus tells his father he is happy to die, and Brutus promises to take care of Teraminta. Titus has been whipped, and Teraminta comes in wounded. Brutus enters with Tiberius who has also been whipped. To avoid the axe Titus asks Valerius to stab him when they reach the Senate. There Brutus states that his sons are traitors and asks for their sentence. Horatius says the Senate does not want their deaths, and Sempronia comes in and pleads for her son Titus also. They hear a disturbance and learn that Tiberius and others have been executed. Brutus tells Valerius to take Titus to the axe, but he runs him through with his sword. Teraminta stabs herself and dies, and after receiving his father’s blessing Titus passes away. The play ends with Brutus asking for blessings on their country and for Jove to guard and defend the liberty of Rome.
John Banks is best known for the following historical dramas about British queens: The Unhappy Favourite, or The Earl of Essex (May 1681), Virtue Betrayed, or Anna Bullen (1682), The Island Queens, or The Death of Mary, Queen of Scotland (1684), and The Innocent Usurper, or The Death of Lady Jane Gray (1694).
Banks based The Unhappy Favourite, or The Earl of Essex on the romantic novel, The Secret History of the Most Renown’d Queen Elizabeth and Earl of Essex (Part 1 in 1650 and Part 2 in 1680) by “a person of quality.” Queen Elizabeth has sent Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, to command the English army fighting the Irish rebellion led by Tyrone in 1599; but he returned in September without her permission. Elizabeth is advised by young Robert Cecil (Burleigh), the Countess of Nottingham, Walter Raleigh, and Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, who is a friend of Essex. The Queen blames Essex for not going north to fight Tyrone’s rebels, and he accepted a truce which Burleigh calls “shameful.” Raleigh says Parliament has passed three bills for her approval—an army of 6,000 foot soldiers and 3,000 horsemen, £300,000 to pay them, and the impeachment of Essex. She is concerned that reason does not rule the world, but all men bow to superiors. Southampton tells the Countess of Rutland (Essex) that her husband has been condemned for abandoning his commission in Ireland. Elizabeth is afraid he might murder her. Essex kneels and praises her as the best of queens but believes he is wronged and innocent. The Queen walks out, Burleigh tells Essex she has taken away his offices as Governor of Ireland, Earl Marshal, and General of all her forces, and she orders him to stay at home.
Essex and his wife were married the day before he left for Ireland, and the Countess believes the Queen is jealous. Elizabeth has reigned for forty years and fears the people are weary of her. She asks to see Essex and objects to the articles he made with Tyrone’s rebels. He explains that his men were half-consumed by diseases and were weakened and unfit, but she blames him for letting them loiter all year without action. Essex calls Burleigh and Raleigh vultures and throws down his offices and gets angry at Elizabeth, who says he is an “audacious traitor.” He offers to leave, and she boxes his ear. He reaches for his sword but stops himself. She curses him and walks out, and Southampton reprimands his “haughty carriage.”
Essex has tried to raise a rebellion, and Burleigh informs the Queen that the rebels have been apprehended, including Essex and Southampton. Elizabeth asks to see Essex and orders Southampton to the Tower. She talks with Essex unguarded alone and says he tempted her loyal subjects to rebel with a plot to seize her. He claims he loves her purely, and she says the House of Lords will judge him. He asks that his execution not be in public, and she prays he will clear himself. The Countess of Essex admits their secret marriage to the Queen who considers it treason. In the Tower the Countess of Nottingham asks Essex if he proposes anything to mitigate his sentence, and he asks the Queen to spare his life and sends a ring she gave him with a promise not to deny whatever he asked. However, Nottingham does not tell Elizabeth about these things. She suggests that the Queen spare Southampton and have the Countess of Rutland witness the execution in order to torment Essex, who gets a final visit from his wife and Southampton. He gives her a letter to take to the Queen. When Elizabeth finds out about the ring, she orders the execution prevented, but it is too late. She banishes Nottingham and laments the loss of Essex.
Thomas Otway (1652-85) was educated at Winchester College and at Christ Church, Oxford. In the last ten years of his short life he wrote ten plays. The historical plays are Alcibiades and Don Carlos, Prince of Spain, and then Titus and Berenice based on Racine’s tragedy. The Choirs of Scapin adapted Moliere’s comedy, and his original comedy, Friendship in Fashion, was criticized as indecent. After fighting in the Netherlands for the Duke of Monmouth’s regiment 1678-79 Otway wrote The History and Fall of Caius Marius based on the Life of Marius by Plutarch but turned the story of the successful general and politician into a romantic tragedy.
Otway dedicated his tragedy The Orphan to the Duchess of York, and it is based on The English Adventures, Part 1: The History of Brandon, which was probably written by Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery. Produced in February or March 1680, Otway sets the play in Bohemia.
In The Orphan the noble Acasto has retired from the court and lives in the country with his twin sons Castalio and Polydore, his daughter Serina, and the orphan Monimia he adopted after his friend Chamont died. His son Chamont comes to visit his sister. Both the twins are in love with Monimia, but Castalio tells Polydore he would not wed her. Monimia tells the page Cordelio that she loves Castalio, but he lets Polydore try his luck with her. Serina reports that Chamont has arrived, and they are attracted to each other. Chamont asks Acasto to protect his sister, and he also advises Monimia to test the love of Castalio. Polydore gets Cordelio to spy on the couple for him. Monimia and Castalio quarrel but are reconciled. Acasto gives Chamont permission to court Serina and perhaps win a third of his fortune. Chamont promises the chaplain that he will keep his secret and learns that he married his sister and Castalio. Polydore blames his brother for meeting secretly with Monimia. She agrees to let her bridegroom visit her bedroom at night and tells him to knock quietly so as not to alert his father. Polydore overhears this and has Cordelio occupy Castalio while he knocks and enters her room. When Castalio knocks on her door, Monimia suspects it is Polydore pretending to be Castalio and has her maid turn him away.
In the morning Acasto questions Monimia about noises he heard in the night. She is surprised to find Castalio acting coldly toward her, and he says he will not be enslaved and repents having wed her. He drags her to the door and leaves her. She cries and shares her grief with her brother and her fear that Castalio may kill her, though she still loves him. Chamont tells Acasto that Castalio is a villain. Monimia accuses Polydore of treating her like a prostitute and learns that he visited her last night. She tells him she is Castalio’s wife, and Polydore is shocked. Castalio shares his grief with his father, and Acasto says he will avenge the injustice. Chamont arrives, quarrels with Castalio and draws his sword. Acasto restrains his son, and Serina comes in and makes peace between Castalio and their brother. Castalio confesses that he married Monimia and asks his father’s forgiveness but refuses to reconcile with Monimia. She wants to see Castalio before dying, and she tells him they must never meet again. She goes out, and Castalio questions his brother Polydore who blames him for not telling him he married Monimia. They both think she is a whore. Polydore draws his sword and, after Castalio has drawn, runs on his sword. He confesses he was wrong and stained his bed. If he had known of the marriage, they would be happy now. Monimia comes in, says she has taken poison, and dies. Chamont is disarmed, and Acasto has his servants seize him. Castalio draws a dagger and stabs himself and dies.
