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love for love

15 march 2023

Love for Love is another classic Restoration comedy. The character list includes an older generation of foolish men and a younger generation of loose women and rakes. As usual, the central couple is a feckless but attractive guy (Valentine) and a sharp, beautiful woman (Angelica), neither of whom is sure of the other, much as they want to be.

And as usual, the better roles for actors are the minor ones, "humorous" in that their affectations are so specific and so exaggerated. The aging Foresight, sure that he has mastered parapsychology but just as destined to be cuckolded as ever. The splenetic Sir Sampson Legend, father to Valentine and determined to disinherit him. The nautical Ben, son to the knight and brother to Valentine, a good bluff sort who cannot utter a word except in seaman's lingo. Miss Prue, Foresight's daughter, engaged to Ben while detesting him: the scene where Ben and Prue confess their hatred for each other is one of the best in the play. Tattle, who cannot not tell everybody about all his love affairs, while passing himself off as the most discreet man in London; and so forth.

It is such an artificial world, but Congreve invests it with so much amiability and bluster that you can't help get carried away by its charms. What do plays like this teach? Never to say exactly what you mean, never to take anything too seriously; but at the same time, for all the lies and banter: when it comes right down to it, don't fake what you don't feel. It's not all that cynical a guide to living.

Congreve, William. Love for Love. 1695. In The Way of the World and other plays. Edited by Eric S. Rump. London: Penguin, 2006. 209-313.