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Monday, October 26, 7:30 pm

Playwright's Horizons

416 W 42nd Street

Directed by Jesse Berger

with Matthew Amendt, Heidi Armbruster, Suzanne Bertish, Veanne Cox, 

Laura Esterman, Ryan Garbayo, Amelia Pedlow, Everett Quinton,

Reg Rogers, Liv Rooth, Marc Vietor, Spiff Weigand, 

and featuring Michael Urie as Sir Fopling Flutter

With Live Music by Scott Killian and Jacob Lawson

Libertine or liberator? London’s leading rake wreaks hilarious havoc on high society in this - the original Restoration Comedy - with help from Sir Fopling Flutter, the first and greatest of the Restoration fops. 

The Cast

About the Play

In eighteenth-century productions of The Man of Mode (1676), Sir Fopling Flutter sashayed onto the stage, followed by a sedan chair, on which reposed a mountainous full-bottomed periwig.  The actor Colley Cibber had first created this wig for “Sir Novelty Fashion,” a character modeled on Sir Fopling, and further iterations of the character followed, always accompanied by the monstrous periwig.  An anecdote captures the wig’s allure: young Henry Bret, new to London, shoves his way into the green room after the play and begs Cibber to sell him the wig so that he too can “cut a figure,” —that is, become a man of mode.


Fashion (being à la mode) is the focus of the play’s title and Sir Fopling’s ruling passion.  He (naturellement) wears only French designer labels: “The suit?...Barroy...The garniture?...Le Gras...The shoes?...Piccat...The periwig?...Chedreux” (III.ii).  We tend to cast the Restoration fop as queer drag queen avant la lettre, and the play does hint that Sir Fopling may not be so interested in the ladies after all.  (“[L]et me embrace thee,” he exclaims to Dorimant, “prithee let thee and I be intimate,...there is no living without making some good man the confidant of our pleasures” [III.ii]).  Moreover, his “breech” (like his voice?) is “a handful too high,” as Medley tells him (perhaps handling the breech in question).   “Peace, Medley; I have wished it lower a thousand times, but a pox on’t, ’twill not be” (III.ii).


And yet, Sir Fopling’s passion for fashion turns out to be a more general social pathology (“He...represents ye all,” the Epilogue reminds us).  Fed by new trade routes and a culture of global consumerism, modeled by a glamorous king, fashion’s erotic allure proves irresistible.  What drives the new consumerist fashion regime is “mimetic desire” (in the words of Joseph Roach): desire for what others desire (clothes, accessories...).  Like Sir Fopling’s periwig, it spawns “a parade of substitutes, surrogates,...knock-offs.”


Sir Fopling is, in a sense, a knock-off of Dorimant: the fashionable rake (himself modeled on the scandalous Earl of Rochester).  But Dorimant is also a man of mode, a version of Sir Fopling: restlessly pursuing novelties, only to cast them off.  Paradoxically, mimetic desire leads not to regard for others but to narcissistic mirror-gazing.  Sir Fopling’s literal mirror-gazing (“a man may entertain himself [in a mirror],...’Tis the best diversion” [IV.ii]) finds a parallel in Dorimant’s vanity.


Enthralled by his erotic magnetism as they are, Dorimant’s mistresses nevertheless see through him.  As Mrs Loveit tells him, “you are...vain and loud,...[a] ridiculous animal who has more of the ape than the ape has of the man in him” (V.i).  And, in the end, however masculinist the culture, Etherege chooses Harriet as his mouthpiece.  After a crushing imitation of Dorimant, she declares: “When your love’s grown strong enough to make you bear being laughed at, I’ll give you leave to trouble me with it” (IV.i).  That is, ultimately, it is satire—the ability to laugh at ourselves—that offers a cure for the narcissistic mirror-gazing of modernity.


Professor of English and Comparative Literature
Columbia University


About the Playwright

George Etherege was a diplomat, poet, and playwright, widely credited as the creator of the comedy of manners. Etherege was born in Maidenhead around 1636. During the 1640s, he probably traveled to France with his father, who followed the exiled queen Henrietta Maria. It is speculated that he saw some of Molière's earliest comedies while in Paris, during a time the English theatres remained closed by government edict. Around 1653, his grandfather apprenticed him to an attorney in Buckinghamshire, and he later studied law in London at the Inns of Chancery.


After the Restoration in 1660, Etherege wrote his first play, The Comical Revenge; or, Love in a Tub, which premiered at Lincoln's Inn Fields in 1664. The play was a hit, reportedly bringing in £1,000 over the course of a month, and its success provided Etherege an entrée into the world of fashionable literary and political wits, including Charles Sackville, Earl of Dorset; Sir Charles Sedley; and John Wilmot, Lord Rochester. (Both Etherege and Wilmot had a daughter by the actress Elizabeth Barry.)

In his second comedy, She Would if She Could (1668), Etherege shed the traditional verse form of his earlier drama in favor of prose. From 1668 to 1871, Etherege was in Constantinople, where he served as secretary to the English ambassador Sir Daniel Harvey.

In 1676, Etherege produced his final play, The Man of Mode; or, Sir Fopling Flutter, considered the finest comedy of manners written in England before Congreve. The play proved an extraordinary success, and London audiences enjoyed its evident references to contemporary figures: Sir Fopling Flutter was a portrait of Beau Hewit, Dorimant a figure of Lord Rochester, and Medley a portrait of Etherege himself or of his friend Sir Charles Sedley.


Etherege retired from playwriting after Man of Mode, and within a few years had lost much of his fortune to gambling. He was knighted at some time before 1679, and married the wealthy widow Mary Sheppard Arnold. He later served as resident minister in the imperial German court. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, he joined James II in exile in Paris. His letters from this period are preserved in the British Museum. Sir George Etherege died in Paris, probably in 1691.

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