Love for Love
- AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY
- PLOT SUMMARY
- HISTORICAL CONTEXT
- CRITICAL OVERVIEW
- FURTHER READING
WILLIAM CONGREVE 1695
Love for Love, by the well-known Restoration dramatist William Congreve, is a racy, broad, farcical comedy, which relies on mistaken impressions, disguises, and deception for much of its humor. Yet it is not the kind of silly drawing-room drama of wit many people imagine Restoration comedies to be. Underlying its complicated plot and clever dialogue is a serious exploration of such themes as good government, sexual ethics, gender roles, the complications of sophisticated society, and the difference between being and seeming.
Love for Love is one of Congreve’s two best-known plays, the other being The Way of the World (1700). In each play, Congreve uses sexual gamesmanship to explore and satirize the complexities and duplicities of his society. The play is also “metatheatre,” or theatre that is a comment on theatre itself. Many of the characters are playacting parts to each other, and the dialogue negotiates the arena of sexual conquest, gender relations, and the exchanges inherent when marriage is part of a play. Moreover, Congreve’s play enters into a conversation with the theatre of its time; Love for Love is a response to an earlier popular play, Love for Money. Arriving as a writer late in the Restoration period, Congreve uses the stage to comment upon an increasingly complex society and class structure that often seemed frivolous.
William Congreve was born on January 24,1670, in the town of Bardsey in Yorkshire, England. By 1672, the family had moved to London; in 1674, the family relocated to the Irish port town of Youghal, where Congreve’s father served as a lieutenant in the British army. Growing up in Ireland, Congreve attended Kilkenny College, where Jonathan Swift was a few years ahead of him. In 1686, Congreve matriculated at Trinity College in Dublin, where he developed an interest in the sensual pleasures of life. Perhaps more importantly, it was while at Trinity that Congreve became a devotee of the theatre. He likely attended the Smock Alley Theatre, which ran plays that recently had success in London.
In 1689, Congreve left Trinity and Dublin for London. He entered the Middle Temple, an institution that allowed men to study the law and, significantly, to enter into London society. At the time, coffeehouses were the rage in London. Fashionable men congregated there to read pamphlets, broadsides, and other publications about news and politics; they also came there to socialize and to form salons and circles. Congreve quickly became a member of one of the literary circles that met at Will’s Coffeehouse, in the Covent Garden district (famous to this day for its theatres). In this group, Congreve met the eminent poet, critic, and playwright John Dryden.
Having decided to pursue writing, Congreve quickly finished his first play, The Old Bachelor, and it was first produced at the Drury Lane Theatre in 1693 before being produced by the Theatre Royal. Two other similarly successful plays followed: The Double Dealer (1693), and Love for Love (1695). His later plays, including The Mourning Bride (1697) and his masterpiece The Way of the World (1700), met with less success; critics have suggested that the satire of these plays was too sharp and made audiences uncomfortable. After 1701, he wrote no more plays (except for an adaptation of a Moliere play he undertook with John Vanbrugh and William Walsh in 1704).
For his remaining years he lived, in the words of Voltaire (who met him and wrote about him in his Letters Concerning the English Nation), “upon no other foot than that of a gentleman, who led a life of plainness and simplicity.” He invested in two theatre companies, neither of which brought him much money, and he had a small income from government sinecures (posts that require little work but secure a salary). Finally, in 1714, George I named him Secretary to the Island of Jamaica, a post that paid over 700 pounds a year. In his final years he remained an active member of his literary circle, the Kit-Cat Club, but wrote no more. He died in January, 1729, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
The play opens in the chamber of Valentine, a young libertine who is lounging and attempting to avoid his creditors who besiege him with requests for the money he owes them. Valentine and Jeremy, Valentine’s servant, banter briefly about the value of reading philosophy, introducing by the vocabulary they use the theme of economics and exchange that will recur throughout the play. Jeremy complains that the life of the wit and idler has ruined Valentine, but Valentine suggests that he might use his verbal talents in order to write. Scandal, Valentine’s best friend, enters and tells him ironically that using his talents and wit would have him end up more penniless than he is already.
As the scene in Valentine’s chambers continues, Jeremy is called to the door by a series of knocks. When he returns, he informs Valentine that he has turned away creditors, including the nurse of one of Valentine’s illegitimate children. One of the creditors, however, enters. Trapland is a scrivener (a professional writer or scribe) to whom Valentine owes 1,500 pounds, and he is quite eager to be paid. Valentine attempts to distract him by drinking with him. When he insists on pursuing the debt, Scandal threatens him for insulting Valentine’s hospitality. When Trapland leaves, Valentine informs Scandal that he has a solution for his debts: his father has promised him money immediately if he will sign over all of his future inheritance to his brother, Benjamin, a sailor.
Valentine’s acquaintance Tattle arrives, and Scandal and Valentine make fun of his luck with women, eventually lying to him that they know he has had some experience with Mrs. Frail, who is about to arrive. Tattle, to their surprise, admits this, then insists on being sneaked out of the chamber Page 177 | Top of Articlebefore Mrs. Frail arrives. Scandal agrees, but only on the condition that Tattle tell him the names of six other women with whom he has been involved. When Mrs. Frail arrives, she informs the men that Valentine’s brother Benjamin has arrived and that Miss Prue, her niece and Foresight’s daughter, is coming up from the country, for she has been promised to Ben. The act ends with Scandal escorting Mrs. Frail while shopping. He promises to tell Angelica, Valentine’s love interest, that Valentine is considering giving up his inheritance for her sake.
The second act opens in Foresight’s house, where Foresight (Angelica’s uncle) asks his servant where the women of the house might be. Angelica arrives in the room, asking to borrow Foresight’s coach, and Foresight tells his servant to inform Sir Sampson (Valentine’s father) that he will soon call on him. Irritated at Angelica’s desire to ride around town in the carriage, he tells her that her habit of “gadding about” will result in a bad reputation. She responds by intimating that he is practicing witchcraft with the nurse. Angered, he tells her that, although he cannot take her money away, he will ensure that Valentine, her beloved, will be made a pauper. She continues to make fun of him and he responds with his astrological predictions, eventually talking himself into a corner before Angelica leaves.
Sir Sampson enters holding the “deed of conveyance” (the papers that would take away Valentine’s inheritance) in his hand. Sir Sampson and Foresight argue briefly, Foresight maintaining the validity of astronomy and Sir Sampson boasting about his travels around the world. Jeremy enters the room, followed by Valentine. Valentine informs Sir Sampson that he has received the 4,000 pounds but that it is barely enough to pay his debts and asks for more. This infuriates Sir Sampson, who roars that he hopes to see his son hanged. Valentine argues that it was his upbringing that caused him to be prodigal, and for that reason Sir Sampson should support him.
All four men exit just as Mrs. Foresight and Mrs. Frail enter. The two discuss how promiscuous Mrs. Frail appears to society. Mrs. Frail allows that she would like to break up the impending marriage between Benjamin and Miss Prue in order to marry Benjamin herself (she has heard of his imminent fortune). When Tattle and Miss Prue enter, the
sisters attempt to get the two to flirt, which they proceed to do. Tattle is chasing Miss Prue to her bedchamber when the act ends.
When the third act opens, a nurse is banging on Miss Prue’s door, trying to get her to come out. Miss Prue is on the other side of the door with Tattle, who is disgusted that he might have to lie about something he never did. He quickly leaves just as Valentine, Angelica, and Scandal come on stage. Angelica is acting indifferently to Valentine. Tattle enters, and Angelica begins teasing him about his success with women. Sir Sampson, Mrs. Frail, Miss Prue, and a servant enter, announcing that Ben has arrived; in an aside, Miss Prue tells Mrs. Frail that she is not interested in him. Hearing that Benjamin is about to arrive, Valentine leaves with Scandal, who has a plan for him.
