Sir Car Scrope, Baronet, explains that poets often fare poorly, perishing young. They never want to leave plays undone or lie still. The audience usually likes a gaudy and grim sort of humor, and now to France the play goes. Scope notes wryly that it is the audience's follies that provide fodder for playwrights, and every year with its new distempers and scandals brings more for poets to write about. He concludes by admonishing the audience not to be too severe about what they see on the stage because it is usually what they end up admiring at home.
It is a dressing room with clothes laid out. Dorimant enters, looking at a note from Mrs. Loveit. He mocks a love note as being dull and useless after the act of love is over. He laughs that women are usually right when they detect in men’s notes their waning passion.
Handy enters and Dorimant orders him to call a footman. Handy says none are available and Dorimant becomes annoyed. He asks who is chattering outside, and is told an orange-woman and the shoemaker.
The orange-woman is summoned, and she starts to lay her spread of fruit. Dorimant is very rude to her, but she still informs him that there was a woman in the marketplace that was very taken with him. Dorimant assumes that she is an “awkward ill-fashioned country toad” (50) but the orange-woman says that is not true at all. The young woman saw him at the Change and was interested in what he said. Dorimant laughs that he did see a “mask” (whore) there.
Dorimant’s friend Medley enters. He asks why Dorimant suffers the orange-woman, a “bawd”, to be there. She asks for her money for the fruit, but Dorimant teases that he will not pay her till she produces the young woman. She protests that the woman might be very innocent.
She also refuses to tell the men the woman’s name or where she lives, but does say the mother is a “good gentlewoman” who thinks Dorimant is “an arrant devil” (52). Medley figures out that the mother is Lady Woodvill and her daughter is Harriet. He tells Dorimant that Harriet is rich, and the most beautiful creature he had seen a year ago. He also says she is witty and wild.
The orange-woman, who resides in the same locale, told them even a vesting judge could not help but stare at Harriet when he came over. She becomes annoyed with Medley, though, and demands her money so she can leave.
She and Handy depart. Medley turns to Dorimant and asks when he last saw Mrs. Loveit, his second-choice woman, and how things are. Dorimant says they are fine but that she is incredibly jealous. He says he has a note for her apologizing for not seeing her. Medley says this is because he is with a new woman of late.
Dorimant tells Medley that he actually hopes things will get heated between the women because he is tired of all the calm lately; he needs to make a woman “break her fan, to be sullen, or foreswear herself” (55) to be amused. Medley is tickled by this and says he will help. Dorimant replies that the woman herself is already doing everything, because she plans on visiting Mrs. Loveit, who is ostensibly her friend, and to start a conversation that will provoke the other woman to extreme jealousy. He will then tell her how obnoxious she is and how he hopes another fop will take her away.
Medley asks why bother with the nice note first, and Dorimant says it is to keep her at home for a while so the new woman can visit.
The shoemaker comes in and the men tell him he lives above himself and must reform his life. The shoemaker complains that “poor folks can no sooner be wicked, but th’are railed at by their betters” (56). He adds that his journeymen friends are benefitting from all the exploits of the dissolute rich of late.
Medley and Dorimant are annoyed, and send him out. Young Bellair enters the room; he is another young nobleman. He apologizes for not being around more often. Medley smirks and says he hopes that he is enjoying the affairs of happy lovers. Bellair, who is more religious, protests the comments. Medley laughs that he himself has as many doubts in religion as he does in love.
Handy is fiddling with Dorimant’s clothes and the rich man tells him to stop it. Handy says that he knows how Dorimant likes his clothes to be just so, and Dorimant admits he loves to be well dressed. Bellair compliments his friend’s sartorial acumen.
The men talk of a very fashion-inclined man coming to town: Sir Fopling Flutter, who, Bellair says, “thinks himself the pattern of modern gallantry” (59). They critique his appearance and Dorimant observes that he is a man of “great acquired follies” (59). Bellair says he has already been around to the ladies, including Mrs. Loveit. Dorimant laughs that he is glad about that.
Bellair then asks Dorimant how his affair with Belinda, the new woman, is, and Dorimant waves his query away, saying that young ladies approach love as young men do fighting –first with excitement, then they turn away. Bellair is called away. Medley and Dorimant praise their friend’s looks. Dorimant says their friendship reflects well on both. They discuss Bellair’s intended marriage to Emilia, who is discreet and a perfect lady. They mock the idea of marriage, though.
