Joseph Addison – Essays from “The Spectator” (ctd.)

Addison continues his argument about Paradise Lost. In poetry not only the whole should be great but also its parts. He says he won’t presume to criticise Virgil for things like the whole book about games in the Aeneid, or a flippant comparison of an angry queen to a spinning top, but in fact in a sense he does just by mentioning these things and saying that in contrast, Milton’s work is all great. It is also of exactly the right size. He quotes Aristotle who used the example with animals: the mite is too small to appreciate and an imaginary animal which would be ten thousand furlongs (2,000 km) in length would be too big. The memory of the reader is like the eye: the text needs to be of such length that it can hold everything in. Milton, in fact, had a more difficult job, because the material from Genesis is much more sparse than the mythology on which Homer and Virgil drew, and when he added things, he had to do so with care so as not to cause offense. It’s also impossible to calculate the time frame of his poem, as opposed to the Iliad or Aeneid, because so much of it takes time in the regions where there is no day and night.  The essay ends with a remark that it is going to be continued in the Saturday issue. As the Helpful Footnote informs us, there were eighteen parts in fact, but we can be pretty clear at this point that Addison thinks Milton is the best.

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Mary Astell – “Some Reflections upon Marriage” (the end)

Unfortunately, both sexes believe that husband is the best thing that can happen to a woman and any man who can “keep himself clean and make a bow” is entitled to propose to any woman, no matter how out of his league she is. SO. TRUE. If women were properly educated, many imprudent marriages could be avoided. Men who argue that women who are educated will be “too wise and too good for men” may be right, but this should be only an argument for men to improve themselves even more. If they are really naturally more intellectually capable than women, better education for women should be an impulse for them not to waste their intellect on sensual pleasures. Somebody might say that if marriage is so terrible for women, it means women shouldn’t marry at all and that would be the end of human race. On the contrary, argues Astell, she only means that marriage is not such a wonderful career for women as it is commonly believed to be, but rather only the job of a glorified upper servant. It is not a benefit for a woman in this world, but may be for her in the next, because a woman who marries for the right reasons: “to do good, to educate souls for heaven” and in order to do so she has to submit to the will of a man sometimes much inferior to her, is really a greater hero than all the heroes from epic poems. It’s a small wonder that women marry in haste, because if they took some time to consider it, perhaps they rarely would

William Congreve – “The Way of the World” (the end)

There is not much happening at these last pages but universal rejoicing, declarations of unending love from Mirabell etc. Sir Wilfull says, let’s have some dancing so that those who are not the Official Couple can have some fun too. Fortunately the dancers who were invited to entertain “Sir Rowland” are still in the house, so there is another dance. Lady Wishfort expresses some misgivings about whether Fainall will not have his revenge, but Mirabell assures her he won’t dare. He gives back to Mrs Fainall the deed of trust, saying that if well managed, it may help them live quite easily together, presumably because now Fainall is against entirely dependent on the fortune of his wife.

After that, there is nothing more to say but the Epilogue, delivered by Mrs Bracegirdle, the most popular actress of her era, who played Millamant. In the tradition of comedy epilogues, it pre-emptively describes all the kinds of criticism this play may incur. Firstly, there are those splenetic critics who are never pleased, and it would take a supernatural power to make somebody satisfied if this person doesn’t want to be. Secondly, there are all these bad and jealous poets. Finally, there are those who keep on looking for real-life models for every character in the play. The just punishment for them would be to identify themselves in the foolish characters, if they are so narcissistic that they think they can provide enough material for a scene. The poet is like a painter painting an ideal face, compiling in one image the best features of many real-life faces.

Thus ends the play. I must say that like many comedies, it is (presumably) funnier in an actual stage production, although the language is not that easy to follow.  The main dilemma of Millamant, namely that she has to play extremely hard to get, despite all her love for Mirabell, seems quite alien to me. This being said, some scenes like Mirabell and Millamant’s marriage negotiations, are quite charming. As you can see, I am not exactly bowled over, but I appreciate the craft.

