From Hooligan to Hero: The Rakish Inheritance in Centlivre’s A Bold Stroke for a Wife (1718)
Back in undergrad, I took a class on Restoration Drama--something I absolutely didn't want to do. There was nothing as dull as reading a play, especially one from a forgotten period of drama, and especially when you were expected to analyze it for the toughest (but one of my personal favorite!) professor on campus. In spite of all that, I quickly learned to love Restoration comedy: its archetypes, its morals, and its complex, ridiculous storytelling. And know what else? I loved rakes.
No, not the garden tool (although a part of me really wanted to name this essay "From Rakes to Ho(e)s," and you'll see why in a second). I'm talking about that vile, objectionable, promiscuous man who frequented the plays of the time, snatching young ladies' hearts and making cuckolds of their men. Oh, what ribaldry! Because here, I confess: you'll probably never get a truly feminist reading out of any of my criticism, but I downright love looking at the interplay between male and female characters in literary texts. And in Centlivre's Bold Stroke for a Wife, we get a sense of the agency that promiscuity grants--and what it means to be a male or female character in that context. (I return to this theme in my grad school essay on Vanity Fair, a brief version of which is featured on this blog.)
Anyway, on to the since-unedited, full essay in all its heavily-cited, New Critical glory. Apologies in advance for dedicating this much space to a play you'll never read.
From Hooligan to Hero:
The Rakish Inheritance in Centlivre’s A Bold Stroke for a Wife
Still free as air the active mind does rove,
And searches proper objects for its love,
But that once fixed, ’tis past the power of art
To chase the dear ideas from the heart:
’Tis liberty of choice that sweetens life,
Makes the glad husband and the happy wife.
Colonel Fainwell (V.i.620-5)
1. An Introduction to the Hybrid Rake-Hero
One of the most identifiable character archetypes within Restoration comedy is the rake: sexually promiscuous, daring, and crafty, the rake is akin to our modern day anti-hero, and “rakish” may as well be an early synonym for “Byronic.” That is to say, the rakish personality has persevered in various forms over the course of the last several centuries. However, in an essay that investigates rakish masculinity, Erin Mackie explains that “[t]he glamour of the rake and his outlaw brothers is fabulous and residual, colored by a nostalgia for a kind of fully approved license already becoming outdated by the late seventeenth century” (129). She seems to suggest that even by the beginning of the eighteenth century, the rakish personality has begun to fade. Brian Corman’s chapter on comedy in The Cambridge Companion to Early Restoration Theatre, asserts the same idea: that by 1700, the presence of the rake archetype in drama begins to decline (65). Though both authors are correct in noting the apparent absence or muting of the rakish personality in English drama by the start of the eighteenth century, the changes the rake underwent in the early 1700s are not evidence of a decline, but rather, a reformation. From the beginning of Charles II’s reign in 1668 into the eighteenth century, the figure of the rake evolves from the “transgressive… criminal figure” (129) described by Mackie to the rake-hero, a hybrid character of questionable means, but justifiable ends, with whom audiences are able to sympathize. To understand the ultimate product of the rake’s transformation, it is necessary to first describe the elements and characteristics which allowed the evolution of the rake to take place, and then to perform a character study that will help to establish his new role and purpose.
In the Restoration period, the rake’s primary motivation is often lust; sexual desire drives him to pursue seemingly unattainable women—wives of impotent men, daughters of protective fathers, and women under contracts. His central motivation, then, is self-centered: sexual conquest at any cost, whether it be through cuckoldry, disguise, or deceit. Corman notes, however, that in order for Restoration audiences to approve of the rake, he must reform by the end of the play, lest he become “marginalized as a social being,” and that as the importance of moral qualities became more prominent in society, the rake (as a character purely of wit) had to make a decline (65). Yet the rake as a character is far more substantial than Corman makes him out to be. Harold Weber recognizes the rake’s primary motivations, but explains that “the rake is too complex and enigmatic a figure to be reduced to a sexual machine: his love of disguise, need for freedom, and fondness for play all establish the complexity of the rakish personality” (3). In Weber’s view, the rake, while mainly characterized by his sexual drive, possesses other qualities that define and refine his character; he is nuanced by elements of playfulness and freedom from restraint. The rake adopts these elements in various stages of his evolution to achieve greater goals, ultimately resulting in a “rakish inheritance,” which enables him to venture beyond criminality to more honorable behavior. These rakish characteristics, combined with the changing moral attitudes of the early eighteenth century, are the elements which cause the rake to evolve into the hybrid character known as the rake-hero.
