Summary – Act Two
Act Two is set in St James’s Park and Mrs Fainall and Mrs Marwood enter. Mrs Fainall talks about men and how they look at ‘us’ ‘with Horror and Distaste’ when they cease to love us. Mrs Marwood agrees and says it is ‘an unhappy Circumstance of life’ that love should die before us. She also says it is better to be left ‘than never to have been lov’d’.
Mrs Fainall disagrees and says she hates ‘Mankind’ and her husband and Mrs Marwood asks her to give her hand on this (to promise she means it). Mrs Marwood then says she ‘joins’ with her and has now done with men and despises them, and now has to forget them. Mrs Fainall calls her an Amazon and Mrs Marwood says she sometimes thinks of taking her aversion further by marrying. She would make him – her husband – believe he was a cuckold and would rather pretend this was the case than have an affair as he would never be out of his pain (of doubt and jealousy).
Mrs Fainall says she wishes she (Mrs Marwood) was married to Mirabell and she agrees and blushes. On being asked about this, Mrs Marwood says she has changed color because she hates him. Mrs Marwood notes that Mrs Fainall has looked pale and then flushed and wonders if she is one of Mirabell’s ‘favourable Enemies’. Mrs Fainall says she feels a little sick as her husband has just appeared.
Fainall and Mirabell enter and Fainall says his wife does not look well today. She says he is the only man she could hear this from and not feel mortification.
Mirabell and Mrs Fainall walk together and Fainall says to Mrs Marwood that he would be miserable if his wife was not with him, as this would be the accomplishment of his only hope. Mrs Marwood suggests they should follow as she thinks Mrs Fainall does not hate Mirabell as much as she claims. Fainall says that by letting his wife be engaged he might take her (Mrs Marwood) more often in his arms.
He goes on to accuse Mrs Marwood of infidelity, of loving Mirabell, and she denies this and says she hates him (Mirabell). He asks why she made discoveries of Mirabell’s ‘pretended Passion’ to Lady Wishfort and was an obstacle in his match with Millamant. She says she did this because of her obligations to her Lady (Lady Wishfort).
Fainall mocks her and she defends herself and female friendship. He laughs and says she is his wife’s friend too. She asks if he reproaches her and accuses him of being base to charge her with guilt, and threatens to disclose their relationship to his wife. He says if she had not interfered between Mirabell, Millamant, ‘my Lady’ would have been incensed with their marriage and left her fortune to his wife instead of Millamant. She says she hates him and he tells her not to leave in this way. He tells her he loves her and she accuses him of dissembling. He says he will part with his wife and rob her of all she is worth. They will marry, he says, and then asks her to cover her face because she has been crying as the others are returning.
Mrs Fainall tells Mirabell how she despises her husband now and asks why he made her marry this man. She asks who he has instructed to represent his ‘pretended Uncle’. He tells her it is Waitwell, his servant, and he has married Foible, her mother’s servant, this morning. He did not want to tempt his servant to betray him ‘by trusting him too far’ as her mother might try to ruin him by marrying his pretend uncle. He wants to use the information (of a second marriage) as a means to get her consent for him to marry Millamant and ‘the Moiety of her Fortune’.
Millamant, Witwoud and Mincing (a servant) enter. Millamant says to Mirabell about how he left last night and at first says she is angry and then pleased, as she believes she gave him some pain.
He queries this and she says ‘when one parts with one’s Cruelty, one parts with one’s Power’. He replies that one is no longer handsome when a lover is lost. Millamant refers to the vanity of men and compares the idea of owing one’s beauty to a lover to owing one’s wits to an echo. Mirabell counters this and says one owes the pleasure of hearing oneself praised to the lover and pleasure of hearing oneself talk to the echo.
Witwoud and Mrs Fainall exit to talk and Mirabell and Millamant continue speaking together and she says she will not be reprimanded nor instructed by him and will not have him. He asks her to be serious and she tells him she knows Foible is married and he asks her how she knows this. She implies she told her herself, or the devil did, and leaves after asking him to work it out.
Waitwell and Foible enter and Foible says she has done as Mirabell asked. She has told her Lady that she has a prospect of seeing Sir Rowland, Mirabell’s uncle, and would put a picture of her in her pocket to show to him. She will be sure to tell her that he is so enamoured of her beauty he burns with impatience to lie at her feet and ‘worship the Original’.
At this point, Foible notices Mrs Marwood pass with a mask to her face and says she thinks she has seen her with Mirabell and will tell her employer. She leaves to prevent this happening.
The act ends with Waitwell saying how it will be difficult to recover his former self and return to being Waitwell after pretending to be Sir Rowland.
Analysis – Act Two
Deception runs through this act as character after character demonstrates they are deceiving at least one other person. When Mrs Fainall and Mrs Marwood talk together, for example, both claim to hate men and Mirabell in particular, but it is also strongly implied that both have been his lover in earlier times. Furthermore, Mrs Marwood is a lover of Fainall, Mrs Fainall’s husband, and although she claims loyalty to her female friends she is, as Fainall points out, deceiving his wife by being in a relationship with him.
The cheating continues, as Fainall reveals to Mrs Marwood that he plans to extort money from his mother-in-law (Lady Wishfort) and Mirabell tells Mrs Fainall of his plot to cheat her mother (Lady Wishfort again) with the help of his servant.