Otway portrayed the difficulties and baseness of the soldier’s life in his comedies, The Soldier’s Fortune and the second part called The Atheist.
Otway’s most successful play is the tragedy Venice Preserved, A Plot Discovered, presented in February 1682. This fictional conspiracy calls to mind the failed Gunpowder Plot in November 1605 and the “Spanish conspiracy” to overthrow the Venetian Republic in 1618 that resulted in about 300 suspects being executed. In England in the late 1670s and the 1680s many Popish plots were feared as the next in line was the Catholic Duke James of York. His brother Charles II kept proroguing Parliament to prevent them from passing a bill excluding James. A doubtful Meal Tub Plot was discovered, and Titus Oates and other Whigs committed perjury against alleged conspirators. The 61-year-old Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, is satirized as Senator Antonio with a prostitute.
The Prologue to Venice Preserved begins, “In these distracted times, when each man dreads the bloody stratagems of busy heads.” Priuli is a wealthy Venetian senator, and he refuses to aid his daughter Belvidera for having married poor Jaffeir, even though it has been three years, and they have a child. Jaffeir’s friend Pierre is upset about the corrupt Senate and their oppression of the people. The Senate censured him for violating “privilege,” and a commission seized his fortune. Jaffeir agrees they “spoil the public good.” Jaffeir and Belvidera love each other despite their poverty. Pierre loves the prostitute Aquilina and asks her to question Senator Antonio. Pierre gives broke Jaffeir some money and asks if he could kill a senator. The conspirators meet in Aquilina’s house, and the Spanish ambassador Bedamar says they will win a matchless prize or face ruin. Renault says the nobility is bankrupt, and the divided Senate can be destroyed. Jaffeir arrives with a dagger and is eager to “restore justice and dethrone oppression.” To be accepted he offers his wife as a hostage. Senator Antonio dotes on Aquilina and says that at 61 he is not good for nothing; he gives her money and behaves like a dog; but she has him thrown out.
Belvidera warns Jaffeir she may tell the Senate about the plot, but he says he is committed to killing her father. He believes they are “fit to reform the ills of all mankind.” Jaffeir tells Pierre that he caught Renault last night with Belvidera, and Pierre says the ambassador has put Renault in command. Renault orders conspirators to take St. Mark’s and set the city on fire. Then they must kill all the senators. Jaffeir asks if this is virtuous and leaves. Renault and others want to kill him, but Pierre threatens to warn the Senate, though he promises to bring Jaffeir tomorrow. Belvidera urges Jaffeir to alert the Senate, but he does not want to betray his friends. An officer and guards arrive and arrest them. At the Senate-house the Duke of Venice asks Priuli to describe the conspiracy. Jaffeir and Belvidera are brought in, and the Duke offers mercy to Jaffeir for the truth. When the Duke suggests torture, Jaffeir says that will get nothing from him. The Duke asks for his conditions, and he demands a full pardon for his 22 friends and gives them their names. All the senators swear to do so. The Duke sends to seize the men at Aquilina’s. When the fettered conspirators are brought in, Pierre asks if this is what he gets for fighting Venice’s battles against confederated powers. Jaffeir admits he is false to Pierre who says Venice has lost her freedom and asks for an honorable death. The Duke orders the prisoners guarded and Jaffeir released.
After the departure of the senators Jaffeir tells Pierre that he and his friends will live and admits his faults; but Pierre curses him. Belvidera tries to console Jaffeir and tells him that the faithless senators decreed death for the rebels. Jaffeir calls it perjury and murder and threatens to stab her; but she embraces him, and he throws away his dagger. Belvidera goes to her father and pleads for pity and forgiveness and asks for his blessing before they part. He asks for her story, and she explains how she persuaded Jaffeir. She begs him to go to the Senate and save the promised lives, and he agrees to do so. Aquilina begs Antonio to save Pierre and threatens him with a dagger until he swears he will. Jaffeir tells his wife that his friends must die. He blesses her, and they part forever. He leaves, and Priuli has his daughter taken to his house. Pierre is to be executed on a wheel, and Jaffeir goes with him on the scaffold, promising revenge. Pierre asks Jaffeir to save him from the wheel. Jaffeir stabs Pierre and then himself, and they both die. Belvidera has gone mad and sees the ghosts of Jaffeir and Pierre before she dies. The Epilogue says, “Though the conspiracy’s prevented here, methinks I see another hatching there.”
Later in 1682 Rumbold’s Rye House Plot was discovered. A general insurrection was believed to be organizing for the following winter, and in 1683 Algernon Sidney and William Russell were executed. These tragedies produced during the early 1680s reflect the fear of Popish plots and conspiracies by Catholics and the oppressive measures taken by the Whigs to keep the Catholic James, Duke of York, from becoming king.
Thomas Southerne (1660-1746) was born near Dublin and attended Trinity College for two years before going to the Middle Temple in London in 1678. He served in the armed forces until 1688 and wrote ten plays between 1682 and 1726. His comedy Sir Anthony Love, or The Rambling Lady (1690) was very popular. His next comedy, The Wives’ Excuse, or Cuckolds Make Themselves (1691) failed at the time, but critics consider it an interesting transition between Etherege and Congreve.
Southerne’s biographer John Wendell Dodds wrote that his best plays are the two he adapted from Aphra Behn’s novellas. He turned her History of the Nun, or The Fair Vow Breaker into his tragicomedy, The Fatal Marriage, or the Innocent Adultery, and it opened in February 1694. The tragic plot of The Fatal Marriage follows her novel rather closely despite his claim that he only got a “hint” from her story. Biron had been captured by pirates and was reported dead seven years ago. His wife Isabella has just agreed to marry Villeroy because she has been abandoned by her father-in-law, Count Baldwin. Villeroy has also secretly paid off the creditors who were causing her financial distress. Biron’s brother Carlos has also promoted the fatal marriage so that he can claim Biron’s inheritance. He has been intercepting Biron’s letters and writing back to warn him not to come home. Biron presents himself to Isabella only to find that she has remarried and thus has innocently committed adultery. Their struggle to resolve this dilemma results in Carlos treacherously killing Biron and Isabella going mad and taking her own life.
The comic sub-plot of The Fatal Marriage is Southerne’s own invention. Frederick is courting Victoria, but her father Fernando is suspicious and jealous. Her brother Fabian is also not in his father’s good graces, and he wants her to marry so that he will get the inheritance. Old Fernando’s young wife Julia also helps them elope by giving her husband a sleeping potion. After he awakes, he is told that he died and is in purgatory; but he is revived by a miracle, and he repents and accepts his wife and his alienated son and daughter.
