At Mrs. Loveit’s house, she and Pert talk about how obnoxious Fopling is. Belinda is announced, and Mrs. Loveit is suspicious because the same man who always carries Dorimant around was the one who brought her. She bids the footman to ask the man where he had taken her, and grumbles that women are as false as men.
Belinda comes in, and lies about the country gentlewomen she was spending time with. Mrs. Loveit pretends to believe her. The footman comes in and whispers to Mrs. Loveit, which annoys Belinda. The footman repeats the lie Belinda had bidden the chairman to use, and Mrs. Loveit relaxes.
Dorimant is announced. Belinda grows pale and knows she is undone. After seeing her look faint, Pert leads her away to lie down. Mrs. Loveit prepares herself for Dorimant, hoping she can seem cold and no longer in love.
Dorimant enters and teases her about his not being as gallant as Fopling. Mrs. Loveit retorts that “these noisy fools, however you despise ‘em, have good qualities, which weigh more –or ought to at least –with us women than all the pernicious wit you have to boast of” (126). Smiling, Dorimant asks her to explain. She consents, and says first they really admire women, not just flatter them. Then, she says, they are assiduous and are always of service. Dorimant laughs that that is because they are excessively idle.
She continues, saying their conversation diverts better. He says all they do is play with fans and commend women’s hair. She says it is better to laugh at others than be laughed at oneself. He thinks fops believe too well of themselves and commend women too much, and that women like to believe the men they want to easily deceive. Furthermore, fools are designed for “properties, and not for friends” (127).
Mrs. Loveit calls attention to his own lies, and this is not the first time he has lied to her. She lambasts him for wanting the whole town to know how he used her ill, and have the town think she loves him still. Finally, she asks why he came to her.
He says that he wanted to let her know of her growing reputation and infamy. This enrages her. He notes how she went for a walk with Fopling, to which she says that he seems to find more pleasure in ruining women’s reputations than enjoying their endearments.
He feigns being distraught at her attentions toward that fop, but she boldly says she does not feel bad for acting like that since he pushed her to it. Dorimant asks if she is that far gone, and when she says yes, suggests that they must part.
Mrs. Loveit is incensed at him and wishes him gone as soon as possible. She tells him he made her anger as powerful as her love once was, which is why she did what she did. Dorimant remarks wryly that his friends will never let him forget it.
He tells her she must meet Fopling in the Mall tonight to “justify my love to the world” (129). This seems ridiculous to her, and she refuses to do a “shameless thing to please your vanity” (129).
Belinda and Pert enter, and Dorimant starts. Belinda thinks he looks guilty. Her friend sighs that Belinda always seems to have the luck to see her being abused by this man. Belinda asks why he is here, and starts to criticize him.
Dorimant knows he must submit to their vitriol for the time. Mrs. Loveit tells her friend she need not be overly concerned with Dorimant, but Belinda says she is too upset for her.
When Pert begins to speak up, Dorimant excuses himself. He whispers to Belinda before he leaves that he is not as guilty as she imagines and will clear himself later. Mrs. Loveit hears this and spits that he might as well do it now. He ignores her and departs.
Mrs. Loveit says she will find the woman who is the cause of all this and take off her mask to expose her to the world. Belinda wishes to herself that she could escape, and that she will never do anything like this again. She says aloud that she is tired, but Mrs. Loveit rages that she herself will never sleep again and will endeavor to make all mankind as restless as she.
After she leaves, Belinda sighs “I knew him false and helped to make him so. Was not her ruin enough to fright me from the danger? It should have been, but love can take no warning” (131).
At Lady Townley’s house, she, Medley, Emilia, Young Bellair, and the chaplain stand together. Young Bellair and Emilia were just secretly married. Old Bellair comes in, looking for his son and exhorting him to be ready for his marriage to Harriet today.
Lady Woodvill, Harriet, and Busy enter. Old Bellair tells his son that they need to work on the paperwork, and brings Medley with him as the witness. He, his son, Medley, and Ladies Townley and Woodvill leave.
Harriet tells Emilia she does not want to be married to a man she does not love. Emilia advises her to talk to a wise man about it, and slyly suggests Dorimant. Harriet says she does not think of him and responds to Emilia’s praises of him with critiques. Busy chimes in and sings a song Harriet had been singing about Dorimant, which frustrates Harriet.
Dorimant enters the room and sings a last line of the song, which he also knows well. Harriet blushes and feels her love for him well up, but tries to contain it. He teases her about the song and then whispers his congratulations to Emilia, who tells him to focus on Harriet for the time being.
Dorimant offers Harriet his service in helping her with her planned forced marriage, to which she retorts that he is where all young ladies turn to when trying to escape marriage. She tells him she is not interested in falsehoods and that there is no truth in people’s faces, since they hide their feelings and display whatever they want to.
Dorimant points out the true color in her cheeks, and she admits that it is hard to see real repentance in a man’s face. He says he will renounce all for her, and she chides him for being a fanatic and asks if he could handle staying in the country with her for a while. He says he would give up London forever for her because his passion knows no bounds. She says wryly that she will believe him when he talks that way when actually in the country. He asks for a promise and for hope, to which she says his own behavior will dictate that.
Busy tells Harriet that Dorimant obviously loves her and she should admit it too, but Harriet balks at that as immodest. Dorimant, while they speak, turns to Emilia in some frustration. She says she will try to speed things up, and asks Harriet what she is resolved to do about the proposed marriage to Young Bellair. Harriet states she will not do it.
Lady Townley comes in, and the parson, Mr. Smirk, comes out of the closet. Harriet is startled.