Ben enters with a servant and greets his father and all present. Sir Sampson tells Ben that he will be getting married, but he shows little enthusiasm for anything but sea life. All exit except Ben and Miss Prue; he tries to be polite to her, accepting their arranged marriage, but she is not interested in him. When she continues to be rude to him, he curses her. Page 178 | Top of ArticleMrs. Frail and Mrs. Foresight enter to take advantage of the quarrel. Mrs. Foresight escorts a weeping Miss Prue to the parlor and Mrs. Frail takes Ben to her bedchamber, ostensibly so that Sir Sampson and Foresight will not know that the betrothed do not get along.
The two men enter, wondering about the absence of Miss Prue and Ben, when Scandal enters to tell them that Valentine appears to have gone mad. Scandal makes fun of Foresight for his belief in astrology until Mrs. Foresight enters, urging Foresight to come to bed. Scandal whispers to Mrs. Foresight that he has great passion for her; she acts offended but immediately starts telling Foresight that he looks terrible and should take to bed. As he leaves, Mrs. Foresight and Scandal discuss whether a woman can be virtuous. Scandal says that, while it is possible, it is not particularly worth the trouble. As they talk, Mrs. Frail and Ben enter. He sings her a song before they all go off to bed.
Scandal and Jeremy are in Valentine’s chambers, making sure he is ready to appear mad before his father. Angelica and her servant enter, and Jeremy tells them that Valentine has gone mad, but Angelica senses that this is a trick. She pretends to be extremely concerned before exiting. Sir Sampson enters with Buckram, a lawyer, preparing to have Valentine acknowledge the deed of conveyance he has signed. As Jeremy tells Sir Sampson that Valentine is out of his wits, Buckram informs him that this unfortunate circumstance invalidates the deed. They enter Valentine’s room and Valentine pretends to be insane until Buckram leaves. Valentine teases his distraught father, then leaves with Jeremy.
Foresight, Mrs. Foresight, and Mrs. Frail enter, and Scandal and Sir Sampson inform them that Valentine is out of his wits and, consequently, that the deed of conveyance is no longer in effect. Scandal banters with Mrs. Foresight about their encounter of the previous night before he and the Foresights leave. Ben enters, and in his conversation with Mrs. Frail she concludes that he is a fool, utterly devoid of sophistication. As Ben leaves, Mrs. Foresight enters, saying that Foresight has now rejected her and she is setting her sights on Sir Sampson. For her part, she tells Mrs. Frail that she has made a deal with Jeremy: they will bring Mrs. Frail to Valentine in disguise and tell him that Mrs. Frail is Angelica, ensuring a marriage between the two.
Valentine, Scandal, Foresight, and Jeremy enter, Valentine raving insanely. Mrs. Frail pretends to be Angelica. Then Angelica herself enters, followed by Tattle. Jeremy continues pretending to advance the plan of marrying Mrs. Frail to Valentine, but Valentine asks him to encourage everyone to leave so that he can tell Angelica of the plan. The room now empty, Valentine tells Angelica of his design; but Angelica pretends to think he is still mad.
Act 5 opens at Foresight’s house. Angelica is talking to her maid when Sir Sampson enters. The two flirt, and Angelica makes him believe that she is interested in marrying him. Tattle and Jeremy enter; Jeremy suggests that he would like to go to work for Tattle now that Valentine is insane. Miss Prue comes in and attaches herself to Tattle, who attempts to get rid of her. Foresight enters and attempts to interest Tattle in marrying Miss Prue, but Tattle resists. When Tattle leaves, Miss Prue resolves to marry Robin, the butler; Foresight has her locked in her room. Ben enters and informs the company that Angelica and Sir Sampson are to be married. Sir Sampson and Angelica enter with their lawyer, Buckram. When Ben is not sufficiently supportive of his marriage, Sir Sampson curses him.
Tattle and Mrs. Frail enter suddenly, bemoaning that Jeremy has tricked them and that they have unwittingly married each other. Valentine enters, learns of his father’s impending marriage to Angelica, and comes clean, telling Sir Sampson that his insanity was nothing but a sham. Sir Sampson still wants his son to sign the deed of conveyance. Valentine refuses to do it until Angelica certifies that she does, indeed, want to marry Sir Sampson; when she does, he agrees to sign his inheritance over for the sake of her greater happiness. When he does so, she immediately tells him that she was pretending, and that now that he has proven his true love for her she wants to marry him. She upbraids Sir Sampson for being a terrible father and ends the play by speaking to men’s unfair criticisms of women as inconstant and unreliable.
Angelica is Valentine’s beloved, a saucy, independent young woman possessed of “a considerable fortune.” We first see Angelica in her uncle’s Page 179 | Top of Articlehouse, asking her uncle for the loan of his carriage so that she can “gad about” town. During the play, we see her in no affectionate or loving exchanges with Valentine; rather, their scenes together reveal her wit and self-assuredness. She tests Valentine’s love by pretending to desire his father, Sir Sampson, who assures her of his youthful vigor. Like a perfect coquette, she commits to no man, feigning indifference to all.
At the same time that she demonstrates her own wit, Angelica is suspicious of the motivations of witty men, telling Valentine that “She that marries a very Witty Man submits both to the Severity and insolent Conduct of her Husband. I should like a Man of Wit for a Lover, because I would have such a one in my Power; but I would no more be his Wife than his Enemy.” Her role in the play is to “unmask” or reveal the characters’ true natures that lie beneath the pretenses they put on. Through her, we learn that Sir Sampson cares for neither son; because of her, Valentine’s genuinely loving side comes out; her conversation shows Foresight’s astrological ideas to be idiotic. She is by no means “angelic,” but in many ways she is the moral center of the play, for her actions reveal the dishonesties of the other characters.
Jeremy is Valentine’s servant, who jokes about wishing to be released from his contract. Jeremy feels himself to be above servant status and mentions twice that he has been “at Cambridge” (albeit as a servant) and has picked up some education from his master there. Valentine confides in him and uses him to advance his plans. In the first act, he is quite impudent to Valentine, making fun of him and even criticizing his master’s refusal to pay his debts. In act 4, though, it is Jeremy who is the intermediary between Valentine and the people to whom Valentine wishes to appear insane. Jeremy’s purported intelligence and education are generally undercut by the other characters, who scoff at his pretense. In a scene not depicted on stage, we learn that Jeremy is quite clever, indeed: he tricks Tattle and Mrs. Frail into marrying each other, when they both were attempting to trick others into marrying them (Tattle sought Angelica’s hand, while Mrs. Frail pursued Ben).
Foresight is Angelica’s uncle. He is a blowhard obsessed with astrological omens and other such
pseudoscience. From the second act on, he interprets everyone’s comments as veiled knowledge about Mrs. Foresight’s infidelities. His name is clearly ironic: all of his astrological readings and divinations are aimed at providing him with foresight, or a knowledge of the future, but he is probably the least perceptive character in the play.
Mrs. Foresight is Angelica’s aunt. She and Mrs. Frail, who are sisters, attempt to break up the impending marriage between Ben and Miss Prue in order to marry Mrs. Frail to Ben. Like her husband’s name, hers is meant to be ironic, for her plot to marry Mrs. Frail to Ben falls apart because she lacks a sufficient understanding of human nature.
Mrs. Frail is Mrs. Foresight’s sister. She is unmarried and in the market for a husband, and, before the play opens, she has already had an affair with Tattle. However, Mrs. Foresight feels that she behaves much too promiscuously to land a worthy husband. As a result, the two of them hatch a plan to land Ben as a husband for Mrs. Frail. Their plan fails, however, and Mrs. Frail ends up married to Tattle. She is hardly “frail”; she is a calculating and headstrong woman who is not timid about going after what she wants: Ben’s fortune.
Benjamin is Valentine’s brother, a sailor just returned from a three-year voyage. Benjamin is primarily a plot device and an object of fun. His role is that of the “good brother” whom Sir Sampson contrasts with “bad brother” Valentine, who is asked to sign over his future inheritance to Ben. Ben has been directed to marry Miss Prue but has little affection for her. Instead, Mrs. Frail develops a liking for him when she discovers his future fortune. Ben’s primary personal characteristic is his simplicity: he cannot fathom the duplicity, game playing, and plots that underlie all personal relationships among these urban sophisticates. His other important characteristic is his “sea-dog” language, which is a constant source of humor for the audience.
