This play in particular I have read for at least four times if not more, since it was one of play I analysed for my Bachelor Thesis. Yet I must say that this play remained interesting and enjoyable every single time I reread it. The gist of the play is that two women set out to find a man who fit their attitude towards life. The setting of the play is carnival Napels, which gives the female characters the opportunity to challenge and subvert the patriarchal structure of this society in order to find this man.
I find the wittyness of some characters, most notably Willmore and Hellena, highly amusing, especially how they adopt it in order to subvert and challenge the normative culture of Catholic Napels. Willmore, as the English rake par excellence, does not heed or respect any of the conventions of Neapolitan culture, rather he uses the carnivalesque situation to his advantage and uses the temporarily freedom created by the carnival to achieve his aim of finding a woman who is willing enough to be his mistress, albeit for one night. Yet he did not anticipate meeting his feminine counterpart, Hellena, who is as determined to free herself from the Neapolitan conventions and find herself a suitable husband. They both display a mastery and understanding of the carnivalesque situation and discourse, combined with the normative discourse that allows them to deviate from the bonds of society and shape their own destiny.
In contrast with these witty characters are the characters whose understanding of the temporarily changed society is flawed as they fail to recognise the dangers that this sexually subversive society. The courtesan Angellica and Hellena’s sister Florinda who steadfastly adhere to the dictated gender patterns of regular Neapolitan society which eventually leads to endangering themselves. Although they act more freely and directly with their intended suitors, they continue to display themselves as the more vulnerable and virtuous women in contrast with Hellena’s rakish person.
All in all the play was a joy to read. The contrast between the characters who understand, and because of this understanding manipulate, society and those which fail to comprehend it is enjoyable and exploited by many characters. Willmore’s and Hellena’s teasing and manipulation is highly entertaining and provides many awkward situations. This has become one of my favourite plays as a result of the banter, rakish behaviour and multiple awkward events. I highly recommend this play to anybody who enjoys Restoration Comedy!