Term Paper: Restoration Drama: The Rake

Pages: 14 (4917 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Family and Marriage  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] In that sense, there can be said to be a subversive honesty at the heart of the rakes' acceptance of the married state, but that subversive intent is not directed against the institution of marriage per se; on the contrary, it tends to assert an idealized concept of marriage freely chosen between two free individuals who will continue to express that freedom within their marriage.


Edward Ravenscroft's 'The Careless Lovers' has been described as 'an engaging trifle' (Hume (1976), 296) and as a 'farcical intrigue of a very boisterous sort' expressing a 'genuine appreciation of the Restoration comic spirit.' (Lynch (1965), 160-1). It is little-known today, as is the case with all Ravenscroft's work, and is perhaps chiefly notable for the appearance of Careless, the 'Town Gallant', an almost paradigmatic representation of the Restoration rake-hero. His character is established from the opening scene: 'Wilt thou never leave this lewd wild Humour?' asks his friend Lovell, to which Careless replies:

Not upon the score of Matrimony; Why, Jack Lovell, I'le tell thee I am now like a Colt in the Fenns, that stragles every where, and feed where I like best; But shou'd I Marry, I shou'd be tether'd to my Spot of ground; at best, confin'd to an Inclosure. (CL, I.i, 9-14)

Careless's declarations of his addiction to wenching and his antipathy to matrimony are exaggerated and almost amount to caricature - as Robert Hume has observed, the author is consciously making fun of the cliches of Restoration comedy (Hume (1976), 296). This in itself suggests that in these statements we are witnessing, not a subversive attack on matrimony itself, but a rhetorical device intended to establish the character and the author's purpose in creating him in the audience's minds. At the end of the first act, by which time Careless has met and been smitten by a (masked) Hillaria, Ravenscroft takes care to emphasize the existence of a 'way out' for Careless, outlining the circumstances under which his creed that 'Love is an excellent Meat, but Marriage is an ill Sauce' (CL, I, I, 19-20) will be challenged and willingly overturned in spite of himself as a result of the dramatic effect that Hillaria has upon him:

Careless. Nay, if you have a mind to't you do't; let me think what I will. And if you won't pull off your Masque, I'le e'en begone and leave you. Fare you well.

Hillaria. And fare you well.

Careless. Nay, if you look o're Shoulder after me, I'le turn again, for you [Turn from each others, and looks back o're their Shoulders.] have no mind I should be gone I am sure.

Hillaria. Why did you look back at me?

Careless. To see - (CL, I, I, 234-41)

The play thus revolves around a confirmation of the value of transcendent love, as the basis for Careless's reformation and his acceptance of matrimony. He cannot turn away from Hillaria, and that inability undermines the whole basis of his libertinage: 'If for a Wife my Liberty I'de Loose, / One of these Two [i.e. Hillaria and Jacinta, who have both appeared before him masked] shou'd catch me in a Noose' (CL, I, ii, 470-100 are the closing words of Act I, spoken by Careless.

It can thus be argued that it is love, not social convention, that draws Careless and Hillaria together, and produces the somewhat unconventional character of their marriage. Careless does not turn his back on his rakish ways when he promises to marry Hillaria, and tells his mistresses 'you must not think you have quite lost me because I am Married' (CL, V, ii, 350-2); and the latter, for her part, similarly declines to accept conventional narrow standards of behaviour, declaring that 'I will be your Wife, and since I can't have a Gallant before Marriage, I'le do like other Wives, and have one after' (CL, V, ii, 297-8). This marriage is contrasted with the more conventional pairing of Lovell and Jacinta and, it is suggested, will prove more satisfactory, because more genuine and sincere; as Careless declares to Lovell:

You shall see our Marriage (which you think is slapt up out of a frolick) go on more cheerfully than yours, made out of stark Love and desperate Affection; we, like two Birds (though we Roost together at Night) will have our freedom all Day, and flie Chiripping about, whil'st you like two Domestick Animals, ti'de too close together in a string, shall still be snarling and biting one another. (CL, V, ii, 340-6)

This is not a rejection of matrimony but an affirmation of a new form of marriage, based on honest and a recognition by each party of the freedom of the other. It is, perhaps, a balancing of the need for social conformity with a recognition of new pressures of individualism in society: 'What is important to both of them is their freedom... although they are contracted at the end of the play, Ravenscroft indicates that in this relationship they are to be distinguished from Jacinta and Lovell whose strict union is accomplished within the normal dictates of convention' (Henry (1987), xliii).


The character of Dorimant can be regarded with a similar ambivalence as that of Careless. If he is intended to act as a warning against libertine behaviour and to fit into the character of the 'penitent rake' he does not do so very successfully, for as Robert Hume has observed, he is 'too glamorous and successful... Dorimant is undeniably glamorous... he has wit, spirit, an amorous temper, charm for women' and he provokes 'a combination of fascination and disapproval' (Hume (1976), 93, 95). His conduct is hardly estimable; he rids himself of one mistress, Mrs. Loveit, by exploiting Bellinda, whom he seduces in the process, before apparently falling in love with the heiress Harriet Woodvil. It is perhaps only because he meets his effective match in Harriet that he can be viewed with indulgence. It is she who seemingly brings about his reformation. That reformation is only skin-deep, however, as he admits when Bellinda taxes him on his unfaithfulness to her: 'Do not think of clearing your self with me, it is Impossible -Do all men break their words thus?' To which Dorimant replies, 'Th' extravagant words they speak in love; 'Tis as unreasonable to expect we should perform all we Promise then, as do all we threaten when we are angry' (MM, V, ii, 333-8). His final words to her in this exchange are the even more shameless 'We must meet again' (MM, V, ii, 344). Just as Careless promises he will maintain his relationships with his mistresses, so Dorimant tries to keep open his connection with Bellinda (who is having none of it).

Dorimant's decision to pursue and propose to Harriet is motivated by love - 'The first time I saw you, You left me with the pangs of Love upon me, and this Day my soul has quite given up her liberty' (MM, V, ii, 476-8) - and the play, respecting the conventional view of the age, demands that such love requires a matrimonial resolution. But the satirical and comic character of the work is such as constantly to break through, reminding the audience of the exaggerated nature of both the rakish dissolution displayed by Dorimant and the degree of the reformation required of him, at which both Harriet and the audience may well look askance:

Dorimant. I will renounce all the joys I have in friendship and in wine, sacrifice to you all the interest I have in other women

Harriet. Hold - though I wish you devout, I would not have you turn fanatic. (MM, V, ii, 156-60)

The use of the terms 'devout' and 'fanatic' here is revealing. They are terms with a specifically religious meaning; 'devout' was held to be an admirable position, reflecting sincerity and a socially acceptable degree of religious observance. To be 'fanatical' was to behave in a manner reminiscent of non-conformists and others beyond the pale of decent society. In his new-found devotion to the creed of marriage, it is enough for Dorimant to be devout; fanaticism is both unnecessary and undesirable.

Critics have commonly recognised the importance of love in Dorimant's reformation, and the degree to which this might be seen as confounding our expectations of him, given our knowledge of his character. In these characteristics lies the genius of the play. As Derek Hughes puts it, 'The Man of Mode' creates 'a dramatic revolution out of surprisingly formulaic elements' as 'the rakish Dormant is tamed - perhaps - by the witty Harriet' (Hughes (1996), 150). That word 'perhaps' is very important; 'The Man of Mode' is an open-ended play. Dorimant's pledges to Harriet are sincere and unambiguous, thus fulfilling the need to establish social order through an emphasis on the importance of the idea resolution through matrimony, but the actual… [END OF PREVIEW]

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