William Congreve – “The Way of the World” (Act V – ctd.)

Enter Foible and Mincing. Marwood reacts with dismay, knowing that she will be exposed, but Fainall says he doesn’t care what they say, because that’s “the way of the world”. To avoid the repetition of what the audience already knows, it seems that the revelations are conveyed to Lady Wishfort in an undertone, after which she addresses Marwood with anger, accusing her of treachery. Marwood tries to deny everything, accusing the maids of being mercenary, but Mincing says she stands by what she said: they found her and Fainall in the blue garret, after which Marwood made them take a vow of silence on a Miscellany of poems, which she, however, mispronounces comically as “Messalina’s poems”. Fainall callously says that he still doesn’t care and if Lady Wishfort doesn’t give him what he wants, he is going to drag her daughter’s name through mud. And here comes the second part of the plan, says Mirabell, and invites Waitwell with the black box. Waitwell brings in the recently sobered up Witwoud and Petulant. Witwoud provides a nice bit of meta-commentary by exclaiming”Are you all got together, like players at the end of the last act?” Gentlemen, you may remember that some time ago you were witnesses to a certain contract, says Mirabell. They confirm. Mirabell says that when Lady Wishfort’s daughter was planning to marry Fainall, her wise friends advised her to draw the contract which he now produces and gives Fainall to read. Fainall reads and realizes that the contract put the whole property of the then Arabella Languish in trust to Edward Mirabell. (Glad to know he has a normal first name.) Since the contract predates the later one, in which she gave most of her fortune to Fainall, it makes the earlier contract null and void. Fainall tries to attack his wife, but is restrained by Sir Wilfull, after which he and Marwood leave the stage with the usual exclamations of villains in the vein of “I’ll be back”. (Fainall could still insist, I guess, on his first demand, that is becoming the trustee of the whole property of Lady Wishfort.) Lady Wishfort says she doesn’t quite know how to break the news about cancelling his engagement to Sir Wilfull, which is kind of surprising, taking into account that he’s been on the stage all along. Maybe in a theatrical production it makes more sense, with blocking actors in such a way as to separate them. But anyway, Lady Wishfort needn’t worry, because Mirabell says Sir Wilfull has been a willing participant in the charade all along, and Sir Wilfull confirms, saying he has no intention to marry, but to travel.

William Congreve – “The Way of the World” (Act V – ctd.)

Enter Sir Wilfull with Mirabell. Mirabell apologizes to Lady Wishfort in such a moving manner that Sir Wilfull is deeply touched and is almost ready to give up Millamant for him. Lady Wishfort admits in an aside that the embers of her love for Mirabell start to rekindle and she grudgingly says she is going to forgive him if he gives up on his intention of marrying Millamant. Mirabell says he is going to do it as soon as his servant returns with the marriage contract. Enter Fainall  with Marwood and asks Lady Wishfort is ready to sign his agreement. Lady Wishfort says her niece is now ready to marry the man she has selected for her, i. e. Sir Wilfull. Fainall doesn’t believe it, but Millamant, Mirabell and Sir Wilfull confirm it. Be it as it may, Fainall says, my first two conditions, that is controlling the whole estate of Lady Wishfort and taking over the whole estate of my wife, still stand. I would give anything to be saved from this tyranny! exclaims Lady Wishfort. Probably I can, says Mirabell, although unfortunately the only thing I care about, that is Millamant, is already out of your reach, but I am going to help you anyway. Lady Wishfort is so overjoyed that she is ready to cancel Millamant’s engagement to Sir Wilfull if Mirabell can save her. So here we go, says Mirabell, welcome two criminals. The first of them is the penitent Foible.

William Congreve – “The Way of the World” (Act V – ctd.)

