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The last and finest comedy of Etherege, first performed at court 1676. It was an immediate success, and remains a classic of the Restoration period.

There are two main plots, neatly interwoven. Dorimant rids himself of his mistress Mrs Loveit, with the aid of faint‐hearted Bellinda whom he seduces in the process. In doing so he meets the heiress Harriet Woodvil, with whom he appears to fall in love. She is wise enough to keep him at arm's length until he proposes marriage, and even then requires him to follow her into the country, there to receive her answer after the play is ended. In counterpoint, Young Bellair has been ordered by his father to marry Harriet; but he loves Emilia, who with the help of his aunt Lady Towneley enables him to outwit the old man, who has fallen for Emilia. The revelation of his own dotage induces Old Bellair to give his blessing to his son's marriage.

Etherege sustains interest through his unsentimental views, eloquent dialogue, and telling social detail. Dorimant was said to be drawn after Rochester and Sir Fopling Flutter, ‘the prince of fops’, is the title character.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

George Etherege (1635—1691) playwright and diplomat

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