Bellair comes back, distraught. His relationship with Emilia was secret, and his father just decided to make a match for him, to which if he did not consent he would be disinherited.
Medley suggests ignoring his father, marrying Emilia, become disinherited, and then live off the fame. Bellair despairs, saying he might not marry at all. Medley laughs that this would ruin the joke. The young man decides to visit Emilia and see how things stand.
They agree to meet for dinner at Long’s. Bellair leaves.
Dorimant gets a letter from another lady named Molly asking for money. He is amused. Medley and Dorimant prepare to go to Long’s.
This play is arguably not an easy one for students, especially high school students. The language is a bit turgid and “old-fashioned”, there are many unfamiliar words and allusions, and the characters do not seem realistic or easy to get a grasp upon. With some time and research, though, this play can yield much pleasure. Even the first act alone contains a plentitude of wit and charm, and Dorimant certainly appears to be a delicious rogue whose future exploits are certainly worth following.
Before delving into character and plot analysis, it is necessary to get a bit of background about what Restoration theater was like (see “Other” in this study guide for information on the Restoration itself). When the theaters were reopened in 1664, the new plays had a great deal of adultery, fornication, cursing, and heroes and heroines who were largely irreligious or blasphemous. Many people tend, then, to see Restoration theater as a response to Puritan ideals. But, as scholar Gamini Salgado notes, “the situation is not quite so neat and simple as this.” First of all, comedies like those of the Restoration proper were actually being performed earlier than 1664. Secondly, it was not imported from foreign shores as some critics maintained, even though some dramatists borrowed from Moliere and “certainly owed some of their dash and elegance to the French plays they had seen” although “the spirit of their comedy is English to the core.” The way Restoration plays were staged, which seemed to bring today’s stage with which we are familiar into being, actually has its origins in private theaters. Women as actors, seen to be something the Restoration heralded, had been done earlier as well. There are, as it seems clear, many links to earlier eras.
However, as Salgado writes, “it is still wroth insisting that it is a revolution which has its roots in the conventions it overthrows.” The world of Restoration drama is light, gay, pleasant, and stylish, both in dress and conversation. Wit was of paramount importance. Restoration comedy dealt not with the lowborn but with the rich and their follies; the fop was the most important character type. The follies that these dramas dealt with were of manners, not morals, and the laughter at the fop was not harsh or cruel but more “genial and self-indulgent”. Overall, the new comedy had “a more modest aim of showing manners both exemplified and travestied. Affectation became the chief butt of comedy, but the didactic intent is hardly present, since the dramatist is preaching to an audience of the converted.” We will return to affectation in later analyses, but will end here with the assertion that Restoration comedy is “realistic and escapist” at the same time; realism is seen in how secular it is and its characters’ desires to find some personal fulfillment, and is escapist in that it idealizes the gallant and the lady and its unrealistic solving of issues regarding money and freedom.
The first act features our hero, Dorimant, conversing with his friend Medley as well as two minor characters, the shoemaker of little importance but the orange-woman important insomuch as she provides Dorimant with his first hint of Harriet’s interest in him. Dorimant’s main character traits are visible from the first: he is concerned with his dress (as evinced in his exchange with Handy), he detests boredom and loves drama, and he is a lothario and plans to exchange one mistress for another. And although he cares for his dress and has wit and manners, he is derisive of Sir Fopling Flutter, whose care for those things is both too pronounced, too artificial, and too lacking in an accurate comprehension of his attainment of them.
Scholar Ronald Berman looks at Dorimant, the hero of the work (hero, of course, is a fraught term), and discusses him in context of the poetry of Waller, whose words Dorimant quotes in the opening lines of the play. Waller’s poetry was perfectly expressive of the Restoration. He took the Restoration self and connected it to the earlier model which valued “the rituals of civilized love”. In Etherege’s play, he takes the values promoted by Waller and infuses them in the words and themes. Dorimant is the “traditional European hero of action and feeling” but also “an anti-hero, a figure who brings to culmination a way of thought in order to dismiss it” (this will be seen in his embrace of Harriet and marriage by the end of the play).
Dorimant’s quoting of Waller’s lines doesn’t just show his literateness; it also is an ironic commentary on the fact that life is not really like the world of Waller. Berman explains that Man of Mode is Waller’s vision infusing the world of Restoration England.