Enter Fainall with his conditions. First, he says Lady Wishfort can keep her property in her lifetime as long as she never remarries. Marwood, secretly supporting him, says it’s no problem, as she’s had enough of perfidiousness of men, and besides, hasn’t she just planned to become a (presumably perennially single) shepherdess? Lady Wishfort says something about the necessity of marrying for health reasons. If that’s necessary, I can choose a husband for you, says Fainall. Secondly, his wife should give over to him whatever remains of her independent fortune and depend wholly on him for her maintenance. Lady Wishfort exclaims its worse than the way Muscovites treat their women, and Fainall frankly admits he got his cue from the conversations over brandy with a member of Czar’s retinue (Czar Peter the Great, as the Helpful Footnote informs us, visited Britain in 1698, that is two years before the première of the play). Lastly, he wants the 6,000 pounds of Millamant’s fortune, which she has just lost, as he assumes, by betrothing herself to Mirabell without her aunt’s consent. Lady Wishfort asks how much time she has to consider and Fainall says until the temporary contract containing all the conditions of this deal is drawn. Later he is going to prepare a more specific document. Now he is leaving to bring the temporary contract. Lady Wishfort is in despair. This would never have happened with her first son-in-law, but her daughter insisted on marrying Fainall even before the customary one year of mourning was up and now she got what she deserves.

Enter Millamant and Sir Wilfull. Sir Wilfull greets his aunt but she says she is no longer his aunt and can’t look at him. All right, I am sorry I got drunk, but if I broke anything, I am ready to pay you back, even if it cost as much as a pound, he says. Besides, more importantly, Millamant agreed to marry me. Lady Wishfort can’t quite believe her ears, but Millamant confirms that. In order to assure you, my aunt, that I was not a part of the conspiracy against you, Mirabell is going to be the witness to my marriage contract between me and Sir Wilfull, and he is going to officially release me from our earlier engagement in your presence, so that you have no doubt all is legit. He is behind the door, shall I ask him in? Lady Wishfort says she can’t look at him anymore, but Millamant says that he is going to resent the refusal and insist on his engagement to her. Besides, it’s the last time Lady Wishfort has to endure his presence, after which she will not see him anymore, especially since he is going to accompany Sir Wilfull on his travels. Sir Wilfull confirms, saying that in fact he and Mirabell are now best friends and Mirabell is going to be his interpreter, since he’s already been abroad. Marwood, probably like you, is not fooled and leaves to investigate.

William Congreve – “The Way of the World” (Act V – ctd.)

Enter Lady Wishfort, telling the accompanying Marwood how much she appreciates her warning her first against Mirabell, now against “Sir Rowland”. She is the only reason, she says, that she does not lose totally faith in humankind and go somewhere far away to be a shepherdess. She suggests she and Marwood be shepherdesses together, but Marwood says there are more pressing matters at hand. Seeing Mrs Fainall, Lady Wishfort delivers a long tirade about how possibly she can be so un-virtuous, the daughter of such a virtuous mother who always gave her a good example. Now Lady Wishfort is going to ruin herself to keep Fainall silent, selling or pawning her whole property and that of her niece. Mrs Fainall says she is completely innocent, unlike her false friend Marwood, about whose friendship with her husband she is going to have something to say in due time. She assures her mother she won’t have to sell even on hairpin on her account and leaves. Lady Wishfort starts to waver. Can her own daughter be really less than virtuous? She received such a perfect education as child, with no boys as playmates or even as dolls. She shrieked whenever she saw a man and she hardly every saw any, except for her father and the chaplain, who passed as a woman because of his long robe and clean-shaven face, so her young daughter believed him to be a woman till she was fifteen. Marwood expresses admiration tinged with some disbelief at such extreme innocence. Maybe it’s best to let Mrs Fainall go to court and prove her innocence, says Lady Wishfort. Marwood prevents it by painting a revolting vision of how the details of her family life are going to be the fodder for talk and laughter first to all the lawyers and audience at the court, and then to the whole town, when the proceedings of the case are sold by hawkers, the 17-th c. equivalent of tabloid press. Lady Wishfort is of course very scared and will do anything to avoid it. Not that I advise you to do this or that, says the cunning Marwood, just sayin’. For instance, I am bringing to your attention the things you may have overlooked, like how sordid divorce proceedings are. Oh, here is Mr Fainall. I hope he is going to accept your offer.