Old and Young Bellair, Medley, and Lady Woodvill come back in the room. Old Bellair announces it is time, and greets the parson. The parson smiles and says he has already done his duty. To Old Bellair’s shock, Emilia and Young Bellair kneel, and Lady Townley laughs that her brother ought to give his blessing to his son and new wife.
Flummoxed and angry, Old Bellair proclaims that he was cheated. Lady Woodvill is also angry, and calls for Harriet to leave.
Mrs. Loveit and Belinda come in, which privately distresses Dorimant. He turns to Harriet and asks her how she likes Mrs. Loveit. She asks if she is not one of his mistresses, and he says she has been at times. She scoffs at the other woman’s fakeness.
Mrs. Loveit asks gaily if Dorimant is a bridegroom today. This reveals his true identity to Lady Woodvill, who is stunned that he is not actually Mr. Courtage. She feels betrayed and Harriet tries to talk to her about it, but to no avail.
Mrs. Loveit comments that Harriet is an heiress and rich, and Dorimant sighs that he must give up his interest to his new love. He does not reveal Belinda’s role in recent events, for which she is grateful. He tells Mrs. Loveit that he wants no more mistresses and wants Harriet as a wife instead. Then he turns to Belinda but she tells him not to talk to her and she will not hate him.
Medley and Old Bellair and Harriet tell Lady Woodvill that Dorimant is a civil gentleman, but Lady Woodvill insists she will not see her daughter ruined. Harriet sighs that her fortune is not in her mother’s power, but her mother replies that her person is. She is surprised when her daughter says that she wants to marry Dorimant. In fact, Harriet says she will marry no other man. She adds that she will not marry him without her mother’s consent, which Lady Woodvill says melts her heart.
Medley elbows Old Bellair and says he cannot refuse to bless this, to which the old man agrees.
Fopling and his page enter. Fopling comments that it is windy and asks if his periwig is okay. He walks up to Mrs. Loveit and says her people directed him to her here. She sniffs that she hopes they will direct him better next time. He becomes a bit disconcerted with her cool behavior, especially after she complains about how foolish she was in entertaining him last night.
Lady Woodvill turns to Dorimant and says everyone’s kind words have changed her opinion of him. Mrs. Loveit hears this and complains to Belinda, “There’s nothing but falsehood and impertinence in this world. All men are villains or fools; take example from my misfortune” (142).
Harriet sneers at her that Dorimant has been her god too long and she needs another. Mrs. Loveit is offended that she is jeered by Harriet and tells herself she will never leave her hose again. Harriet laughs that she ought to go into a nunnery.
Fopling, oblivious, asks for Mrs. Loveit’s hand, and she flees the room. He thinks she is mad.
Old Bellair asks them all to stay and dine before they depart. It is planned for Dorimant to come to the country to visit Harriet and her mother. Harriet jokes about the isolation of the place, but Dorimant sincerely insists his soul has given up its liberty and he will go there with no qualms.
Music and a dance are struck up.
Mr. Dryden says most modern wits don’t seem realistic, but sir Fopling is well done because he resembles all of us. Wherever he goes he picks up part of us and “his bulky folly gathers as it goes” (145) and grows like a snowball.
With this act the play comes to a close. Everything is more or less neatly wrapped up, characters that we do like get what they want, and characters that we don’t like are chastised and humiliated. As stated before, this is not really a play of action but rather a play of character; there was little doubt the storylines would work out in Dorimant, Harriet, Emilia, and Young Bellair’s favor. Dorimant seems to have learned his lesson, and, as critic Gamini Salgado notes, “when, in the best comic tradition, the hero has learnt the lessons which the heroine knew all along, the comedy is over.”
So what are we to make of this play? Are there any deeper messages or meanings? Most critics tend to acknowledge the wit and the intelligence and the lampooning of certain types of people and their misguided and misshapen proclivities, but don’t see anything more profound. Robert D. Hume writes, “What kind of play is The Man of Mode? It mingles a number of elements – straight romantic lovers, a fantastic fop, some elderly ‘humours’ characters, and a high-life rake who finally meets his match. Little happens: the whole concoction is a piece of creampuffery.” He does not see high satire or high seriousness.
In her article, Lisa Berglund quotes another scholar who observes, “The primary purpose of this comedy seems to be neither immoral nor moral, but rather spectacular to exhibit, rather than to censure.” She admires the way that Etherege has used the “libertine language” to allow some of his characters –the ones we admire –to “disguise and transform their weaknesses and thus render themselves invulnerable to external criticism or pressure.” Characters like Mrs. Loveit, who cannot speak the language, are ostracized.
In terms of the comedy and wit, Rose A. Zimbardo sees that play occupying an important place in the history in English comedy. She writes that it stands as a “crux in the evolution of English comedy” because Etherege is “midway between the imitation of nature as idea and the imitation of nature as human actuality.” He symbolizes a “progression toward the idea of human nature freed from the iron fetters or social expediency but bound by the golden chains of natural necessity.” She admires the way he “turns heroic structure to mock-heroic purpose.”
The way Etherege mocks pretension, foolishness, foppery, and obliviousness is worth lauding. Sir Fopling is amusing to the other characters and to the audience, but the traits he possesses are not appealing. Mrs. Loveit’s defense of him and Dorimant’s responses to her points is a perfect encapsulation of what is wrong with him. Dorimant points out his “excessive idleness”, his insipidness, his excessive superficiality, and his belief that such fops “commonly indeed believe too well of themselves, and always better of you than you deserve” (126). Of course, Dorimant is no peach, but Etherege uses Harriet to redeem him and leaves Fopling at the mercy of our amusement/disdain.