George Etherege’s play The Man of Mode, or, Sir Fopling Flutter
(1676) is a Restoration-era comedy about Dorimant, a libertine, who tries to woo the wealthy Harriet and untangle himself from his previous romance with Mrs. Loveit. Etherege built a reputation for drama depicting frivolous lives revolving around flirtation and romance. Today, he is considered one of the “big five” of Restoration comedy. The Man of Mode
, Etherege’s last play, appears to satirize many contemporaries of Restoration London.
As the play opens, Dorimant, a well-known rake, complains to his friend Medley that he is losing interest in his current lover, Mrs. Loveit. Then, an “Orange-Woman” arrives to tell Dorimant that a beautiful young woman has been talking about him. Medley realizes she is speaking about Harriet, an heiress. Dorimant wants to know more about the young lady after his friend praises her quick wit and wild air. However, Harriet’s mother, Lady Woodvill, already dislikes Dorimant based on his bad reputation.
Dorimant complains that he is bored with his love life. He wants to end his affair with Mrs. Loveit, especially since he has already moved on to her younger friend, Belinda. The two men agree to make Mrs. Loveit so jealous she will end the affair herself.
Another friend, Young Bellair, enters. He tells about his new romance with Emilia, a companion to Lady Townley, his aunt. Medley and Dorimant make fun of his infatuation with her. Then, the three men discuss Sir Fopling Flutter, new to London and inordinately obsessed with his clothing and appearance—in other words, a fop.
Young Bellair receives bad news: his father has made a match for him with a different woman and will disinherit him if he refuses to marry her.
In Act II, Lady Townley and Emilia gossip about the town. Old Bellair has declared his love for Emilia, still unaware that his son is also in love with her. He has engaged his son to Harriet instead.
Then, Mrs. Loveit complains to her waiting-woman, Pert, of how displeased she is with Dorimant’s lack of attention towards her. Belinda enters and provokes further jealousy, telling her that Dorimant has been spotted about town in the company of a masked woman. Dorimant enters, accuses the women of spying on him, and claims that Mrs. Loveit herself has been flirting with Sir Fopling. He pretends to be jealous and leaves.
Act III opens with Busy, Harriet’s waiting-woman, teasing Harriet about her affection for Dorimant. Young Bellair comes in, and the couple realizes that neither of them is in love with the other. However, they pretend to care for each other in front of Old Bellair and Lady Woodvill.
Dorimant asks Belinda to meet Mrs. Loveit at The Mall, a road in London, and set up a scene in which Mrs. Loveit will appear to be flirting with Fopling. Meanwhile, Dorimant visits Fopling and tells him Mrs. Loveit has feelings for him.
That night, the major characters all assemble at The Mall. Dorimant meets Young Bellair and Harriet walking together. Harriet flirts with Dorimant but pretends not to be in love with him. Lady Woodvill, who has never met Dorimant, arrives saying she has heard he is in the area and demands that Harriet leave. She and Harriet depart, and Dorimant admits to Medley that he is smitten with the girl.
Mrs. Loveit and Belinda arrive together and meet Fopling. Dorimant observes them, hoping to amuse himself, but Mrs. Loveit knows he is watching and pretends to have a real affection for Fopling. Dorimant is furious, even though he claims to be tired of her.
Act IV begins with Dorimant in disguise as “Mr. Courtage” to attend a dance at Lady Townley’s and speak with Harriet under her mother’s nose. Disguised, he manages to win Lady Woodvill over but has to listen to her speak of her dislike for Dorimant to his face. Fopling appears and nearly gives Dorimant away, but Dorimant leaves to meet with Belinda. She asks him to stop seeing Mrs. Loveit. He sends her away in his coach, which makes her afraid Mrs. Loveit will become suspicious of her relationship with Dorimant.
Young Bellair discovers his father is in love with Emilia. He decides to break off his engagement once and for all and marry Emilia in secret.
In Act V, Mrs. Loveit is indeed suspicious of Belinda for arriving in Dorimant’s coach. However, the coachman lies to assuage her concerns. She argues with Dorimant over his accusation that she has been spotted flirting with Fopling.
Emilia and Young Bellair are married. Old Bellair is displeased but comes to terms with his son’s surprise marriage. Dorimant arrives and announces that he is ready for marriage himself. Mrs. Loveit and Belinda reveal his true identity to Lady Woodvill, who is outraged at first, but softens when Harriet explains how much she loves him. The other characters also offer their support of Dorimant. Fopling arrives and is confused by Mrs. Loveit’s sudden lack of interest in him.
Harriet teases Mrs. Loveit, telling her and Belinda to stay away from Dorimant for their own good. Mrs. Loveit leaves in a huff, and the other characters prepare to feast before Dorimant, Harriet, and Mrs. Woodvill depart for the country.
Critic Brian Gibbons describes The Man of Mode
as “the comedy of manners in its most concentrated form.” This form of comedy, which is all about appearances, affectations, and the standards of society, is a genre that Etherege helped shape. It was an immediate success and is considered the best comedy of manners of its time. Etherege’s work paved the way for the comedic stylings of future playwrights such as Congreve and Sheridan.