William Congreve

Plays by William Congreve

Love For Love

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Love for Love is an acute and comical examination of gender identity, dissecting humours and affectations with the wit, energy and complexity of a farce of manners.

Mrs Foresight, who is married to an impotent, superstitious, old hypochondriac, is consumed by unsatisfied needs; her aging sister, Mrs Frail, who has sown her wild oats, is looking for a wealthy husband. The men are only too eager to satisfy the women. Sailor Ben has returned from the sea, his heart set upon finding a partner; Tattle, a rake, pursues the rich and lovely Angelica, but is more than happy to seduce Miss Prue on the side; while Valentine, the preferred suitor of the play’s heroine Angelica, has financially ruined himself among women of the town and has a bastard child to support. The plot of this socially satiric Restoration comedy turns upon the devices used by Angelica to find, in a corrupt society, true love in marriage.

Love for Love was written by 1694 and first performed in 1695, in an indoor tennis court.

William Congreve (1670-1729) was an English playwright, and one of the most sophisticated exponent of the comedy of manners during the Restoration era. Congreve wrote five plays before he was 30. His first, The Old Bachelor, was an enormous success at Drury Lane in 1693, in a production starring Thomas Betterton and Mrs Bracegirdle. According to Congreve he wrote the play to amuse himself during a convalescence.

The Double Dealer (1694) was not so well received but in 1695 he produced another hit, Love for Love (again with Betterton and Mrs Bracegirdle), to open the new Lincoln's Inns Fields Theatre. Its success secured his reputation and earned him a share in the theatre. His promise to write at least one play a year for the theatre of which he was now a part owner, was unfortunately not fulfilled. Congreve's only tragedy, The Mourning Bride (1697), was his most popular work during his lifetime but is now rarely seen. It starred Mrs Bracegirdle as Almeria, a part that became much coveted by tragic actresses.

In 1700 The Way of the World, - a highly sophisticated and complex work now considered his masterpiece - met with a cool reception. This failure, together with his continued discomfort at having been attacked in Jeremy Collier's influential pamphlet A Short View of the Profaneness and Immorality of the English Stage (1698), persuaded him to retire. (Congreve had replied to Collier with little effect in Amendments of Mr Collier's False and Imperfect Citations.) Voltaire later visited him and accused him of wasting his genius. Congreve told him he wished to be visited as a gentleman, not as an author. To this Voltaire replied that if Mr Congreve were only a gentleman, he would not have bothered to call upon him.

Congreve was by all accounts a warm man who won the love and respect of his many friends. John Dryden called him the equal of Shakespeare, Alexander Pope dedicated his translation of the Iliad to him in 1715, and John Gay called him an "unreproachful man." When he died he left nearly all of his £10,000 estate to his mistress, Henrietta, the second Duchess of Marlborough, who arranged for his burial in Westminster Abbey.