Southerne adapted Behn’s Oroonoko as his tragicomedy Oroonoko, or The Royal Slave which opened in December 1696 and was often revived in the 18th century. (This novella is discussed above.) Once again Southerne used her novella for his tragic plot, but he adapted his own Sir Anthony Love for the comic sub-plot of Oroonoko. Oroonoko is a slave in Angola where he meets and marries Imoinda, but in Southerne’s play she is the daughter of a European, though she becomes a slave called Clemene. Oroonoko’s friend Tuscan is called Aboan in the play, and his role is magnified. The ending is not as drawn out as in the novella. Oroonoko kills the governor and then himself. In the sub-plot the sisters Charlott and Lucy Welldon have come to Surinam because they have passed the age of 21 and are no longer desired in London. Charlott dresses as a man and seduces the rich widow Mrs. Lackitt. She arranges for her sister Lucy to wed Mrs. Lackitt’s immature son Daniel, and to consummate her own marriage Charlott has her friend Jack Stanmore stand in for her. She is actually in love with Jack’s brother whom she manages to catch. Although Southerne used Behn’s tragic plots, the poetry is his own. Here are a few memorable lines from his Oroonoko:
Live still in fear, it is the villain’s curse. (I,ii)
Men live and prosper but in mutual trust. (I,ii)
Pity’s a kin to love. (II,ii)
We know our strength only be being try’d. (IV,i)
Lying’s a certain mark of cowardice. (V,iii)
But Christians guided by the heav’nly ray,
Have no excuse if we mistake our way. (V,v)
William Congreve was born January 24, 1670 in Staffordshire; but his father was a lieutenant, and the family moved to Ireland in 1674. Congreve was educated in Kilkenney and at Trinity College in Dublin before studying some law at the Middle Temple in 1691. He had an affair with Henrietta, Duchess of Marlborough, and she bore him a daughter. John Dryden and Thomas Southerne aided Congreve on his first play, The Old Bachelor, which was produced in March 1693. In December the talented Anne Bracegirdle also appeared in The Double Dealer. Congreve believed that comedy could expose human folly, make people aware of faults so that they could be instructed while delighting good people who are warned and diverted at the expense of the wicked.
In The Old Bachelor Ned Bellmour, who scorns business to pursue pleasure, has rescued the foolish knight Joseph Wittol from robbers and tells his friend Sharper. He pretends he saved Wittol and cons him into promising him £100 he claims he lost. Captain Bluffe is a boasting soldier who considers fighting his religion and law, but he exaggerates his campaigns in the Netherlands. Bellmour is in love with Belinda who has £12,000, and her cousin Araminta loves Bellmour’s friend Vainlove. The courtesan Silvia was Vainlove’s mistress, and her maid Lucy suggests they send a foolish letter to Vainlove with Araminta’s name on it. Wittol gives Sharper a £100-note that Sharper collects from the banker Fondlewife. Bluffe informs Wittol that Sharper is a cheat, and Sharper reacts with an insult and a blow. Bluffe is afraid to fight back, but after Sharper’s departure he draws his sword and shouts blustering bravado. The older bachelor Heartwell says his only talent is to tell the truth. He hates sex like medicine, but he loves to take it for his health. He is seduced by Silvia. He says he wants love without marriage; but after she kisses him, Heartwell asks her to marry him. When Vainlove gets the spurious letter, his love for Araminta cools. They meet in the park, and he leaves the letter with her. Wittol meets Araminta and is infatuated.
Bellmour dresses as a Puritan and visits Fondlewife’s young wife Laetitia and tells her he came in place of Vainlove whom she had invited. Fondlewife comes home with Wittol to give him money as Bellmour hides in the bedroom. Laetitia accuses Wittol of trying to rape her, and he is told to leave. However, the banker finds a Scarron novel that Bellmour left in her room. He admits he was there to make love to Laetitia but says her husband’s return prevented her adultery. Lucy sees Bellmour and thinks he is a parson, and she asks him to marry Silvia and Heartwell. Bellmour tells Lucy he will find real husbands for her and her mistress if she will let him conduct a mock wedding. He wants to prevent his friend Heartwell from marrying a prostitute. After the service he informs Silvia of the trick. Wittol and Bluffe each give money to Setter to win Araminta. Heartwell tells Sharper to stay away from Sylvia. Vainlove and Bellmour take masked Araminta and Belinda to Silvia’s place while Setter brings masked Lucy and Silvia to marry Wittol and Bluffe; but unmasking the ladies makes the soldiers realize they were fooled. Heartwell is glad to escape the marriage, and the two couples plan to wed.
In Congreve’s The Double-Dealer young Mellefont is in love with Cynthia; but he is desired by Lady Touchwood even though he is her husband’s nephew. She confesses to her brother Paul Plyant who reprimands her and stops her suicide attempt. To get revenge Lady Touchwood seduces Maskwell into convincing Lady Plyant that Mellefont loves her, not her daughter Cynthia. Lady Plyant criticizes Mellefont for becoming engaged to Cynthia to get to her. Maskwell informs Mellefont that Lady Touchwood is using him to cause confusion, and he hopes to marry Cynthia. Lord Touchwood does not believe his wife’s claim that Mellefont desires her, but Maskwell tells Touchwood that he defended his wife’s honor and persuaded Mellefont to leave her alone. Maskwell tells Mellefont that his reward for breaking up his friend’s marriage to Cynthia is to sleep with Lady Touchwood; but he asks Mellefont to surprise him with her in her bedroom. Lord Plyant complains that his wife is celibate and asks Careless to help get an heir. Cynthia declines to elope with Mellefont but promises to marry no one else. She urges him to get her aunt’s approval. Lady Plyant meets Careless but, interrupted by her husband, Careless writes her a note which she mistakenly gives to her husband. To get out of the mess Lady Plyant asks her husband for a divorce. At night Mellefont hides in Lady Touchwood’s room; but after she appears, her husband comes in and threatens his nephew. She says Mellefont is mad. She tells Maskwell how she escaped, and he admits to her husband that he loves Cynthia. Touchwood makes him his heir and promises to arrange the wedding. His wife realizes Maskwell’s duplicity and tells Touchwood not to let Cynthia marry anyone but Mellefont. Eventually Careless informs the young couple of Maskwell’s tricks. Lady Touchwood tries to disguise herself as Cynthia; but in the end Maskwell is exposed as the double-dealer, and Mellefont and Cynthia are to marry.
Congreve’s Love for Love opened on April 30, 1695. Sir Sampson Legend has two sons. Valentine has wasted money and is deeply in debt, and Ben is a sailor. Valentine is in love with wealthy Angelica and wants to write plays, but his servant Jeremy warns that his father will disinherit him. Valentine with his friend Scandal blackmails old Trapland into forgiving his debt. Valentine also learns that by giving his rights to his brother Ben he would get £4,000. Foresight wants to marry his daughter from the country to Ben, but his niece Angelica disapproves of his belief in astrology. Foresight objects to her friendship with Valentine, and she reacts by suggesting his second wife is unfaithful. Sampson has arranged for his son Ben to marry Foresight’s daughter Prue. Valentine complains that his father disowned him and asks how he could be freed of debt. Mrs. Foresight and her sister Mrs. Frail accuse each other of indiscretions. Mrs. Frail wants to marry Ben and asks for her sister’s help. Prue is attracted to the dandy Tattle, and the sisters urge him to court her. Knowing Prue is promised to Ben, he gives her a lesson in love until her nurse intervenes.
