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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

VI. The Restoration Drama

§ 12. The Relapse

Six years later, in 1697, he produced The Relapse or Virtue in Danger, and instantly established his reputation. This broad and lively farce, which at once caught the popular favour, owed its inspiration to Cibber’s Love’s Last Shift. The character of Sir Novelty Fashion in that play made an instant appeal to Vanbrugh’s fancy; he raised the beau to the peerage, with the title of lord Foppington, and converted Cibber’s puppet into a brilliant caricature. It is easy to find fault with the fable of The Relapse. It is less a play than two plays spliced into one. Loveless, “resolved this once to launch into temptation,” and Berinthia, willing to abet him, cannot engage our interest. The farce exists for the proper display of lord Foppington, Sir Tunbelly Clumsey and Miss Hoyden. Here, indeed, are three caricatures after Vanbrugh’s own heart. What they do matters not. It is what they say that reveals their eccentricities. Lord Foppington is the true fop of the period, with all his qualities exaggerated. His title gives him unfeigned delight. “Strike me dumb—my Lord—your lordship—… Sure whilst I was a knight, I was a very nauseous fellow. Well ’t is ten thousand pawnd well given—stap my vitals.” He has the idle elegance of his kind. When the tailor tells him that if his pocket had been an inch lower down, it would not have held his pocket-handkerchief, “Rat my pocket-handkerchief!” he exclaims, “Have I not a page to carry it?” So he finds his life a perpetual “raund of delights,” and believes himself acceptable to all. When Amanda strikes him in her defence, “God’s curse, madam,” he cries, “I am a peer of the realm!” No better foil could be found for him than Sir Tunbelly, the ancestor in a direct line of squire Western. That he bears a close resemblance to nature need not be admitted. That he is an excellent piece of fooling cannot be denied. He holds siege in his country house, asks at the approach of a stranger whether the blunderbuss is primed, and, when he and his servants at last appear on the scene, they come armed with “guns, clubs, pitchforks, and scythes.” Miss Hoyden is first cousin to Prue, and shows you in a phrase her true character. “It’s well I have a husband a coming, or i’cod, I’d marry the baker, I would so.” While these immortal three are on the stage, they excite our whole-hearted mirth. Their fate cannot touch us, for in ridicule they transcend the scale of human kind.