Valentine is a young “rake,” or idle upper-class gentleman. His name alludes to his attraction to the ladies and their attraction to him. He owes a great deal of money to various creditors and has exhausted his father’s patience with his spending. In addition, the play makes it clear that Valentine has done his share of corrupting young women. His most immediate motivations are to avoid paying his debts and to marry the young lady Angelica.
As the play opens and closes with Valentine as the central focus, he is the character most likely to be considered Love for Love’s “protagonist.” He is also the character who comes closest to changing or developing. However, he is absent for much of the play. We see him in his chamber at the beginning, avoiding “duns” (debt collectors)—one of which is a young nurse who attempts to obtain money from him to support one of his illegitimate children—and bantering with his manservant and hatching plans with his friend Scandal. During the course of the play he tries to avoid seeing his father (who wants him to sign his inheritance over to his brother Benjamin) and eventually feigns madness in order to avoid his responsibilities. But at the opening of the play, he is not the typical’ ’rake” character, for he wishes to drop out of society and live as a writer and thinker. His servant Jeremy and his friend Scandal persuade him that this route would be fruitless, however.
By the end, he seems to change. Only at the last minute, when he learns of Angelica’s intent to marry his father, does Valentine abandon his scheme to get as much money as possible from his father, telling Angelica that he is willing to let her go and sign over his inheritance in order to secure her happiness. While his earlier credo may have been “Love for Money” (to quote the title of a contemporary play), when Love for Love ends, Valentine demonstrates that he is indeed willing to pursue love as an end in itself.
Miss Prue is Foresight’s daughter by a previous marriage. She is young, naive, “a silly, awkward, country girl.” Not being sophisticated enough to understand the complicated plots and schemes of the people around her, she falls in love with Tattle, whom she wishes to make her husband. Her father refuses to arrange this, and when she then demands to be married to Robin, the butler, her father locks her in her room. Despite her name, she is neither prudent nor prudish. At the end of the second act, she allows herself to be seduced by Tattle, and, in terms of prudence, she has none, making snap decisions without any concern for their long-term consequences.
Sir Sampson is Benjamin and Valentine’s father. He has a considerable amount of money and resents the fact that Valentine has been running through his estate with his fast living. In response, he offers Valentine a deal: sign over his future inheritance to his brother and Sir Sampson will give him four thousand pounds on the spot. Valentine takes the four thousand pounds in advance but feigns insanity to avoid signing the papers, which infuriates Sir Sampson.
Although at first Sir Sampson seems to feel affection for his son Ben, we learn as the play goes on that he really loves neither son. When Angelica begins to show interest in Sir Sampson, he is ready to write off both sons and spend their money himself. He is a selfish and arrogant man. Sir Sampson’s name puns on the Biblical Samson, who destroyed a house by knocking down its pillars; Sir Sampson is willing to destroy his own house by his utter lack of care and affection for his sons.
Scandal is Valentine’s closest friend. He is a rake like Valentine but less coldhearted than Valentine at first is. When Valentine expresses disgust that the mother of one of his children did not smother the child, Scandal merely expresses his best wishes for his “Godchild” and sends money. Scandal helps Valentine appear insane for the purpose of winning Angelica. His function is to provide Page 181 | Top of Articlea mellowing influence on Valentine, who, without the presence of Scandal, would be a truly reprehensible character until the final scene of the play. Like most of the other names in the play, his is ironic; of the two friends, Scandal and Valentine, Scandal is by far the less scandalous.
Tattle is largely an object of fun in the play. He brags constantly about his success with the ladies; however, his rhetoric is always undercut by reality. He develops an affection for Miss Prue and, by the end of the second act, attempts to seduce her. At the end of the play, he accidentally marries Mrs. Frail, whom he has already debauched.
Trapland is a scrivener, or a professional scribe, to whom Valentine owes money. He shows up in Valentine’s chamber in the first act when Valentine and Jeremy attempt to distract him from his mission.
Gender Roles and Sexual Behavior
Throughout Love for Love, Congreve plays with the limited roles assigned to the genders in upper-class society. Men can be cuckolds, cruel masters, rakes, or provincials, while women can be scheming meddlers, whores, or (rarely) good wives. The crucial characteristic for women is how permissive they are in terms of bestowing their sexual favors; men, however, are judged less by their sexual behavior and more by their “mastery” of the world: their children, finances, servants, and love affairs.
For the contemporary reader approaching Restoration drama for the first time, what is most striking is the “double standard” applied to sexual behavior. Men were encouraged to seduce virgins or other men’s wives, while women who were too promiscuous sexually were considered disreputable. Valentine, for instance, is visited by the nurse of one of his illegitimate children and curses the mother for not killing the child and sparing him the expense of supporting it; Tattle and Scandal both boast of their success with women. The women of the play, however, know to keep their experiences quiet. Ironically, in the comedies of this period, women’s promiscuity is less serious and damaging than it would be in later decades. After the two decades of strict Puritan rule (which strictly enforced conservative sexual behavior), the Restoration witnessed a return to relaxed attitudes about sexual behavior. The underlying joke of most comedy in this period is that men may not be having sex but are always talking about it, while women do the exact opposite.
Dissembling / Role Playing
The Puritans, who took over England in the 1640s, sought to establish God’s rule on earth. Part of the Puritan ethic was a deep mistrust of costumes, disguises, and appearances; for this and other reasons, the theatres were all closed during Puritan rule. But the Puritans were also deeply suspicious of the intrigues, game playing, and stratagems that dominated court and upper-class life in the monarchical system. They wished things to be open to their scrutiny.
The Restoration of 1660 changed all of this. Attempting to make up for twenty years of lost fun and intrigue, courtiers immediately reestablished the complicated and sophisticated society they had enjoyed before. Playwrights, in turn, depicted their intrigues with irony and hyperbole. In Love for Love, only the provincial characters of Miss Prue and Ben are what they seem. All of the urbanites pretend to be what they are not in order to benefit themselves. Valentine’s sham madness is only the most obvious example of this, and his own “dissembling,” or seeming to be what he is not, is met by Angelica’s. Other characters who dissemble are Jeremy (who fools any number of characters with phony plans), Sir Sampson (who pretends to be a loving father to Ben but really is antipathetic to his parental duties), Mrs. Foresight (who cheats on her husband), Tattle (who pretends to be interested in Miss Prue), and Mrs. Frail (who plays games in order to marry into Sir Sampson’s estate). In act 2, Mrs. Frail and Mrs. Foresight encourage Miss Prue to act in a manner that is contrary to how she actually feels. Things are never what they seem in this society, Congreve tells the audience that only the best gameplayers will succeed in obtaining their desires.
Father/Son Relationships and Good Governance
Many critics have pointed out the potential political ramifications of Congreve’s play. The model of governance he presents is that of Sir Sampson,
Ben and Valentine’s father. Such critics have argued that Congreve is making a claim against government based solely on blood or lineage and that he stands for government based on the welfare of the governed. Sir Sampson pretends to have the welfare of his subjects in mind, but in reality he could care less about them; once Angelica shows interest in him he is more than happy to cut both sons off. Congreve must portray this idea with subtlety, for to argue against hereditary monarchy in seventeenth century England could have resulted in imprisonment.
One of the most common and widespread themes in English-language literature has historically been the difference between sophisticated urbanites and country bumpkins. This theme is rarely a serious one; it is generally used for humorous purposes. An early example of this theme can be found in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, where the pilgrim with the notably provincial accent tells a crude and naive tale. To this day, humorous encounters between urbanites and provincials are a mainstay of many movie comedies.
In the Restoration period, the intrigues of London’s high society were the primary concern of popular drama (partly because the inhabitants of London’s high society were the primary audience for such theatre). Love for Love uses the contrast between two provincial characters—Ben and Miss Prue—and the complicated urbanites of the rest of the play to underscore the differences between the social classes. Ben cannot understand, or “fathom,” the dissembling and intrigues going on around him. His language refers always to maritime life, and he knows nothing of society or city life. Miss Prue, a country girl, cannot comprehend that people marry for reasons other than immediate attraction. She is betrothed to Ben (who, for reasons of their structural similarity, would probably be her ideal match) but rejects him immediately for the charms of the libertine Tattle. When Tattle shows no interest in actually marrying her, she decides that she wants Robin, the butler.
