The Second Part of “Loves Adventures”

SONG

O Love, some says thou art a Boy!

But now turn’d Girl, thy Masters joy.

Now cease all thy fierce alarms,

In circles of your loving arms.

Who can express the joys to night,

‘Twil charm your senses with delight.

Nay, all those pleasures you’l controul,

With joyning your each soul to soul.

Thus in Loves raptures live, till you

Melting, dissolve into a dew;

And then your aery journey take,

So both one constellation make.

Aren’t the last four lines of this song especially, um, lovely?  This song concludes part 2 of Loves Adventures (1662),  a play by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, aka Mad Madge.  In a post last week, I provided biographical details on this bright, highly literate, and rather prolific 17th c. woman writer as well as a summary of part 1 of Loves Adventures. Check it out if you’d like to get caught up.  Below I highlight what happens in part 2 and offer some thoughts on the work as a whole.  In a future post I’ll discuss Cavendish’s Bell in Campo, a later play, fascinating for its depiction of women going to war as a way to investigate early modern gender roles.

The play’s main plot centers on Lady Orphant’s attempt to secure her prearranged engagement to Lord Singularity, who rejects this arrangement in the play’s opening scene, without ever having met her.  Lady Orphant cross-dresses as a boy named Affectionata, follows Singularity to military camp in Italy, and impresses him so greatly that he names Affectionata his foster son and allows him to serve as a soldier and accompany him to war. In act two, scene thirteen (of part 2), a messenger informs Affectionata that the Venetian states have named her Liutenant-General of army and one of the Council of War (77).  Several soldiers’ wives and commanders petition Affectionata—the women hoping she’ll spare their husbands lives and the commanders, their own.  Affectionata proves so valiant that Singularity insists on finding him a wife upon their return home.  Much like Shakespeare’s cross-dressing heroines, Lady Orphant ultimately confesses her true identity: her disclosure speech in act 5, scene 34, brings to mind As You Like It (“acting a masculine part upon the Worlds great Stage, and to the publick view”) and also Antony and Cleopatra (“I must confess, my Lord, here of late my eyes have been like Egypt, when it is over-flown with Nulus, and all my thoughts like Crockodiles.”).  Singularity forgives her and then assumes a position on marriage opposite to the one he had at the play’s start, as he impatiently urges the ceremony’s commencement.

The play has two subplots.  One of these follows the marital relations of Sir Peacable Studious and Lady Ignorance.  In part 1, the latter encourages her husband to socialize more with her female society friends, but she soon becomes jealous, knowing the corruptive ways of Lady Amorous and Lady Wagtail.  The couple appears only once in part 2 (Act 2, Sc 14), and by this time, Lady Ignorance has rejected society life and come around to her husband’s preference for a life of private retirement—this was, in fact, how Cavendish and her husband lived for years.

The other subplot centers on the recently widowed Lady Bashfull, who revels in the freedom this position affords her and, therefore, expresses resistance to marriage, in spite of Sir Humphrey Bold’s and Sir Dumb’s (opposing) tactics to woo her.  When Sir Bold speaks too boldly to Bashfull, Dumb clocks him and a sword fight ensues between the two men.  Bashfull quickly halts the altercation, stepping between them, taking Sir Dumb’s sword, and using it to disarm Sir Bold.  When Sir Dumb takes Sir Timothy Compliment’s sword and tries again to attack Sir Dumb, the latter exhibits surprising athleticism and bravery that prompts Bashfull to change her mind and offer her hand in marriage to him.  Dumb, then, rather comically, breaks his vow of silence.

Loves Adventures has a conventional ‘happy ending,’ with Lady Ignorance and Sir Peaceable Studious bolstering the foundation of their marriage and mutually retiring together and with Lord Singularity and Lady Bashfull no longer rejecting, but instead embracing marriage to Lady Orphant and Sir Dumb respectively.  While the moments of seeming gender anarchy along the way–from Affectionata’s bravery in battle to Lady Bashfull’s early independent-mindedness and later sword-wielding–are ultimately contained by the plot, the progressiveness or proto-feminist nature of some of the ideas these women express represent a critique of mid-17th gender roles.  In short, the play is far more complex and interesting than its ending suggests.

Additional Themes:

  • In the play, Cavendish makes a strong argument for individual character and action as a barometer of worth, rather than the older model of bloodline.  Somewhat surprisingly, Lady Amorous gives voice to one of the longest speeches on this subject in act 4, scene 32, wherein she evinces Lucan, King David, Apostles, Horace, and Homer–who were all low born.
  • She comments on the objectification of female beauty and youth and, alternately, prejudice against old(er) women.
  • The play also touches on fame and immortality–how to accomplish it while living and how to ensure its afterlife. Lord Singularity’s insistence that Affectionata marry and produce heirs points to the gender implications of fame and immortality.  Of course, Cavendish’s work itself points to a way for women to achieve (literary) immortality.
  • Cavendish also, obviously, investigates love–in the way of courtship practices, the ends one will go to in to order express and/or experience love, and amorous conquest vs. true and noble love.

Image: “Portrait of a Girl as Erminia Accompanied by Cupid,” Van Dyck, 1638

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