Ben returns from a voyage and says he is not interested in marriage, but Frail’s flattery changes his mind. Ben and Prue talk and admit they do not like each other. Scandal pretends to know astrology to influence Foresight and persuades him that the time is not favorable for Valentine to give up his inheritance nor for Ben to wed Prue. Scandal likes Mrs. Foresight. Ben and Frail fall in love and plan to marry. Angelica learns from Scandal that Valentine is ill, and she goes to visit him but suspects a trick and leaves. Sampson and the lawyer Buckram want Valentine to sign documents, but Jeremy says he is not in his right mind. Sampson intrudes anyway, and Valentine pretends to be crazy. When Frail learns that Ben will not inherit the entire estate, she breaks off the engagement. Sampson wants to marry and beget a new heir. Mrs. Foresight and Jeremy contrive to get Valentine to marry Frail by disguising her as Angelica; but Jeremy tells Valentine, and they with Scandal trick Frail into wedding Tattle. Angelica asks Sampson to pretend to wed her to bring Valentine out of his madness, but he offers to sign over his inheritance. Angelica realizes he loves her and tears up the document that Sampson gave her. She declares her love for Valentine, and old Sampson and Foresight try to console each other.
Congreve’s The Way of the World opened in March 1700. He was so disappointed by the reception that he never wrote another play. Mirabell is in love with Lady Wishfort’s niece Millamant. Fainall is having an affair with Mrs. Marwood but is jealous of her love for Mirabell. Mrs. Fainall is Wishfort’s daughter and was Mirabell’s mistress and still loves him. Lady Wishfort has a grudge against Mirabell because he pretended to love her. To gain her consent to his marriage to her niece Millamant, Mirabel has his servant Waitwell pretend to be his uncle Sir Rowland and court Lady Wishfort, but first he lets Waitwell marry Wishfort’s maid Foible. Fainall wants Wishfort’s money to go to his wife and plots with jealous Mrs. Marwood to make sure that Mirabell does not marry Millamant. She is very independent and tells Mirabell what she will expect from a husband. He is already in love with her faults, and she also accepts his conditions. Foible urges Lady Wishfort to marry Rowland. Lady Wishfort decides that Millamant should marry her cousin Sir Wilfull Witwood. Mrs. Marwood learns that Rowland is a trick and informs Lady Wishfort, and she discharges Foible and tells Mrs. Fainall that her husband is having an affair with Mrs. Marwood. Prosecuted by his wife, Fainall gets her property put in his name because of her alleged affair with Mirabell. Fainall has Waitwell arrested and tries to blackmail Lady Wishfort into opposing her niece’s marriage and transferring her money to him. Mirabell frees Waitwell, and Foible and Millamant’s maid Mincing help Mirabell expose the manipulations of Mrs. Marwood and Fainall. Proof arises that Mrs. Fainall had transferred her estate to Mirabell who returns it to her. Her honor cleared, Lady Wishfort approves the marriage of Millamant and Mirabell. This later comedy shows how money matters have become more important in relationships.
Colley Cibber (1671-1757) was the father of ten children, a comical actor who performed about 130 roles, and a theater manager for 24 years. He also wrote 25 plays and his autobiography. His first play, Love's Last Shift, or The Fool in Fashion, was a great success in January 1696 with Cibber playing the foppish Sir Novelty Fashion. Beginning the trend toward morality and sentimental comedy, it played more than two hundred times by 1773.
In Love's Last Shift Ned Loveless with his servant Snap has just returned to England, and he hopes to get £500 more from Sir William Wisewoud for his mortgaged estate. He heard his wife is dead. Young Worthy is in love with William’s daughter Narcissa and gives Snap and Loveless a pound each. His brother, the Elder Worthy, considers marrying William’s niece Hillaria, and his younger brother tries to persuade him to do so. Amanda is still mourning the loss of her wayward husband, and Young Worthy tells her that Loveless is back in town. They devise a scheme to trick Loveless into thinking he is seeing a prostitute, but she will be Amanda. Sir Novelty provides humor with his excessive concern for clothes. He also wants to court Narcissa, but Sir William turns him away. William refuses to fight two bullies by controlling his anger, and the two young couples bring sentinels to remove the bullies. When Amanda sees Loveless, they embrace. He says love is only great when it is new, and so he often changes, though he finds that love and wine are best enjoyed separately. He tells Amanda how he had to leave his complaining wife because of gambling debts and extravagance. She says that she loves only her husband which he does not understand. She asks for his views on virtue and about a man who would abandon his wife for deceitful prostitutes, but she seeks no revenge and prays to convert him. Then she tells him that the raptures of love he enjoyed with her last night were in his Amanda’s arms. He is confused by his guilt and confesses he wronged her. He accepts her pardon, revives his love, and seizes his happiness, kneeling and thanking her. Loveless tells Snap he will give him money and get him honest employment so that he can marry the woman he met. The Worthy brothers have married Narcissa and Hillaria, and they have reached financial understandings with Sir William. In the epilogue Love sits on a throne and speaks to Reason, Honor, Fame, and Marriage, and finally Loveless says that the greatest joy on earth “is the chaste rapture of a virtuous love.”
John Vanbrugh (1664-1726) served in the army and was imprisoned in France for espionage for four years. His first play, The Relapse, or Virtue in Danger, is a sequel to Cibber’s Love's Last Shift and was produced in November 1696. The virtue and fidelity of Loveless and Amanda are tested by a visit to tempting London. Novelty Fashion has become Lord Foppington, and Cibber played the role. Only one Worthy appears in the sequel.
Loveless begins the play with the thought, “How true is that philosophy which says our heaven is seated in our minds!” He is pleased with lawful love, and his life is smooth. His virtuous wife Amanda is concerned about his visits to London because of its “insinuating pleasures;” but he persuades her to move to town, for he has seen a pretty lady at a play. That lady is Amanda’s cousin Berinthia and calls on her. While she is there, Foppington visits Loveless and Amanda, flirting with both ladies. When he kisses Amanda’s hand, she boxes him on the ear. Loveless draws his sword and in the fight runs him through his guts. A doctor is called in and exaggerates the wound to raise his fee. Worthy arrives, and Berinthia comments on lovers these days who are too honorable to be underhanded; many fools can be strung along for months without granting great favors. Amanda tells her she loves only her husband, but Berinthia suggests that if he abandoned her again, she might change her mind. Amanda invites her to stay while they are in town. Fashion has mortgaged his annuity and asks his older brother Foppington for a loan and is refused. He wonders how a man who cannot live on £5,000 a year expects him to get by on £200. Fashion wants a duel, but Foppington refuses to fight.
In the garden Loveless kisses Berinthia, and arriving Worthy sees his former mistress kissed again. Berinthia says she likes intrigues but prays they grow weary of them at the same time to avoid melancholy. Worthy asks her to help him have an affair with Amanda, and he will assist Berinthia with hers. She tells Worthy that Amanda thinks he is handsome and discreet, but she notes that in intrigues women use “hypocrisy, invention, deceit, flattery, mischief, and lying.” The irony is that Amanda does not know that Berinthia is the lady her husband desires.