Although this theme is played for laughs, there is often a serious, satirical undertone. Urban life, as depicted by such writers as Congreve, is a complicated, subtle minefield of game playing and deception. Often these comedies criticize the Baroque constructions of the schemes hatched by the characters. Why, the playwrights seem to ask, can people not be honest? Why must sophistication equate with Page 183 | Top of Articledishonesty? Why can’t urbanites adopt the simple, unbeguiling ways of country people? But these questions are rarely serious, posed as they are by people who could not imagine living anywhere but in urban society.
Wit, the skill most valued by the Restoration, depends upon a masterful use of irony if it is to convey an author’s message. Many of the characters engage in wordplay and double entendre as they converse with each other. Though Congreve uses verbal irony to great effect in this play, his use of structural or dramatic irony is even more evident. Characters scheme to get things only to have their plans backfire in particularly ironic ways. Tattle’s plan to marry Angelica while they are in disguise, for instance, ends with him being married to Mrs. Frail, who is pursuing a similar plot. But the characters’ fates are themselves ironic. When Valentine first appears, he wishes to be a poor philosopher/ poet with no worldly connections. By the end of the play, he is again willing to give up his fortune, only this time for love. Tattle’s prowess with women, his ability to see three steps ahead in the game of seduction, leads him to “blindly” marry Mrs. Frail. Even the names of the characters are ironic: Angelica is hardly angelic, and Foresight utterly lacks the quality designated by his name.
The humor of Love for Love depends largely on the pacing of the work. Farcical comedies are light, frothy, and often silly works, and as such the director must pace the action quickly in order to sustain the comedy and prevent the audience from dwelling too much on the improbability of the plot. That sense of immediacy is lost, however, reading the play. As you read the play, try to imagine how it would be staged. The characters must enter and exit quickly; plots are hatched, secrets are revealed and betrayed, and characters are lied to and misdirected. The humor derives in part from the complexity of the plot. Even the audience becomes confused as to which characters know what and who is the target of seduction.
England is one of the world’s most politically stable countries. It has been ruled in substantially the same way (by a monarchy and a Parliament) for almost a thousand years. The country’s most traumatic political event, though, occurred in 1640, when Puritan forces overthrew King Charles I, executed him, and ruled under Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell for almost twenty years. In 1660, however, the monarchy was restored, King Charles II assumed the throne, and the complicated system of obtaining power by cultivating royal favor was reinstituted.
The Puritans attempted to radically change English society. They closed the theatres, feeling that they were immoral and promoted promiscuity, blasphemy, and prostitution; they destroyed such religious art as statues and stained glass because they felt they promoted idolatry; they discouraged the freewheeling, daring, sexually playful literature and social organization of the upper classes. Since Puritan theology was centered on man’s sinfulness and on the doctrine of predestination, Puritan society was grim and focused entirely on religion and the world to come. For Puritans, enjoyment and sensual pleasures were not only suspect; they were sinful.
Consequently, when the monarchy was restored the hedonistic energies that had been suppressed over the previous decades surged forth powerfully. Early Restoration society was exuberant and risqué, and, as the theatres reopened, playwrights produced works centered on sexual intrigue, social game playing, and duplicity—all themes anathema to the Puritans. The upper classes, whose actions were depicted by these plays, enjoyed seeing their lives dramatized and appreciated verbal wit, and the lower classes, who also attended the theatre, loved the sexual innuendo and occasional slapstick humor. By Congreve’s time, the excitement had diminished, and playwrights were beginning to satirize the complicated and often cruel games of London society.
This is not to say that England was without turmoil in the latter half of the seventeenth century. When James II took the throne upon the death of his brother Charles II in 1685, he sought to reestablish Catholicism as the official religion of the realm. Religious conflict, first between Catholics and the
Church of England and then between High Church Anglicans and Puritans, had marked the previous century, and Britons were eager to avoid it. In 1688, a group of nobles invited William of Orange, a Protestant, to take the throne. He landed on the English coast, encountered little resistance from the king’s forces, and took the throne. However, he refused to do so as an absolute monarch. Instead, he stipulated that he would only assume power under a bill of rights that limited royal privilege and guaranteed a number of basic rights to citizens. England became a constitutional monarchy. Perhaps most importantly for writers such as Congreve, the bill of rights allowed for a free press in England, which made it more difficult for writers to be suppressed by the king or by religious authorities for sedition, immorality, or blasphemy.
The Rake / The Wit
The best-known stock character of Restoration comedy is the wit. The cult of wit and verbal wordplay was at its height in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and such writers as Alexander Pope, Oliver Goldsmith, and Samuel Johnson are known as much for their wit and skill in conversation as for their writings. Since power and influence was often obtained through social settings, Page 185 | Top of Articlean ability to use words articulately and with flair could not only gain a person prestige and respect but tangible benefits as well.
Reflecting this aspect of society, Restoration plays often have as their primary characters men and women who succeed by their wit. Often the humor in such plays come from two sources: first, the ridiculous, often sexual, predicaments in which the characters find themselves (this humor was meant to appeal to lower-class audiences); second, from the eloquence, subtlety, and wit shown by the characters as they subtly insult each other and tie their opponents in verbal knots. In Love for Love, the main wit is Angelica—which is ironic, for in these plays the wits are generally men. Many of the male characters—Scandal, Sir Sampson, Valentine, and even Jeremy—use their wit to ridicule others or to get what they want.
Closely related to the character of the wit is the rake. The rake was another stock character of Restoration comedy—a male who took pride in seducing the women around him. The women seduced by rakes could range from servants to the wives of important men, but the rake does not care about the consequences of his actions. In Love for Love three rakes all appear together in the first act: Valentine, Scandal, and Tattle. Valentine shows himself to be utterly amoral when the nurse of his illegitimate child asks him for money and he says, with disgust, that she should have “overlaid,” or smothered, the child. At the end of the play, Valentine (defeated by Angelica’s superior wit) gives up his rakishness for his lady’s love. Tattle is an unsuccessful or classless rake, for he brags about his conquests. In the first act, Scandal, using his command of language to his advantage, tricks Tattle into admitting an affair with Mrs. Frail. With an insatiable appetite for gossip, Scandal gets Tattle to name six other conquests in exchange for keeping silent about the affair. A true rake keeps his seductions to himself, to better create an air of mystery and allure about him. Scandal is the true rake here, for he not only seduces a married woman (Mrs. Foresight), he does so secretly.
As a member of some of the most eminent literary circles in London, Congreve had the support of the era’s leading literary figures by the time he wrote his first play, The Old Bachelor. John Dryden, the most important poet and critic of the Restoration, said of Congreve “in Him all Beauties of the Age we see... all this in blooming Youth you have achieved.” Colley Cibber, an important actor and writer of the period, also praised Congreve in the 1690s. Love for Love also won great approval from Congreve’s circle, but Congreve was increasingly unhappy about the public’s reception of his work. A tepid enthusiasm greeted Love for Love, and Congreve’s later masterpiece, The Way of the World (1700), was positively rejected by audiences, probably because of its sharp criticisms of society.
Ironically, while sophisticated audiences resented Congreve’s criticisms of social shallowness and libertinism, more religious audiences were beginning to react against the libertine attitudes and sexual playfulness of the Restoration. In 1698, the Rev. Jeremy Collier condemned Congreve and Love for Love, calling the play “blasphemy” and arguing that, for Congreve, “a fine Gentleman is a fine Whoring, Swearing, Smutty, Atheistical Man.” (Congreve himself responded to Collier, arguing that the end of the play contained a virtuous message, since Valentine gave up his rakish ways for true love.) In 1748, Edmund Burke condemned the immorality of the play, writing that “the Rankness of [Angelica’s] ideas, and her Expressions... are scarce consistent with any Male, much less Female, Modesty.” The writer Fanny Burney commented in 1778 that “though it is fraught with wit and entertainment, I hope I should never see it represented again; for it is... extremely indelicate.” Not all eighteenth-century viewers were of the same opinion, however. A reviewer in the London Chronicle of 1758 remarked upon the revival of the play that it was “the best comedy, either ancient or modern, that was ever written to please upon the stage.” Victorian critics of the nineteenth century praised the play’s wit, but, like their predecessors, regretted its “indelicacy” and immorality.
