February 23, 2018
Congreve, Fondlewife, Maskwell....On this day in 1670 English playwright William Congreve was born. His "comedy of manners" toasted and tilted at the "gala day of wit and pleasure" enjoyed by those who lived in the inner circles of Restoration power, or wished they did. His characters live the court-life fast and loose, and always rise to their names: Fondlewife, Maskwell, Wishfort, Witwoud. They are, as the Cambridge History says, "men and women of quick brains and cynical humours" who talk "with the brilliance and rapidity wherewith the finished swordsman fences." The sharp talk often left the plot in tatters and the swordsman skewered -- "Sir, I honour you, I understand you love fighting, I reverence a man that loves fighting, sir, I kiss your hilts" -- but his plays are full of world-famous, or just funny, lines:
From The Mourning Bride:
To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.
Heav'n has no Rage like Love to Hatred turn'd,
Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn'd.
Married in haste, we repent at leisure.
(to which the reply, "Some by experience find those words misplaced: At leisure married, they repent in haste.")
In my conscience I believe the baggage loves me, for she never speaks well of me herself, nor suffers any body else to rail at me.
That heart, which others bleed for, bleed for me.
A wit should no more be sincere, than a woman constant; one argues a decay of parts, as t'other of beauty.
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