The match-maker Coupler tells Fashion that he arranged for Foppington to marry Sir Tunbelly’s daughter Miss Hoyden, but he gives Fashion a letter to Tunbelly who lets him see her. Hoyden tells her nurse she may not love Fashion; but she would be glad to marry him so that she can flaunt it in London. Her father accepts the match, and she tells Fashion she will obey her father and him. He says that is when they are married, and until then he will obey her. She says she would like it the other way. He is pleased that her estate will afford him maintenance. They agree to wed privately tomorrow and publicly in a week. Loveless hides in Berinthia’s closet. She finds him there, and he carries her to a couch. Parson Bull has married Fashion and Hoyden with the nurse as a witness. Fashion’s servant Lory comes in and warns him that his brother is there with twenty servants. Fashion tells Tunbelly that people are disguised as servants, and the intruder should be arrested. Tunbelly and his servants lock up Foppington’s valet, and the incoming servants run away. Tunbelly orders a warrant drawn up for trying to rob him of his daughter, and Foppington is tied down. Foppington says that Fashion is a worthless rascal. Lory and Fashion escape as Sir John Friendly is called in to vouch for Foppington. Tunbelly releases him and offers him his daughter. She talks to her nurse and the parson who says disobeying her father would be worse than a second marriage. Coupler tells Fashion he is soon to be a cuckold and reads him a letter from his brother. Worthy consults with Berinthia and then tries to win Amanda who remains virtuous, awakening him to a higher love. Tunbelly invites them all to a banquet, and Fashion has Parson Bull and the nurse testify that his wedding is valid. Because it came first, all agree it is lawful.
Jeremy Collier (1650-1726) earned his B.A. in 1673 and M.A. in 1676 at the University of Cambridge. In 1677 he was ordained a priest. He supported King James II and declined to swear allegiance to William III in 1689, and a pamphlet he wrote led to his being imprisoned at Newgate for several months. In November 1692 he was suspected of treasonable correspondence but was jailed for only ten days. After absolving Sir John Friend and Sir William Parkyns on the scaffold for attempting to assassinate William III, Collier was outlawed and fled. He soon returned to London and published more of his writing.
In 1698 Collier published his famous Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage, focusing his attacks on plays by Wycherley, Dryden, Congreve, Vanbrugh, and D’Urfey, accusing them of indecency, profanity, abuse of clerics, and harming public morality by presenting vice sympathetically. His complaints were probably shared by many readers, but strong responses were published the same year by John Vanbrugh, William Congreve, and others. They argued that the immorality depicted in the theatre did not cause the corruption of morals but merely reflected them so that audiences could see them and correct them. Nonetheless the morality portrayed by English actors was changing from vicious characters who often got away with their errant ways to more sentimental comedies and the expression of middle-class values, and these kind of plays would dominate English theatre in the 18th century.
In 1704 Cibber wrote an even better comedy, The Careless Husband. Cibber based the character of Betty Modish on the strong personality of the actress Nan Oldfield who played the part, and Cibber played the witty Lord Foppington. This romantic comedy was revived in 1742 and had more than three hundred performances by the end of the century.
Lady Easy is aware that her husband Charles is having an affair with her servant Edging. However, she intends to ignore it until proof will expose his misdeeds; then she can forgive him. Edging tells the Lady that she found a letter to Sir Charles Easy from a mistress, and Lady Easy reprimands her for reading it. Charles asks Edging for a kiss, and she gives him the letter she knows is from Lady Graveairs. She accuses him of treating everybody as he does his wife, and he shakes her and threatens her. Charles asks his wife why her virtue has not kept him to herself. If he carries on with Graveairs, his wife says she will cry but speak kindly to him. He says he may have an affair with Edging, though he is becoming weary of other women too.
Lord Morelove loves Lady Betty Modish; but she puts him off, and he asks Charles for advice. He suggests Morelove provoke her by matching her pride. Charles warns him that women are beginning to laugh with Lord Foppington instead of at him. Lady Easy tells Betty that only beauty of the mind gives lasting value. Betty believes the only merit in men is sense, and the greatest value of a woman is her beauty, a source of power. Lady Easy tells Betty that Foppington loves all women but is married; Morelove loves only her. Men now attack a woman’s virtue by toasting her vanity. Charles wants to end his affair like a chancery suit. He plans to be cold to Graveairs so that she will not want to see him again. Foppington is losing at cards with Betty and hopes to buy her with her own money. He confesses that he married to pay his debts and to disinherit his younger brother. He admits he never loved one woman; he gets them with his clothes or buys them. He believes giving one’s heart to a woman is like giving a sword to a bully and that courage is the key to making love.
Graveairs tells Charles not to call on her anymore and asks for her letters. He says he would rather talk to his solicitor and cares not for a woman who is not obedient; he can no longer love her. Betty tries to get her snuffbox back from Foppington. Morelove says a woman’s face often hides her heart, and a beautiful form causes mischief. Betty doubts he is in love, and he replies that her indifference has caused his. She has become so affected that he cannot judge her thoughts. Betty tells Lady Easy that Morelove only pleases her when he lets her misuse him and cannot bear it. Charles tells Betty that she loves to hurt people, but he would like to be her lover for a month or two. He notes that her life is using and abusing people with her power. Charles warns her that Morelove’s resentment may lead to revenge, but she hopes to see him within her power one more time. Betty says rejected lovers can always find “neglected wives, stale maids, or charitable widows.” Lady Easy advises Betty that dwindling power becomes foolish and observes that she loves Morelove enough to marry him. Charles counsels Morelove to throw himself into Betty’s power so that he can force her into his.
Charles asks Edging to bring his night gown and talk him to sleep. Lady Easy finds her husband without his periwig sleeping next to Edging in chairs, and she covers his head with her scarf. Later Charles sends Edging from the room and confesses his wayward behavior to his wife and asks how they can be reconciled. She says his honesty made him careless, and he realizes her virtues give her a higher value than he realized. Her wondrous conduct has woke him up, and he asks her to receive his conquered heart. She knows he had other lovers, and he shows her his letter to Graveairs ending their relationship. Betty tells Lady Easy that Charles is her enemy because he caused her conflict with Morelove, who asks Betty to persuade him why she treated him as she did. She is moved to do so, and he begs for her pardon. Charles advises Betty not to give a soft look and make promises she breaks; she must part with her pride to keep him. She admits to Morelove that she used Foppington as a tool, but she still fears Charles as her enemy. Morelove confesses his complicity with Charles, and she accepts blame and asks for pardon. Charles explains that he made her fear losing Morelove to alarm her pride, and he asks them to laugh about it now. They laugh, and Morelove admits he was in on the plan. Charles tells Graveairs that he has returned to the best of wives, and Lady Easy invites her to dine with them. Finally Charles recognizes that exalted virtue shamed him into finding true love.
George Farquhar (1677-1707) was born in Londonderry, and educated in Ireland. He gave up acting in Dublin after accidentally wounding another actor with a real sword. He moved to London and began writing plays. He became an officer in the army and served in Holland in 1700. He wrote eight comedies and “A Discourse on Comedy.” His second play, The Constant Couple, or A Trip to the Jubilee (1699) was a sentimental comedy and a theatrical success. In this play Sir Harry Wildair is more virtuous than the libertine rakes of earlier Restoration comedies. His sentimental comedy Twin Rivals (1702) has been called a “black farce,” but it was not very popular. After recruiting in Lichfield and Shrewsbury in 1705-06 he wrote his two greatest plays, The Recruiting Officer and The Beaux’ Stratagem.
Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer was produced in 1706. In the Shrewsbury market-place Sergeant Kite appeals to a mob to leave their difficulties and join the army. Captain Plume rejects an attorney because he does not want anyone who can write a petition. Kite tells him that his friend Molly had a baby, and Plume persuades him to marry her as he has done with five other women. Plume’s friend Worthy tells him that he is in love with Melinda; but she has been resisting him, and now she has inherited £20,000. Plume says he has treated her as a goddess, and so she has used him like a dog. Plume says that Silvia and he agreed to go to bed together, but she wants to be married first. He believes that trying the goods ahead prevents elopements and divorces. Kite informs Plume that Silvia sent ten guineas to Molly for baby clothes, and her father Justice Balance would like to see him. Silvia tells Melinda she likes the manly virtues of bravery, knowledge, policy, and justice. Balance tells Plume that Silvia has £1,500, and he can have her. Plume shows Silvia his will that names her as beneficiary. After Balance learns that his son has died, he tells Silvia that she will inherit £1,200 a year. Now he no longer approves of her marrying the captain. She and her father promise that she will not marry unless they both agree, and he sends her off to the country. Balance tears up a letter and tells Worthy that it informs him of Plume’s designs on Silvia. Worthy learns it is from Melinda and saves her signature.
Kite and Plume use various tricks in recruiting. Pretty Rose and her brother Bullock sell chickens to Plume, who takes her to his lodging to get the money. Bullock complains that Plume pressed his sister, and Justice Balance tells Kite to discharge her. Captain Brazen brags about his war experience and tells Melinda he loves her, making Worthy jealous. When Brazen draws his sword, Melinda runs off with Worthy. Silvia appears dressed as a man and says she is Jack Wilful. Brazen offers her a drink, but Plume says he will lie with her and kisses her. She says she will enlist with Plume, being a freeborn Englishman and choosing that slavery. Kite explains to Silvia that officers kiss each other. Brazen and Plume fight as Kite holds back Silvia. Then Brazen embraces Plume. Silvia kisses Rose and her brother. Silvia says men promise anything before, but Rosa says Plume promised to marry her afterward. Silvia as Wilful tells Plume she wants Rosa and asks if she is a virgin. He says she is as far as he knows because his landlady interposed. He says kissing the prettiest wenches helps to enlist the lustiest men. He tells her he will forgive small faults or discharge for a great one because he could not punish this recruit. Silvia tells her captain that she will sleep with Rose. Melinda’s maid Lucy is helping her win Worthy and manages to attract Brazen. Worthy feels put off by Melinda, but Plume assures him that her anger shows she loves him madly.
Kite pretends to be a fortune-teller and recruits a smith and a butcher. Plume and Worthy hiding hear him arrange a meeting for Worthy with Melinda, and Kite predicts that Brazen will marry tomorrow. Rose complains that sleeping with Silvia ruined her for nothing, and a constable with a mob arrests them. They are taken to Justice Balance’s house, and Silvia describes how soldiers quickly “marry” by jumping over a sword. Worthy and Melinda meet and realize they love each other even though the courtship was rocky. Justices Balance, Scale, and Scruple rule on who is to be recruited or discharged. The Constable brings in Silvia who is charged with rape. Silvia says she is an heir to £1,200 a year and that her father is as good as Balance and warns him not to send her off. A duel between Brazen and Worthy is stopped by Lucy. Plume tells the judges he wants Wilful in his company but discharges her to her father who gives her to marry Plume, who turns over his twenty recruits to Brazen and retires from the army.
Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem opened on March 8, 1707. Cherry tells her father Bonniface, who runs an inn in Lichfield, that a coach has arrived from London. The beau Archer is acting as a servant to the beau Aimwell. They learn that the widow Lady Bountiful has a daughter Dorinda and by a previous husband a son Sullen who recently married a fine lady. Archer believes poverty is a crime, and he and Aimwell have only £200 left which they entrust to Bonniface. Archer uses reason and loves fine things. Cherry and her father think they may be highwaymen because they want their horses kept saddled and ready. Archer flirts with Cherry and kisses her.
At Lady Bountiful’s house Mrs. Sullen complains about her husband’s coming home drunk. She says a husband enslaves his wife in the country, but she would give her husband a rival. Archer likes Cherry because she reads plays. Aimwell goes to church to meet Dorinda. Cloaked Gibbet arrives at the inn with stolen money and jewels. Archer asks Cherry about love, and she gives charming answers. He says he is a gentleman; but she will not sleep with him unless he marries her. Mrs. Sullen believes that women should be as free in their friendships as men. Archer drinks with the servant Scrub and tells him Aimwell wounded a man in a duel and is hiding. Scrub desires the servant Gipsey but fears she is a whore and a papist. Mrs. Sullen tells Dorinda that Lord Aimwell is rich, and Archer pleases Mrs. Sullen with a song. Mrs. Sullen quarrels with her husband who goes out. Count Bellair tries to seduce her, and Sullen comes back with a sword; but she threatens him with pistol, and he says he hates Frenchmen and leaves. Archer reports how Aimwell has collapsed. He is carried in on a chair, and Lady Bountiful takes care of him. Aimwell was pretending and romances Dorinda. She tells Mrs. Sullen that Aimwell offered marriage, and Mrs. Sullen admits she loves Archer. Aimwell detects that Foigard is Irish and arrests him as a traitor, and Archer realizes that Foigard is his cousin.
Bonniface, Gibbet, Hounslow, and Bagshot come in to rob the Bountiful house. Sir Charles Freeman arrives to see his sister Mrs. Sullen and tells her husband that minds master bodies, and Sullen agrees that then he and his wife are not one. Archer tells Mrs. Sullen that he loves her, kisses her, and carries her off; but she cries, “Thieves!” Scrub comes in, and Archer draws his sword; but Scrub says thieves are in the house. They hide behind a bed. Archer takes a pistol from Gibbet; Hounslow drags in Lady Bountiful; and Bagshot has Dorinda; but Aimwell and Archer with help from Dorinda, the Lady, and Mrs. Sullen manage to disarm the robbers and bind them. Archer has Mrs. Sullen dress his wound and is alarmed that Charles, who knows him, will undo them. Aimwell confesses to Dorinda that he usurped his older brother’s title, and she appreciates his honesty. Then he learns that his brother has died, and he has inherited £10,000 which he offers to Archer. Charles says he will separate his sister from Sullen, and the couple show how they disagree on so many things except to part. The others act as judges, and by their consent they are freed to celebrate the separation and the engagement of Aimwell and Dorinda. In the epilogue the dying poet asks for applause, and Farquhar died the next month at the age of thirty.
Nicholas Rowe was born June 20, 1674, the son of a lawyer, and inherited his fortune in 1693. He gave up law and took up poetry and wrote eight plays. In 1709 Rowe published the first modern edition of Shakespeare’s works in six volumes, combining the best elements of the folio with the quartos and dividing the plays into scenes and acts. He served as under-secretary to James Douglas, 2nd Duke of Queensbury, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland 1709-11. Like John Banks, Rowe wrote tragedies with female protagonists, and Rowe was the first to call them “she-tragedies.” His first tragedy, The Ambitious Step-Mother, was set in ancient Persia and was produced in 1700. The next year his Tamerlane depicted the cruel conqueror as heroic for defeating the Turks. This historical drama was so successful in reminding the English of the Whigs’ hero King William III that it was performed annually on November 4-5 to commemorate William’s birthday and his landing in England in 1688.
