Dr. Ralph's Brief
1. When was the play first performed?
2. Where was the play first performed?
The “tennis court” theatre in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
3. Who wrote it?
William Congreve (1670-1729), whose father was a Cavalier, ran in important literary circles. He was a friend of the satirist Jonathan Swift and a disciple of the poet and playwright John Dryden. From the age of 23 to 30 he wrote five plays, including this play, his most popular, and The Way of the World, the great English example of the Comedy of Manners. His early success and his good conversation won him the favor of people in high society, most of them women, that got him comfortably through the second half of his life.
4. How is this playwright like Shakespeare?
Like many of the men who wrote Restoration comedies, Congreve had an ear like Shakespeare’s for the well-turned phrase; and his leading ladies, particularly Angelica in this play and Millamant in The Way of the World, have a depth to them reminiscent of Shakespeare’s heroines.
5. How is this playwright unlike Shakespeare?
Unlike Shakespeare and Shakespeare’s contemporaries, Congreve and his fellow Restoration playwrights worked on a smaller comic canvas, mostly the romantic relations of wealthy people in high society and their hangers on. Any semblance of the outside world and its pressures barely intrudes on these indoor dramas.
6. What do scholars think about this play?
They enjoy it but give it less attention than Congreve’s Way of the World.
7. Does any controversy surround the work?
Not today and not for this play in particular, but social critics of the time (notably Jeremy Collier) lumped Congreve’s work in other Restoration comedies and condemned them for their sexual innuendo and their lack of moral value.
8. What characters should I especially look for?
Sir Sampson Legend. ’Nuff said.
9. What scene should I especially look for?
The scene between Miss Prue and Tattle is a delightful satire on the rules of courtship.
10. What is the language like?
Supple and delightful. You’ll hear so many delicious phrases, you’ll want to buy the script (which is available in our shop).