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Provoked Wife


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A: John Vanbrugh W: 1691–2 Pf: 1697, London Pb: 1697 G: Com. in 5 acts; prose S: London, Restoration period C: 10m, 6f, extrasLady Brute, ‘the provoked wife’, is married to an ill-tempered drunkard Sir John. She is being courted by Constant, whose friend Heartfree, despite being a professed woman-hater, has fallen in love with Belinda, Lady Brute's niece. The two women arrange to meet their suitors in Spring Garden. Meanwhile on a drunken escapade, Sir John, wearing woman's clothes, is arrested by the watch. (In the original version he was dressed as a bishop.) Lady Brute's meeting with Constant is disrupted by Lady Fanciful, who is a rival for his affections. Certain that her husband will be away from home, the four lovers retire to Lady Brute's residence. Sir John returns unexpectedly, and Constant and Heartfree have to hide. Lady Fanciful disguises herself in a last attempt to win Heartfree, pretending to Belinda that she is married to him. Sir John, convinced that he is being cuckolded, confronts Constant, who proposes a duel. Sir John backs off, Lady Fanciful is exposed, Heartfree will marry Belinda, and possibly the provoked wife will find solace with Constant.

A: John Vanbrugh W: 1691–2 Pf: 1697, London Pb: 1697 G: Com. in 5 acts; prose S: London, Restoration period C: 10m, 6f, extras

Vanbrugh claimed that he wrote the first draft of the play in the Bastille, where he was imprisoned as a spy. Apart from the wonderfully rumbustious role of Sir John, the particular interest of the play is that, within the framework of a conventional comedy, the serious issue is raised of how to cope with a loveless marriage when there is no possibility of divorce. Lady Brute has still not committed adultery by the end of the play, and Vanbrugh does not provide any happy ending for her. Despite this reticence, he was strongly castigated for immorality by Jeremy Collier in 1698. Vanbrugh defended himself by pointing out that people like the Brutes existed in real life, but it may be that Collier's attacks on the play encouraged him to devote himself more decisively to architecture.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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John Vanbrugh (1664—1726) playwright and architect


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