Rowe’s domestic tragedy, The Fair Penitent, is adapted from Philip Massinger’s The Fatal Dowry and opened in March 1703. In Genoa the noble Sciolto has arranged for his daughter Calista to marry Altamont whose friend Horatio notes that Altamont aided Sciolto against their enemy, Lothario’s father. Lothario tells his servant Rossano that he likes Calista and would have married her, but her father refused. Lothario visited her room and spent a night with her in fierce ecstasies. She wanted to elope with him; but when he put her off, she vowed to never see him again. Yet she sends her confidant Lucilla with a letter for Lothario. Lucilla asks him to meet Calista tomorrow morning, and he agrees; but he drops the letter. Horatio finds it, and his wife, Altamont’s sister Lavinia, suspects something is wrong. Calista wants to see Lothario once more, and she tells Altamont that they are not well matched. Horatio finds Lothario and accuses him of staining Calista’s honor. Horatio is ready to strike him, but Rossano intervenes. Lothario agrees to meet Horatio at the same time as he is to see Calista. She tells her father how women suffer from men in this pioneering feminist passage:
How hard is the condition of our sex!
Through ev’ry state of life the slaves of man.
In all the dear delightful days of youth
A rigid father dictates to our wills
And deals out pleasure with a scanty hand.
To his, the tyrant husband’s reign succeeds:
Proud with opinion of superior reason,
He holds domestic bus’ness and devotion
All we are capable to know, and shuts us,
Like cloistered idiots, from the world’s acquaintance
And all the joys of freedom. Wherefore are we
Born with high souls but to assert ourselves,
Shake off this vile obedience they exact,
And claim an equal empire o’er the world?4
Horatio urges Calista not to see Lothario anymore and shows her the letter he found, but she tears it up and tells him not to meddle in her life. Altamont arrives and asks what is wrong. She says no force can drag her to his bed nor will her father shut her in a cloister. Horatio tells Altamont that she has ruined him. They quarrel and begin to fight, but Lavinia rushes in and steps between them. Horatio considers his friend ungrateful, and Altamont withdraws his hospitality. Horatio affirms his love for Lavinia.
Lothario tries to rekindle love with Calista, but she foresees weeping, anguish, and repentance and asks if he wants her to be a slave to base desires. She has lost her honor, and Sciolto and Altamont seek vengeance. Altamont comes forward and fights Lothario who is wounded and dies. Calista tries to kill herself, but Altamont stops her. Sciolto arrives and offers to slay his daughter, but Altamont holds him back. She wants to die but will flee to a dismal place. A servant reports a band of rioters in the street, and Lavinia comes in with two armed servants, followed by Horatio and more servants with swords. Lavinia urges them to stop hating and be friends. Horatio notes that British husbands are more tolerant than Italians. Altamont collapses, and Lavinia revives him.
In the last act Calista is reading a book on penitence and throws it down. Her father comes in and asks why she turned against him. She says she loved because she is a woman. Altamont arrives and suggests their joys may begin again, but she wants to die. Horatio reports that Sciolto provoked a fight and is dying. Calista stabs herself, and her father forgives her. They each ask for mercy and die. Altamont looks forward to his grave and is carried off. Finally Horatio ends the play with the advice that virtue protects marriage. Yet these violent Italians might have benefited from some English patience.
Rowe’s Tragedy of Jane Shore,based on later portions of Thomas Heywood’s Edward IV Part 2, was produced in 1714 and was Rowe’s longest running play. Duke Richard of Gloucester has been made protector of the kingdom after the death of King Edward IV who had taken Jane Shore as his mistress. His children Edward and Richard of York are being held in the Tower.
Catesby warns Gloucester about Hastings, and Ratcliffe mentions fair Alicia. Hastings comes in and pleads for Shore’s unhappy wife Jane who is mourning Edward. Her lands have been seized by Gloucester’s order, but he says he has protected her helpless beauty and agrees to hear her. Alicia calls upon Jane who tells her she is now poor and her hope is in Hastings. Jane gives Alicia her jewels so that she may relieve her later. Jane notes that women receive partial justice while men are lawless libertines. If women stray into pleasure, they are reproached with endless shame. Alice releases her jealousy and rage on Hastings who condemns her passion. Jane asks Hastings to plead her case to Gloucester at the court. She has been humbled to the dust and regrets her polluted past, but she rejects his advances and would rather die than go back into pollution. When Hastings tries to drag her to her chamber, her servant Dumont comes in and stops him. They fight with swords, and Hastings is disarmed and leaves. Dumont urges her to leave the city and says Bellmour has found her a peaceful place.
At court jealous Alicia has a paper, and Jane says that Bellmour has been imprisoned for defending her. Jane gives her paper to Alicia, who switches it with hers which she hands to Jane. After Jane and Alicia leave, Gloucester reads the paper which warns him that Jane has persuaded Hastings to support Edward’s sons instead of him. Hastings says he wants to possess Jane and asks for Richard’s help. Richard feels the state is out of tune with fears and jealous doubts, scorn for government, and broken public trust, threatening rebellion. Gloucester concludes that England will not be well “while children govern.” He suggests changing the order of succession, and Hastings warns that that could cause civil war. He makes clear he is not against Gloucester, and they embrace. Ratcliffe and Catesby urge Gloucester to make Jane obey him. He tells Jane he will shield her, and she says she has given charity to the poor. He notes that some believe she meddles in state affairs. He advises her to use her beauty well with Hastings so that she may regain her land; but then he declares that he is taking power from Edward’s sons even though Hastings opposes. Jane pleads for the royal children and hopes Hastings will help them. Gloucester warns her not to thwart him and sends her off to her paramour and orders her to make him obey his will. She says she will plead for injured innocence. He threatens and curses her, but she would rather wander friendless than wrong the orphans. He orders her spurned to perish on a dunghill, proclaiming “that none on pain of death presume to give her comfort, food, or harbour.” All her possessions and wealth are seized. She asks only for forgiveness and is escorted out. Gloucester meets with his Council and orders rebels punished, blames his deformed arm on sorcery by Edward’s wife, and orders Hastings arrested and executed for treason.
Alicia confesses to Hastings that she told Gloucester that Shore’s wife plotted with him. Hastings curses her, and she admits she brought vengeance on them both. He suggests mutual forgiveness and does not blame her for his death. Alicia rages on and wants Jane to share her suffering. Bellmour tells Shore that his wife is wandering barefoot, and Shore says he will help her despite the risk. Jane is followed by a guard who enforces his inhuman office. She calls on Alicia and says she has not eaten for three days. Alicia rejects her and accuses her of murdering Hastings. Jane begs for mercy, but Alicia runs off. Bellmour tells Jane that Dumont is Shore and has come to help her. She faints, and they revive her. Shore says they will find a shelter, and he gives her food. Catesby arrives with a guard and arrests Shore and Bellmour for aiding her. Jane asks her husband to forgive her. He does so, and she dies. In the Epilogue Rowe wrote,
If the reforming stage should fall to shaming
Ill-nature, pride, hypocrisy, and gaming,
The poets frequently might move compassion,
And with she-tragedies o’errun the nation.
