The Relapse, or, Virtue in Danger

Introduction

The Relapse, or, Virtue in Danger is a Restoration comedy from 1696 written by John Vanbrugh. The play is a sequel to Colley Cibber's Love's Last Shift, or, Virtue Rewarded.

In Cibber's Love's Last Shift, a free-living Restoration rake is brought to repentance and reform by the ruses of his wife, while in The Relapse, the rake succumbs again to temptation and has a new love affair. His virtuous wife is also subjected to a determined seduction attempt, and resists with difficulty.

Vanbrugh planned The Relapse around particular actors at Drury Lane, writing their stage habits, public reputations, and personal relationships into the text. One such actor was Colley Cibber himself, who played the luxuriant fop Lord Foppington in both Love's Last Shift and The Relapse. However, Vanbrugh's artistic plans were threatened by a cutthroat struggle between London's two theatre companies, each of which was "seducing" actors from the other. The Relapse came close to being not produced at all, but the successful performance that was eventually achieved in November 1696 vindicated Vanbrugh's intentions, and saved the company from bankruptcy as well.

Unlike Love's Last Shift, which never again performed after the 1690s, The Relapse has retained its audience appeal. In the 18th century, however, its tolerant attitude towards actual and attempted adultery gradually became unacceptable to public opinion, and the original play was for a century replaced on the stage by Sheridan's moralised version A Trip to Scarborough (1777). On the modern stage, The Relapse has been established as one of the most popular Restoration comedies, valued for Vanbrugh's light, throwaway wit[1] and the consummate acting part of Lord Foppington, a burlesque character with a dark side.[2]


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