Modernist critics and writers of the early to mid-twentieth century paid little attention to the Restoration period, adhering to the belief, espoused by T. S. Eliot, that Milton and Dryden had weakened English literature by injecting too much Latin into the language. London productions of the play appeared occasionally, most notably one directed by and starring John Gielgud in 1943. But the revival of interest in the seventeenth and eighteenth century that began in the 1980s and 1990s increased the study of Congreve greatly. Recent examination of the play has focused on everything from
Congreve’s political stances to the presence of feminist themes in the play to an attempt to rediscover Restoration stage engineering.
Barnhisel teaches writing and directs the Writing Center at the University of Southern California. In this essay, he discusses the varieties of love and ways in which love transforms people in Congreve’s play.
In January of 1691, London saw the premiere of a new play by the popular playwright Thomas Durfey. Love for Money, in the words of theatre historian Derek Hughes, “uses the sexual and monetary intrigues of comedy as a way of praising the new political order... [it] affirms the power of law and the triumph of justice, with explicit reference to the struggle against James II and Louis XIV.” By the “new political order,” Hughes refers to the Glorious Revolution and overthrow of James II (who was allied, in his drive for absolute monarchical power, with France’s Louis XIV) and his replacement by William of Orange and a constitutional monarchy. Love for Money also depicts “mercenary relationships” vying for supremacy with relationships based on real love and loyalty. In Durfey’s play, mercenary relationships—love for money, in other words—are condemned and the libertine character (who embodies these relationships) is condemned to be hanged.
In many ways, Love for Love (1695) is a response to Durfey’s play. Whereas in Durfey’s play the libertine must pay the ultimate price, in Congreve’s play the libertine willingly reforms himself, not by judicial order but by the power of love. Congreve, by answering Durfey’s play in such a public fashion (theatregoers would have recognized the similarity in the plays’ titles), enters into a conversation with his fellow playwrights and with the public about the meaning and importance of love in a society increasingly based on the exchange of money.
Love for Love gives us many sorts of love. There is love between a husband and a wife (the Foresights); love between a father and his sons (Sir Sampson, Ben, and Valentine); love between a father and daughter (Foresight and Miss Prue); love
between sisters (Mrs. Frail and Mrs. Foresight); love between friends (Scandal and Valentine); even love between a servant and his master (Jeremy and Valentine). But the primary form of love examined in this play is romantic love, and this is exemplified in numerous false incarnations and in one valid instance. Valentine and Angelica represent in many ways the one true example of love—any kind of love—for all of the other relationships are, at their core, based on self-interest.
When we first see Valentine, he is plotting stratagems. Realizing that his financial situation has made him unable to continue his life as a rake and libertine, he resolves to give up the materialistic life and devote himself to study, writing, and the pursuit of his beloved, Angelica. “So shall my Poverty be a Mortification to her Pride,” he says in act 1. He will, he feels, be more appealing to her as a poor suitor than as a wealthy one; he will stand out, if nothing else. But his pretensions to morality and a rejection of his earlier behavior are immediately undercut by his callous response to the pleas of his illegitimate child’s nurse. For a rake, love and lust are essentially synonymous, and Valentine is still an adherent of the rake’s philosophy, for he aims at nothing more than “getting” Angelica. Harold Love argues that “Valentine is still in this speech picturing Angelica as a quarry to be hunted, not as a human equal to be loved.”
In much of the rest of the play, the intrigues between Valentine and Angelica occur in the background. Rather than following their story in a detailed anatomy of one rake’s progress toward true love, we watch any number of examples of untrue love. Congreve first examines lust-as-love through rakes like Scandal and Tattle. Tattle, we learn, is a successful seducer and has many notches on his bedpost. However, lacking wit, Tattle is tricked by Scandal into revealing the names of one of his lovers, Mrs. Frail. In order to prevent Scandal from revealing his knowledge to Mrs. Frail, Tattle must give Scandal the names of six additional conquests. Love, for these men, is simply a game, a way to gain prestige. No real affection whatsoever is expressed (except, ironically, by Scandal toward Valentine’s rejected child).
The remainder of the cast that parades before the audience in the first two acts all add to the overwhelming portrayal of love as a sham and a joke. Mrs. Frail, who arrives in Valentine’s chamber just as Tattle is attempting to avoid her, provides a disquisition on how a husband is the most pleasant person in the world because he saves all of his hostility for his wife. As act 2 opens, Angelica treats her uncle rudely and mercenarily, and he grouses about how he has been made a cuckold just before he vows to ruin her lover, Valentine. Sir Sampson enters and boasts vengefully,“I warrant my son
thought nothing belonged to a father but forgiveness and affection.” He will change his son’s tune, he blusters. When Mrs. Foresight and Mrs. Frail appear, they banter coquettishly and plan to break up an arranged marriage by introducing the prospective bride to Tattle (who, as we have learned, has already bedded Mrs. Frail).
Where the first two acts present the characters and allow them to each put forth their cynical attitudes about love, the third and fourth acts allow time for the various games and schemes that form the play’s main plot to materialize and develop. After the nurse prevents Tattle from actually seducing Miss Prue, Angelica enters on the stage, and we finally see her with Valentine. But instead of a tearful reunion of lovers, Congreve gives us a deferral of love. “You can’t accuse me of inconstancy,” Angelica says as she walks in. “I never told you that I loved you.” Angelica’s defense against Valentine’s rakish nature is typical of the society woman—hiding, not committing, playing games. Valentine, of course, is just as guilty of dishonesty and game playing, for he, with Scandal’s help, is about to feign insanity.
After Angelica’s appearance, the love between Valentine and Angelica fades into the background while further examples of false love occupy the stage. Sir Sampson appears genuinely happy to see Ben, but when he proposes a marriage Ben shows that his affections are not for women but for sea life (a suggestion of homosexuality, emphasized by Ben’s lack of interest in marriage, would have been quite apparent to contemporary audiences). Additional examples of false love follow: Sir Sampson shows no concern when Scandal tells him about Valentine’s insanity; Scandal and Mrs. Foresight scheme to get in bed together; Jeremy schemes to marry people without their knowledge or consent. Although Angelica and Valentine’s relationship is not depicted among them, these scenes provide examples of what the couple does not want. Scandal and Tattle show themselves to be the kind of dishonest, narcissistic, game playing men that Angelica does not want to be with, while Valentine discovers from his father’s lack of concern that he needs someone willing to make sacrifices for him.
At the end of the play, then, both Angelica and Valentine give something up, accept a degree of vulnerability that is dangerous for inhabitants of such a complex and subtle society, to obtain love. As the play starts, both Angelica and Valentine view love as something with a quantifiable value. It is exchangeable; it is something with which they can barter; it is something that can be measured in terms of its worth. But Valentine is forced, because of the genuine feelings that he discovers he has for Angelica, to agree to give up everything in his life that has value (his inheritance and her) so that she can be happy. And although Angelica “wins” this encounter, in that her wit and her superior strategy get her what she wanted (a loving husband), she also has to give something up: her independence, her mistrust, her cynicism about the world of love and lovers. By showing that he is willing to give up his inheritance, Valentine not only wins Angelica’s love but gets to keep the money as well.
Source: Greg Barnhisel, Critical Essay on Love for Love, in Drama for Students, The Gale Group, 2002.
In the following essay, Thompson explores themes in Love for Love, particularly reading and it’s influence on the characters’ actions and the roles they assume.