A distinct example of this hybrid is Colonel Fainwell from Susanna Centlivre’s A Bold Stroke for a Wife (1718). Fainwell’s heroism is evident throughout Centlivre’s play as he makes numerous attempts to earn the affection of Anne Lovely and to save her from the grip of her four overprotective guardians; however, because she is under their strict control, it seems impossible to free her from her contract. Fortunately, Fainwell is no ordinary protagonist: he is nuanced by the rakish characteristics Weber describes, and by means of these characteristics, he is able to deceive and persuade all four guardians into allowing his marriage with Anne. Colonel Fainwell’s behavior clearly establishes him as a rake-hero, but more importantly, it shows the purpose of the rake’s evolution: because of Fainwell’s rakish inheritance, he is the only person who is ultimately able to afford Anne her sexual freedom. I assert, then, that the inheritance of rakish characteristics combined with the “new set of social virtues” of the early 1700s allows the hybrid rake-hero to serve as a catalyst for liberating women from the sexual restrictiveness associated with contractual marriage in eighteenth-century plays such as A Bold Stroke for a Wife.
 A term which refers to the alluring, arrogant, clever, and emotionally complex protagonists generally seen in Lord Byron’s work in the early nineteenth century, typically based on Byron himself.
 Term coined by fellow undergraduate student, Alex Schloop, to express the continuing tradition of rakishness apparent in evolving forms of the rake in Restoration and eighteenth-century drama and beyond.
2. The Rakish Inheritance: The Beginnings of the Rake and Colonel Fainwell as Rake-Hero
To investigate the evolution of the rake, it is necessary to begin by addressing his initial success with the audiences of the time period. According to Brian Corman, “performance records demonstrate that comedy was by far the preferred theatrical genre with audiences” during the Restoration, and comedy traditionally contained a “limited number of familiar character types … in search of a limited number of goals (courtship, seduction, cuckolding, gulling)” (56), all of which seem to pertain to the Restoration rake. Corman’s description of the audience’s reception of comedy during the Restoration suggests, then, that the rake, as a beloved character type, is favored by audiences in spite of his questionable activities. The continuing success of the rake throughout the first few decades of the Restoration indicates that audiences approved of his character; no matter how many obstacles he faces, such as husbands, fathers, guardians, or contracts, the rake is able to win the woman’s heart. But why do audiences approve of such a loathsome creature?
The rake’s deviance was his initial appeal; in Restoration plays, the rake is featured as a womanizing, immoral man who cuckolds husbands, juggles several lovers, and carries out elaborate, deceptive plans in the interest of adding to his list of sexual conquests. Yet what the rake does is not as important as what he represents: a deviation from social norms through a “stylistically masterful brand of individuality and radical independence from social conventions” (Mackie 130). Though the rake’s actions are criminal, his status as a revolutionary figure popularizes him in Restoration theatre. In a way, this rebelliousness begins to establish him as a hero even in his earliest stages. On this topic, Linda Bamber notes, “The man who is in consequence of his unyielding nature cannot comply with the required suppression of his instincts, becomes a criminal, an outlaw, unless his social position or striking abilities enable him to hold his own as a great man, a ‘hero’” (cited in Weber 6). Weber asserts, and I agree, that even the early rake, whose “social position or striking abilities” are enough to set him apart from an average criminal, qualifies as this type of hero.
This initial heroism contributes to the evolution toward rake-hero as we move into the eighteenth century. Audience opinions of the rake begin to shift as “[l]ibertine values are replaced by a new set of social virtues that emphasize the importance of honesty, decency, amiability, and integrity” (Corman 65). Thus, as audiences begin to be “in favor of moral values of a more traditional and timeless sort” (Corman 64-5), it becomes a necessity for the “hooligan rake,” a figure akin to Mackie’s pirate or highwayman, to begin his reformation into the more respectable rake-hero if audiences are going to continue to approve of his character. Thus, by means of the aforementioned rakish inheritance, the characters within late Restoration and early eighteenth-century drama begin to develop in such a way that the rakish characteristics are passed on to enable good (though wily) men to achieve noble goals.
The question becomes, then, if A Bold Stroke’s Colonel Fainwell is truly an example of this evolved form of rake. At the beginning of the play, Fainwell is immediately established as a man who has been affected by emotion, echoing Antonio’s opening speech and his friends’ following accusations of lovesickness in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Freeman says to Fainwell, “You are as melancholy as if you were in love” (I.i.1-2), to which Fainwell replies, “I have seen a lady at Bath who has kindled such a flame in me that all the waters there can’t quench” (I.i.4-6). Right away, we discover that love will be Fainwell’s primary motivation throughout the play, and that this true love has caught him by surprise. Fainwell’s lovesick look is indicative of the idea that he may never have been in love before, and by Freeman’s use of the word “melancholy,” he suggests (as Antonio’s friends do in Merchant) that love is not exactly a positive thing. These lines allude to the fact that until this point, Fainwell may have been a rake, primarily concerned with physical relationships rather than romantic ones. Evidence of Fainwell’s former rakishness comes again in Anne Lovely’s discussion with her maid, Betty, during act one, scene two. Betty hints strongly that she expects Fainwell to be dishonest when she tells Anne: “Why, let [the fortune] go. If the Colonel loves you, as he pretends, he’ll marry you without a fortune” (I.ii.21-2). Her use of the word “pretends” could simply mean “asserts,” but the more common usage of the word to mean “declares or acts falsely” conveys that she does not necessarily believe in the sincerity of Fainwell’s love, perhaps categorizing him as a rake due to his apparent interest in stealing Anne away. Further evidence of Fainwell’s past rakishness occurs in the second act during his attempt to win the approval of Sir Philip. Philip asks in disbelief, “But do you really like matrimony?” (II.i.178). Fainwell answers, “I believe I could with that lady, sir” (II.i.179), indicating that, though matrimony is not a worthwhile pursuit in itself, Anne Lovely is an exception to the rule. Although Fainwell may have been acting in order to win Sir Philip’s approval, there is a note of honesty in his confession that he would be willing to abandon the life of a bachelor to wed Anne; it seems, therefore, that he has subdued his rakish personality in order to obtain her love.
