March 2, 2017
The Premier of The Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter
On this date in 1676 Sir George Etherege’s (c,1634-1691) play The Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter had its first performance at the Duke’s Theatre in London. Sometimes shortened to Sir Fopling Flutter, the play is as ideal a representative of Restoration comedy of manners or comedy of wit. When the plots of these kinds of plays are laid out in a short synopsis everything just sounds silly. Nevertheless, if you haven’t seen or read the play since college, here is a short synopsis from Martin S, Day:
The central character, Dorimant, is casting off an old flame, Mrs. Loveit is currently conducting an affair with Belinda, and is very much interested in Harriet. Harriet is intended for young Bellair, who, however, is drawn to Emilia. Dorimant fobs off Mrs. Loveit on Sir Fopling Flutter, and young Bellair encourages Harriet and Dorimant. Dissimulation surrounds all the characters until the tangle is straightened out and the couples, Emilia and young Bellair, Harriet and Dorimant are to be wed.
The real fun of the play, however, comes in the character of Sir Fopling with all his antics. Here is a piece I wrote a few years ago for Salem Press about the physical world of the play:
Etherege’s play is one of the earliest comedies of manners, plays in which fashion consciousness and social concerns determine behavior. Although one might not think of geographical place being as important a factor in comedies of manners, the fact that this play is set in fashionable seventeenth-century London matters greatly to understanding the world of this play, for in this play, London is the world of fashion and society.
London, England. We must understand that The Man of Mode is set in fashionable seventeenth-century London. The characters move easily through this world or mode of fine society, a world of playhouses, parks, and drawing rooms. Original audiences of upper class gentlemen and ladies, many of whom would be from the Court, would be familiar with the common places of London that are mentioned in the play. They would be familiar with the fashionable shops on the Exchange, mentioned in Act One, as well as the Inns of Court where the lawyers practice, mentioned in Act Three. Obviously, the vision of London in the play excludes most of the real London of the day, which would in reality be dominated by the merchant middle class and large areas of poverty-stricken dwellings and shops.
The Country Contrasting with fashionable London in the play is the understood world of the “country,” essentially anywhere outside London. The City represents all that is fashionable and modern; the Country represents the unsophisticated and out of date lives of such characters as Lady Woodvill and Old Bellair. Harriet, accompanying her mother to town sees her only hope for a satisfactory life in making a marriage that will assure her a residence in London. Dorimant, at one point in Act Five, vows to move to the country if that is what it would take to marry Harriet. This vow shows the sincerity of his intentions toward her.
The Mall and Other Parks. Much of the play occurs out of doors in the fashionable “Mail” or Mall area of St. James Park. The Mall was a long tract in St. James that was formerly used for playing paille-maille, or pall-mall. By the time of this play it was known as a fashionable park used for walking, for meeting lovers, and for displaying one’s fashion. It is often confused with Pall Mall, another park close by to the north. In The Man of Mode the Mall is contrasted to Hyde Park, or High Park, another, much more fashionable area of leisure.