In Love for Love Congreve turned to Jonsonian humors characters and a romance plot that is quintessential New Comedy. This conservatism appears to be quite deliberate, as the playwright displays his mastery of the history and techniques of the stage in this particularly literary play. The characters and action come not so much from life as from literature, which makes Love for Love, as Arthur Hoffman notes, highly allusive; Valentine’s madness, for example, recalls Achilles, Ajax, Hercules, Amadis, Orlando, Quixote, Hamlet and Lear. Congreve also invests his characters with self-conscious theatricality, for they talk about acting, while they adopt and abandon various roles, patterning their behavior on models that are often explicitly literary.
Literary models appear in the opening scene of the play, where Valentine is discovered “in his Chamber Reading” Epictetus, whose work eventually provides him with a moral ideal. The initial act of reading is doubly significant because the scene is patterned on Don Quixote, a fiction about reading. Like Quixote, Valentine misinterprets what he reads: Epictetus is to Valentine what the chivalric hero Amadis is to Quixote, an ideal or model which is initially misunderstood and improperly imitated, but eventually understood and validated. Reading leads to acting, and thus Epictetus and Don Quixote initiate two major occupations of Love for Love.
Few of Congreve’s readers have been interested in his use of Epictetus in this play. Charles Lyons writes that Valentine is attracted to the Stoic’s asceticism and “indifference to physical pleasure and pain.” Aubrey Williams goes further, connecting the opening Epictetan contempt for riches with the whole strain of paradox in the play, paradoxes which prefigure Valentine’s climactic renunciation. The Enchiridion serves as a manual or index to proper values in this play. Some of these values are explicitly Stoical, but the three Restoration translators of Epictetus praise him as a moralist who anticipates the Christian emphasis on humility, patience, resignation and renunciation, the virtues which become centrally important to Valentine. Valentine’s progress may be seen in his gradual understanding and acceptance of Epictetus’s message, for he initially misunderstands the Stoic, who sets forth at the beginning of the Enchiridion the difficulty that Valentine must face:
Respecting Man, things are divided thus:
Some do not, and some do belong to us.
Should you suppose what is not yours, your own,
Twill cost you many a sigh, and many a groan;
Many a dissapointment you will find,
Abortive hope, and distracted mind.
Love for Love dramatizes many such disappointments, particularly Valentine’s vain attempts to control or manipulate people and objects not within his power; but when he humbly resigns his pretentions to an estate which is not his own, and when he allows Angelica the independence to choose for herself, he finally demonstrates his assimilation of Epictetus’s moral lesson.
Valentine, however, is far from humble at the start of the play, when, setting down his book, he proposes to “follow the Examples of the wisest and wittiest of Men of all Ages; these Poets and Philosophers.” According to Epictetus, this course of action can be more foolish than wise:
Wisedom, you say, is what you most desire,
The only charming Blessing you admire;
Therefore be bold, and fit yourself to bear
Many a taunt, and patiently to hear
The grinning foolish Rabble laugh aloud,
At you the sport and pastime of the Crowd,
While in like jeers they vent their filthy spleen,
Whence all this gravity, this careless mien?
And whence, of late, is this Pretender come,
This new Proficient, this Musheroom,
This young Philosopher with half a Beard:
Of him, till now, we have no mention heard.
Whence all this supercilious pride of late?
This stiff behavior, this affected gate?
This will perhaps be said; but be not you
Sullen, nor bend a Supercilious brow,
Lest you prove their vile reproaches true.
Both Jeremy and Scandal try to dissuade Valentine from turning railing poet, an occupation symptomatic not of the philosopher but the “Musheroom”; and Scandal’s words, “impotent and vain,” suggest the countless broken-fortuned libertines of Restoration comedy who resort to poetry and the stage for revenge. Above all, the “supercilious pride” of Valentine’s proposals indicates how imperfectly he understands the philosopher; he would preach a lean diet of books, but Epictetus advises against this, too:
If you have learn’t to live on homely Food,
To feed on Roots, and Lupine, be not proud.
Since every beggar may be prais’d for that,
He eats as little, is as temperate.
Epictetus provides, moreover, an even more explicit condemnation of Valentine’s proud new role:
When you in ev’ry place your self professPage 190 | Top of Article
A deep Philosopher, you but express
Much Vanity, much self-conceit betray,
And shew you are not truly what you say.
Your knowledge by your way of living shew,
What is’t, alas, to them, how much you know?
Act as your Precepts teach, as at a Feast,
Eat as ’tis fit, ’tis vain to teach the rest.
Valentine’s finding Epictetus a source of pride rather than humility, in short, his misreading, may have its analogue in Don Quixote, because this first scene appears to be a conscious imitation of Thomas D’Urfey’s play, The Comical History of Don Quixote. According to Colley Cibber, Congreve’s play was ready before the dissolution of the United Company, that is, in early December, 1694. Parts I and II of D’Urfey’s play were produced in mid and late May, and were published July 5 and July 23, 1694. D’Urfey’s play was consequently on stage and in print when we may presume that Congreve was writing Love for Love.
Congreve certainly had an interest in Cervantes, for his library contained two editions of Exemplary Novels and five editions of Don Quixote; and he had alluded to “the Knight of the Sorrowful Face” in his first play, The Old Batchelour. He probably took particular notice of D’Urfey’s Don Quixote because the female lead, Marcela, was the last role Anne Bracegirdle performed prior to playing Angelica, and Congreve is said to have been devoted to this actress and to have written parts specifically for her. Marcela was the occasion of notable success for Bracegirdle. It has been suggested that the success of D’Urfey’s play is due to the music of Eccles and Purcell, and D’Urfey himself supports this view in his preface where he writes of “a Song so Incomparably well sung and acted by Mrs. Bracegirdle.” She performed so well as to have a print engraved of her as Marcela; and in his review of a revival of the play in 1700, the only player whom John Downes mentions is Bracegirdle, indicating that Marcela and Bracegirdle had become identified in the way that Thomas Dogget became known for his portrayal of Ben. It thus may well be that D’Urfey’s play was not far from Congreve’s mind as he was writing Love for Love.
As we might expect, Bracegirdle’s two roles, Marcela and Angelica, are quite similar. Marcela is described in the dramatis personae as “a young Shepherdess who hates Mankind, and by her Scorn occasions the Death of Chrysostem.” When she is introduced at Chrysostem’s funeral, Marcela is brazenly unrepentant for having caused his lovesickness:
Marcela... and could he die for love? Fie! ’tis impossible!
Who ever Knew a Wit do such a thing?
Ambrosio. Triumphant Mischief: have you no Remorse?
Marcela. I rather look on him as a good Actor;
That practising the Art of deep deceit,
As Whining, Swearing, Dying at your Feet,
Crack’d some Life Artery with an Overstrain
And dy’d of some Male Mischief in the Brain.
Angelica is similarly undaunted at having sent Valentine mad for love, for she “comes Tyrannically to insult a ruin’d Lover, and make Manifest the cruel Triumphs of her Beauty.” In the end, both heroines are won by generosity, not wealth or empty protestations; in Part II, when Ambrosio saves her from rape, Marcela falls madly in love with him. She exclaims, “What Beauty, Riches, or Gloss of Honour, with all th’Allurements never could subdue, is conquer’d by this great, this generous action,” just as Angelica yields to a “Generous Valentine.”
It is, however, in the beginnings rather than the endings of the two plays, where the parallel is most suggestive. D’Urfey’s Part I opens with a hungry Sancho Panza and a learned Don Quixote, and Sancho responds to his master’s caution against unchivalric gluttony with the following aside: “Now I am to be fed with a tedious Tale of Knight-Errantry, when my guts are all in an uproar within me for want of better provision.” The literally hungry servant in both plays is metaphorically fed learning by the master, and neither servant is satisfied with his intellectual feast. Compare Sancho’s “Oons, this is a choice Diet, I grow damnable fat upon’t” in Don Quixote to Jeremy’s “You’ll grow Develish fat upon this Paper-Diet” in Love for Love.