Rowe’s last play, The Tragedy of Lady Jane Grey, was performed in 1715, the year a Jacobite rebellion began. Jane Grey was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s younger sister Mary and daughter of Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk. She married Guilford Dudley on May 25, 1553. Before 15-year-old Edward VI died on July 6, he named Jane Grey as his successor. She reigned for nine days before forces supporting her led by her father-in-law John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, were defeated by those favoring Henry VIII’s daughter Mary. Rowe was a Protestant and based his play on Bishop Burnet’s History of the Reformation, The Innocent Usurper by John Banks, and probably Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. In the play Jane’s mother, Duchess Frances Brandon of Suffolk, abdicates her claim to the throne and declares Lady Jane queen by heaven’s decree and Edward’s will. The Duke of Northumberland persuades her to agree so that the Catholic Mary will not become queen. Jane accepts the difficult responsibilities and says she is willing to die for her faith and to save her country from “tyranny and Rome.” Guilford Dudley learns that Northumberland wants to kill the Earl of Pembroke, who also had wanted to marry Jane, for plotting with Bishop Gardiner; but he frees Pembroke even though he knows that he will aid the armies fighting for Mary. Jane is in the Tower and reads the arguments of Socrates for immortality in Plato’s Phaedo. The armies of Sussex are advancing, but Jane asks Guilford not to fight but courageously accept their adverse fate. After spending nine months in the Tower they are condemned to death. Pembroke brings news of a reprieve; but Bishop Gardiner persuades Queen Mary to insist that Lady Jane and Guilford “turn apostate.” Pembroke promises he will try to reverse this and says, “Thy narrow soul knows not the god-like glory of forgiving.” (V, i) Guilford refuses to convert and is led away, and Jane faints. Before her execution she prays that her blood will never rise or call for vengeance, and she hopes that she will be the last “victim to zeal’s inhuman wrath.”
Joseph Addison was born May 1, 1672, and he attended Charterhouse School where he met Richard Steele in 1686. The next year he went to Queen’s College in Oxford, and in 1689 he earned a scholarship at Magdalen College for his Latin verse. Addison wrote poetry and essays, and in 1706 he began serving as Undersecretary of State. In 1708 he was elected to Parliament and became secretary to the Earl of Wharton, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He often contributed to the Tatler 1709-10, and on March 1, 1711 with Richard Steele he co-founded The Spectator, a daily paper.
Addison’s tragedy Cato opened on April 14, 1713 and ran for thirty nights. The play was popular for a century and was praised by Voltaire as England’s first “rational tragedy.” Patriots Patrick Henry and Nathan Hale paraphrased passages from Cato in their famous quotes, and George Washington had the tragedy played for his soldiers at Valley Forge in 1777. The Stoic senator Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis (95–46 BC) was called “the Younger” to distinguish him from his great-grandfather Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 BC) who was a senator, historian, and censor. Addison’s tragedy portrays the last days of Cato in April 46 BC in Utica. Addison created romantic interest with fictional dramatization of Cato’s sons Marcus and Portius competing for the love of Lucia, daughter of Senator Lucius, and King Juba II of Mauretania a rival against Senator Sempronius for the affections of Cato’s daughter Marcia. Actually Juba was a child at the time, and his father Juba I died after Cato, though Juba II did become a capable ruler of Numidia under Octavian. Syphax was a Numidian king who allied with the Romans against the Carthaginians in 213 BC. The play was popular because Whigs could identify Cato with the Duke of Marlborough while the Tories thought that the Duke was more like Julius Caesar.
Alexander Pope wrote the Prologue to Cato which begins,
To wake the soul by tender strokes of art,
To raise the genius and to mend the heart,
To make mankind in conscious virtue bold,
Love o’er each scene and be what they behold.
Julius Caesar has defeated Pompey’s army at Pharsalia, taken Egypt, and advanced toward Utica. Portius and Marcus agree that their father Cato has fought for honor, virtue, and Rome against oppression, tyranny, and usurped power; but now he has only a small Senate and a weak Numidian army to withstand Caesar’s powerful forces. Senator Sempronius is upset because Cato denies him his daughter Marcia. So he and Syphax plan a revolt. Juba believes Romans have civilized the world with wisdom, discipline, and liberal arts, and he admires Cato; but Syphax hates his pride. Juba loves Marcia for her virtue. Lucia tells Marcia that she prefers Portius. Cato laments that Romans have killed thousands, and Senator Lucius also favors peace with Caesar. Cato warns against fear in public councils and hopes that Numidians will rise up for their prince. Decius comes from Caesar’s camp, offers Cato peace, and asks for his terms. Cato demands that Caesar disband his legions, restore the commonwealth to liberty, and submit his actions to the judgment of the Roman Senate, and he offers to speak for Caesar’s pardon. Cato says he is greater than Caesar because he is a friend of virtue, but Decius reminds him of his situation in Utica. Cato says Caesar can never buy him and wishes he would make good use of his “ill-gotten power.” Decius is disappointed and leaves. Sempronius and Lucius thank Cato. Juba asks Cato for his daughter, but he replies that now is a time to talk of “liberty or death.” Syphax suggests that Juba could abduct Marcia, but Juba rejects that dishonor and calls Syphax a traitor. Syphax tells Sempronius that Juba is with Cato, and he suggests that Caesar might give Marcia to him.
Marcus asks Portius to intervene for him with Lucia, but she admits that she loves him, not Marcus. He reports to Marcus that she does not think of love and pities him. Sempronius leads a mutiny, but Cato dissuades them. Sempronius has changed sides and offers to torture them, but Cato tells him to kill only the leaders. Sempronius orders the tongues of the leaders torn out before their executions. Syphax plans with Sempronius how to take Marcia. She loves Juba but will obey her father. Sempronius disguises himself as Juba, but in a fight Juba kills him. Lucia and Marcia find the body and think it is Juba. He overhears Marcia say she loved Juba and comes forward, and they embrace. Portius tells Cato that Syphax attacked the gate held by Marcus, and Cato sends him to help his brother. Juba arrives and tells Cato he is ashamed of the Numidians. Then Portius reports that Marcus is dead, though he killed Syphax. Cato says, “What a pity it is that we can die but once to serve our country.” He laments the fall of Rome to cursed ambition and urges his family to pray for Rome. He says ships will take those who wish to leave. In the last act Cato is reading Plato’s Phaedo about immortality, and he tells Portius he will never die. He goes to rest in sleep. Juba tells Lucius that the Numidian army is ready. They go to wake Cato, but Portius reports that Pompey’s son has arrived and is calling for vengeance for his father’s death. They hear a groan and find that Cato has fallen on his sword. He tells Marcia that Jubal loves her. Cato speaks to the “powers that search the heart of man” and says that they are good as he dies.
1. Aureng-Zebe by John Dryden, II, i.
2. The Libertine 3:2:118-9 by Thomas Shadwell in Libertine Plays of the Restoration ed. Gillian Manning.
3. A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf (London, 1984), p. 61.
4. The Fair Penitent by Nicholas Rowe, I, i, 40-53 in The Broadview Anthology of Restoration & Early Eighteenth-Century Drama.