John Vanbrugh

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Plays by John Vanbrugh

The Relapse

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Vanbrugh’s vivacious study of characters is an ironic sequel to Colley Cibber’s Love’s Last Shift and contains many of the same characters and themes.

While in Cibber’s play the hedonistic rake, Loveless, ultimately resolves to be faithful to his long-suffering wife Amanda, Vanbrugh’s play tells of Loveless’s relapse into marital infidelity when he falls for the beautiful Berinthia. Meanwhile, Worthy, an ex-lover of Berinthia’s, tries to seduce Amanda by alerting her to her husband’s unfaithfulness.

Vanbrugh’s play also features a prominent and hugely entertaining farcical subplot in which the newly ennobled Lord Foppington (Sir Novelty in Cibber’s play) vies unknowingly with his penniless younger brother for the hand in marriage of Sir Tunbelly Clumsey’s daughter, Hoyden.

First performed in 1696, Vanbrugh’s witty and cynically comic play addresses the double standards expected of men and women in society and the hypocrisy that encouraged marriage as a cover for adultery.

John Vanbrugh (1664-1726) was an English playwright of the later Restoration era; also the architect who created the English Baroque style in architecture, designing Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire and Castle Howard in Yorkshire.

One of 19 children of a Flemish sugar baker, Vanbrugh became an officer with the Earl of Huntingdon's regiment in 1686. Four years later he was imprisoned in Calais as a suspected spy, being moved in 1692 to the Bastille. The regime was not brutal: he enjoyed four course dinners and three bottles of wine a day and amused himself by writing a draft of The Provok'd Wife.

Vanbrugh's first successful play was The Relapse: or Virtue in Danger, a comedy about a libertine and his long-suffering wife. It was written and produced in 1696. At Lord Halifax's urging, Vanbrugh revised The Provok'd Wife for production at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre in 1697; it was a comedy about a miserable marriage that would later provide David Garrick with one of his most famous roles. The robust action and bawdy realism of his plays, however, were beginning to attract attention from moralists. Both works were singled out by Jeremy Collier in his celebrated pamphlet A Short View of the Immorality of the English Stage. Vanbrugh died of asthma in 1726.