If Valentine and Jeremy are a transformation of Knight and Squire, then Valentine’s misreading of Epictetus is quixotic; where Quixote’s misreading of Amadis de Gaul prompts the adaptation of an inappropriate role as chivalric hero, Valentine’s misreading of Epictetus prompts his adaptation of an inappropriate role as wit/poet/philosopher. Quixote, too, may be one of the many literary sources of Valentine’s feigned madness; because Orlando and Amadis went mad for love, Quixote does so, too; and in his mad scenes, Valentine similarly imitates the best literary heroes, ancient and modern. Valentine’s various poses are commonly connected with Theseus’s exposition of madness in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, drawing together the lunatic, the lover and the poet. So, too, the play’s Horatian motto indicates another literary source of methodical madness. Books have an inordinate influence here. Throughout this play, reading and role-playing become intertwined as characters like Valentine enact what they have read.
Reading and misreading in Love for Love are not, however, confined to literature. Like Puritans seeking signs of their salvation, all of Congreve’s Page 191 | Top of Articlecharacters also read the book of nature, from signs and stars to faces and people. The most obvious reader is the astrologer Foresight: “A wise Man, and a Conscientious Man; a Searcher into Obscurity and Futurity.” A man supposedly expert in physiognomy, Foresight misreads sickness in his own face on the suggestion of Scandal. Sir Sampson, on the other hand, reads not the heavens but human nature: “I that know the World, and Men and Manners... don’t believe a Syllable in the Sky and Stars, and Sun and Alamanacks, and Trash.” In the end, they both fail reading comprehension; as Sir Sampson concludes, “You’re an illiterate Fool, and I’m another.”
The complexity of reading is nicely condensed in Congreve’s “hieroglyphick” metaphor. Scandal first uses “hieroglyphick” in its relatively new metaphorical sense, in reference to emblematic pictures, while Sir Sampson characteristically uses the term in its concrete, physical sense, claiming to possess “a Shoulder of an Egyptian King, that I purloyn’d from one of the Pyramids, powder’d with Hieroglyphicks.” In the Restoration, hieroglyphs were the subject of endless speculation among virtuosi; but to Sir Sampson, the Egyptian symbols have no meaning. They are only a useless possession, a collectable. To placate Foresight, Sir Sampson desires that his son “were an Egyptian mummy for thy sake”; children also are objects in his collection. To Foresight, hieroglyphs are mystical, arcane and indecipherable; Valentine’s mad ravings “are very Mysterious and Hieroglyphical.” The metaphor reaches its climax when Valentine likens Angelica to a hieroglyph:
Valentine. Understand! She is harder to understand than a Piece of Aegyptian Antiquity, or an Irish Manuscript; you may pore till you spoil your Eyes, and not improve your Knowledge.
Jeremy. I have heard ’em say, Sir, they read hard Hebrew books backwards; may be you begin to read at the wrong end.
Valentine. They say so of a Witches Pray’r, and Dreams and Dutch Almanacks are to be understood by contraries. But there’s Regularity and Method in that; she is a Medal without Reverse of Inscription; for Indifference has both sides alike. Yet while she does not seem to hate me, I will pursue her, and know her if possible, in spight of the Opinion of my Satirical Friend, Scandal, who says, That Women are like Tricks by slight of Hand,
Which to admire, we should not understand.
Despite Valentine’s protestations, it is not Angelica but Valentine who is obscure. As Jeremy suggests, Valentine may have begun at the wrong end, because if he cannot understand himself, how can he expect to understand Angelica? His attempts to bully or shame or trick her into loving him indicate that, as yet, he does not know his own mind, and he must make himself understood before he can try to understand others. In his mad scene, he tells Angelica, “You are all white, a sheet of lovely spotless Paper, when you first are Born; but you are to be scrawl’d and blotted by every Goose’s Quill.” But Angelica would not be so incomprehensible had not Valentine, in effect, scrawled upon her; he has complicated her, made her wary and defensive, with all his intrigues and stratagems. Valentine has turned Angelica into a hieroglyph, and his desire to “know her if possible” implies a certain misplaced pride. Scandal’s view that one “should not understand” may be more admirable than Sir Sampson’s, Foresight’s, and Valentine’s pride in their interpretive powers, for they reduce people to emblems to be deciphered. Angelica refuses to be read, just as Hamlet refuses to be played upon and mastered. Angelica, like Millamant, appears to be serious when she asks Valentine to preserve a little mystery: “Never let us know one another better.” Reading in this respect is an imposition or intrusion upon another’s privacy and independence. Once again, Valentine must distinguish between what is and what is not within his power and further renounce his efforts to master that which he cannot and should not control.
Reading or knowing others and reading oneself are reflexive and interdependent: Valentine cannot read or know Angelica partly because he “does not know his Mind Two Hours.” He is changeable from the very start of the play; as his father says, “You are a Wit, and have been a Beau, and may be a—,” an ellipsis which is suggestive of Valentine’s protean nature. He tries fop, philosopher, poet, wit, madman—whatever will win Angelica. A word that Jeremy and Scandal apply to Valentine is “turn”; he is forever “turning Poet,” or “turning Soldier,” or he should “turn Pimp”: “He that was so neer turning Poet yesterday morning, can’t be much to seek in playing the Madman to day.” “Playing” implies that Valentine’s various fronts are actor’s parts, just as his opening role of wit/poet/philosopher is an enacting of the precepts he has (mis)read in Epictetus. Here acting is but another aspect of misreading, the result of improper or partial understanding; Valentine does not know the whole play in which he is performing, and, like an actor in rehearsal, he is learning to read his proper role. Other Page 192 | Top of Articlecharacters are also conscious of the roles they play, often achieving their ends by adopting new parts and costumes. Frail, Scandal, and Sir Sampson are all said to be “Players” or to have “Parts.” We are shown an actors’ “nursery” as Prue carefully learns a new part at the prompting of Tattle. Nor is Valentine the only one to adopt a role from his reading, for his father’s behavior in his first scene with Foresight is clearly based on travel literature. Conscious playing is hardly unique in seventeenth-century drama, and would not be of interest here but for the fact that the efficacy and propriety of acting, involving matters of social adaptability, expediency and constancy, are questioned throughout.
Like so much of Restoration comedy, Love for Love contrasts those who can and cannot change. The fixity of humors characters like Ben, Prue, or Foresight is epitomized by Foresight’s resignation: “if I were born to be a Cuckold, there’s no more to be said.” Still fixity is not always viewed so negatively; even though Ben is most often a comic butt, his stolidity contrasts favorably with the chameleon sisters, Mrs. Frail and Mrs. Foresight. Ben’s simple loyalty is set against the worldly Frail, who changes roles and attitudes at a moment’s notice. Similarly, Scandal, almost at the same time, plays astrologer to Foresight and lover to his wife, while she can summon up interest or indifference to Scandal on the spur of the moment; such extreme flexibility seems motivated by self-interest. Sir Sampson is only too willing to adopt a new role or a new attitude, and can change at will from despotic to doting father. He switches his family around, making each of his sons eldest for a time and subsequently abandoning both; the only constant in Sir Sampson’s characters is his selfishness.
Constancy is, indeed, a major theme in Love for Love, one that is always before us from the song, “I tell thee, Charmion,” to the images of “inconstant Element(s)”; “the Tide turn’d” and the “Inconstancy” of the moon. Of all these traditional emblems, changeability or inconstancy is most beautifully expressed in the wind metaphor, a nautical figure that originates with Ben. Frail explains her sudden reversal towards Ben by claiming “Only the Wind’s chang’d,” and when Angelica rejects his father, Ben consoles him with the same phrase. While fickle characters, like ships, turn with the wind, Frail introduces the opposite metaphor: “What, has my Sea-Lover lost his Anchor of Hope.” The anchor, an emblem of constancy, stability and hope, is common to Stoics, including Epictetus, who likens the constant man to a ship at anchor: “Nor rowling Seas, nor an impetuous Wind,/Can over set this Ballast of the mind.”
