A young poet is liable to the same vanity and indiscretion with a young lover; and the great man that smiles upon one, and the fine woman that looks kindly upon t’other, are each of’em in danger of having the favour published with the first opportunityLove For Love (Prologue, 213)
Written-in-a-creative-rush from 1692-1700 (aged 22-30) these plays have aged indifferently well, shall we say, and are still somewhat worth reading today, betimes.
By turns divertingly witty and penetratingly cynical about human nature, they can also be a bit of a slog, with the flat characters being so absurdly named and hard to tell apart. Still, I’d like to see these on stage one day, especially the incredibly manic The Double Dealer….
The premise to The Double Dealer is completely mental: Mellefont is worried that his wedding tomorrow to Cynthia will be cancelled due to his aunt, who plans to ravish him and get herself pregnant by him and thereby exact revenge upon him for not loving her back: in producing an heir for her husband (M’s uncle), she will be depriving M of an inheritance he will get only if she herself remains childless!(From my notes on same)
Strangely, Congreve’s most celebrated (for its “verve and inventiveness”—Introduction) and final play, The Way of the World, felt rather dull and flat to me, but maybe it is that early October chill coming down out of Hudson’s Bay and not the play’s “complexity” (Introduction) that stymied me until at least the final, rousing act, where (it’s not really a spoiler to say) we learn that the way of the world is love, perhaps, but money, certainly.
PS, the edition I read is OOP (Out of Print), from 1985. If you come across a different book The Way of the World and Other Plays (Penguin, 2006) they are one and the same book.
Could poets but forsee how plays would take,
Then they could tell what epilogues to make;
[But] poor poets the favour are denied
Even to make exceptions when they’re tried.
‘Tis hard that they must every one admit;
Methinks I see some faces in the pit,
Which must of consequence be foes to wit.
You who can judge, to sentence may proceed;
But though he cannot write, let him be freed […cont’d]The Double Dealer, Epilogue (207)