Valentine remains constant to Angelica, his anchor of hope, but in his intrigues and poses, he is as changeable as all the other schemers. Nevertheless, though these poses designed to win Angelica are unsuccessful, it does not follow that role-playing per se is condemned. Angelica herself pretends indifference in order “to make this utmost Tryal of Valentine’s Virtue,” for she must test or try Valentine in order to distinguish his love from the self-interest displayed by every other character in the play. Role-playing is not only useful but also necessary and inescapable according to the topos theatrum mundi. This figure is a commonplace from Democritus to John Bunyan, but if there was a locus classicus, it was Epictetus, who was most famous for his elaborate, moralized analogy between the world and the stage:
While on this busie Stage, the World, you stay,
You’re as it were the Actor of a Play;
Of such a Part therein as he thinks fit,
To whom belongs the power of giving it.
Longer or shorter is your Part, as he,
The Master of the Revels, shall decree.
If he command you act the Beggar’s Part,
Do it with all the Skill, with all your Art,
Though mean the Character, yet ne’re complain;
Perform it well, as much applause you’ll gain
As he whose Princely Grandeur fills the Stage,
And frights all near him in heroick Rage.
Although this comparison is ubiquitous, it has various interpretations; it is one thing to play the role assigned by the heavenly playwright or director and quite another to play an actor in repertory, switching from one role to the next all season. Epictetus’s analogy continues,
Say you a Cit or Cripple represent,
Let each be done with the best management.
’Tis in your power to perform with Art,
Though not within your pow’r to chuse the Part.
Role-playing can be seen as fundamentally artificial and unnatural, as did the Puritans in their antitheatrical writings, or as an accurate metaphor for the unalterable condition of this world. Jonas Barrish demonstrates that the player can even function as a metaphor for potentiality; in the Neoplatonism of Pico and Ficino, the protean actor, switching from role to role, represents all that men are capable of becoming.
Congreve sees acting as somewhere between the folly as it was seen by the Puritans and the glory as it was seen by the Neoplatonists; and his creation Page 193 | Top of ArticleValentine must find a middle way between his fickle father and his inflexible brother. The play suggests that role-playing is necessary but that there are proper and improper roles for each character. In his disputation with his father and Jeremy, Valentine argues that he has been brought up to accept a rightful place, which is not a natural calling so much as a specific role to which he has been raised, a role which is as different from Ben’s as it is from Jeremy’s. Ben can no more be turned into the eldest son than he can be turned into a beau, and it is unnatural for Sir Sampson to try to change him into either.
If Valentine has a proper role to play, it therefore follows that his contrived roles are improper, something which he himself comes to realize; but unfortunately he grows accustomed to his acting. When he tells Angelica, “The Comedy draws to an end, and let us think of leaving acting, and be our selves,” she willfully refuses to understand him, and he finds himself cast in a role he no longer wishes to play. As he himself says, “I know no effectual Difference between continued Affectation and Reality.” Even by the end of Act Four, Valentine has still not accepted the humility and resignation that he should have learned from Epictetus. It is Scandal who charts the correct path for his friend: “he may descend from his Exaltation of madness into the road of common Sense, and be content only to be made a Fool with other reasonable People.” Instead of trying to make fools of others, he must consent to be one, and in Act Five he calls himself a fool. As Montaigne writes, “To learne that another hath eyther spoken a foolish jest, or committed a sottish act, is a thing of nothing. A man must learne, that he is but a foole: A much more ample and important instruction.” Epictetus also regards the acceptance of one’s folly as a mark of wisdom:
Wou’d you be wise? ne’re take it ill you’re thought
A Fool, because you tamely set at Nought
Things not within your pow’r.
Paradoxically, Valentine’s success can only be achieved through failure, the game of “Losing Loadum,” wherein he can “win a Mistress, with a losing hand.” The resolution of dispossession, of renunciation, and of humility can only be effected by throwing over his plots and his roles and admitting failure; he must accept the “Ruine” with which his father threatens him. In the first scene, Valentine says, “I’ll pursue Angelica with more Love than ever, and appear more notoriously her Admirer in this Restraint, than when I openly rival’d the rich Fops, that made Court to her; so shall my Poverty be a mortification to her Pride.” Instead of her mortification, it is he who is shamed and humbled; the biter is bit, and he receives poetic justice. This plot is surely one of the world’s oldest, and what Walter Davis has written of the Arcadia is as appropriate for Congreve’s Valentine as it is for Sidney’s Musidorus and Pyrocles; like them, he must undergo a trial and willingly accept the proper role assigned to him by the divine playwright: “For failure becomes the necessary condition for submission to Providence; the hero must be released from all external controls or pressures in order to act out all his tendencies to lust, lassitude, deceit, and despair and so come to know his own weaknesses, to trust God to repair them, and hence to purify himself to them.”
Valentine wins Angelica through his constancy; and the answer to Scandal’s central question, “Who would die a Martyr to Sense in a Country where the Religion is Folly?” is, of course, Valentine. “How few, like Valentine,” concludes Angelica, “would persevere even unto Martyrdom, and sacrifice their Interest to their Constancy.” Earlier, when pressed to decide, she replied, “I can’t. Resolution must come to me,” but in the end, Valentine brings resolution, firmness, conviction and constancy to her, the lesson he has finally learned of Epictetus. His course contains elements of both gradual improvement and abrupt conversion. The sequence of his roles suggests improvement, for wit appears better than fop, and his feigned madness does lead to his final, true madness. At the same time his final act is predicated on the recognition that all his previous roles have been wrong; it is not that playing is condemned, but that he does not, until Act Five, know what his right role is. When Valentine is willing to give up his own good for another, when he willingly “plays the fool,” he has transcended self-interest, reaching the ideal goal of love and the ideal role of lover.
Source: James Thompson, “Reading and Acting in Love for Love,” in Essays in Literature, Vol. 7, No. 11, Spring 1980, pp. 21–30.
In the following essay excerpt, Love explores the relationship between Valentine and Angelica, and how the townspeople affect that romance in Congreve’s Love for Love.
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Source: Harold Love, “Love for Love,” in Congreve, Rowman and Littlefield, 1974, pp. 60–84.
F. P. Jarvis
In the following essay, Jarvis discusses how the ideas of John Locke and other philosophers informed Congreve’s writing of Love for Love.
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Source: F. P. Jarvis, “The Philosophical Assumptions of Congreve’s Love for Love,” in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. XIV, No. 3, Fall 1972, pp. 423–34.
Hughes, Derek, English Drama 1660–1700, Clarendon Press, 1996.
Love, Harold, Congreve, Basil Blackwell, 1974.
Lyons, Patrick, Congreve: Comedies. A Critical Casebook, Macmillan, 1982.
Stieber, Anita, Character Portrayal in Congreve’s Comedies: “The Old Bachelor,” “Love for Love,” and “The Way of the World,” Edward Mellen Press, 1996.
Thomas, David, English Dramatists: William Congreve, Macmillan, 1992.
Young, Douglas M., The Feminist Voices in Restoration Comedy, University Press of America, 1997.
Hughes, Derek, English Drama 1660-1700, Clarendon Press, 1996.
In this book, Hughes provides a brief discussion of almost every play to have been produced on the London stage during this period. The book is an excellent resource for discovering what kinds of plays were popular and what the conventions of playwriting, production, and theatre attendance were like during the Restoration.
Scouten, Arthur H., and Robert D. Hume, ‘“Restoration Comedy’ and its Audiences,” in The Rakish Stage: Studies in English Drama 1660-1800, edited by Robert D. Hume, Southern Illinois University Press, 1983.
Reading and analyzing plays, even accessing records of how they were produced, can foster a better understanding of their meaning. Knowing the composition and expectations of audiences during this early period of modern theater, is, however, much more difficult. Scouten and Hume have researched the subject thoroughly in an effort to reconstruct a picture of Restoration theatre’s audiences.
Quinsey, Katherine M., editor, Broken Boundaries: Women and Feminism in Restoration Drama, University Press of Kentucky, 1996.
This collection of twelve original essays is noted as being the first direct study of feminism in the plays of the Restoration period. The essays discuss gender roles in Restoration drama, and in doing so, examine the place of women and men in both family and society during this period.
Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2693900019