Though Fainwell’s rakishness becomes evident through these hints at his past behavior and feelings, the play also works to establish him as a heroic character. Sackbut asks him, “Colonel, is not the poor lady to be pitied?” (I.i.137). Fainwell responds, “Aye, and rescued too, landlord” (I.i.138). Fainwell has labeled Anne as someone in need of rescue, and has already begun to plan her liberation; he declares, “There is nothing impossible to a lover” (I.i.140). These declarations build for Fainwell a rhetoric of heroism, characterized by proactive words such as “rescue” and determined, idealistic phrases such as “there is nothing impossible.” As the play progresses, we see further development of Fainwell’s boldness, particularly in his asides. Throughout the play, Fainwell is a difficult character to analyze because he “feigns well”—he is so often playing a part that is not his own, and because of these pretenses, the conversations he has with the four guardians only occasionally allude to his actual feelings, and even then, may or may not be accurate. However, it is safe to say that his true sentiments are expressed in conversations with his friends, with Anne, and most certainly through his asides, which are unfiltered. In one particularly determined aside, Fainwell declares, “I am likely to have a pretty task by that time I have gone through them all; but [Anne]’s a city worth taking and egad I’ll carry on the siege. If I can but blow up the outworks, I fancy I am pretty secure of the town” (II.ii.172-5). Fainwell here builds his conquest to the level of capturing a town, but boldly expresses his confidence that he will succeed by “blow[ing] up the outworks”—enacting his plan. This boldness and determination serves as a precursor to Fainwell’s future asides as Sir Philip introduces him to the other guardians. To the audience, he repeats “Humph” twice (II.ii.195 and II.ii.208) as if to convey his contempt toward the other guardians, and then remarks in three following asides: “I’ll make you like me before I have done with you, or I am mistaken” (II.ii.227-8), “So much for trade. I’ll fit you too” (II.ii.233), and “I hope to bite you all, if my plots hit” (II.ii.242). His contempt, stubbornness, and determination is evident in his speech; he has made it his goal to win his marriage to Anne Lovely and is convinced of his ability to do so.
Determination and integrity might be enough to win Anne Lovely’s hand in any normal situation, but the situation Fainwell is presented with is an impossible one. Anne is under the control of four different guardians with four extremely different humors; if Fainwell gains the approval of one, he is sure to be denied the approval of the other three. Simple earnestness does not suffice when faced with this much opposition; Fainwell therefore must be deceitful. Freeman inadvertently identifies the tricks Fainwell will need to be successful in this “mad undertaking” (I.i.205): “If it depended on knight-errantry, I should not doubt your setting free the damsel; but to have avarice, impertinence, hypocrisy, and pride at once to deal with, requires more cunning than generally attends a man of honor” (I.i.146-9). In this single statement, Freeman identifies Fainwell as a “knight-errant” figure, addresses the imitable vices of the four guardians, and points out that Fainwell will have to act as something other than a “man of honor” if he wishes to succeed. Essentially, Freeman not only sums up the entire play’s plot in a sentence, but he also describes Fainwell as the ideal rake-hero: a man capable of knight-errantry with the ability to adopt rakish characteristics to help him in his pursuit.
This instance is not the last in which Fainwell’s rakish heroism is evident. In a later conversation with Freeman, the two men discuss one of the Colonel’s plans to win the approval of a guardian. Fainwell explains, “I am to personate a highwayman, I suppose. That’s a project I am not fond of; for though I may fright him out of his consent, he may fright me out of my life when he discovers me, as he certainly must in the end” (IV.i.387-392). Fainwell’s reluctance shows that he may lack some of the nastier characteristics associated with the hooligan rake of Restoration drama, although he is quick to accept the other elements of disguise and trickery to complete the task—further proof that he is a reformed version of the rake rather than the “mythic outlaw … [like] other Restoration and eighteenth-century types such as the pirate and highwayman” described by Erin Mackie (129). However, before Freeman offers a safer alternative to this plan, Fainwell shows his willingness to adopt these rakish characteristics—even to do something as risky as act as a highwayman—in order to achieve his purpose.
It is certain, then, that Fainwell is an example of the evolved rake-hero; though the two characteristics may seem to exist in opposition to one another, Fainwell is both honorable and rakish at the same time. His motivation is pure-hearted and generally selfless, but he achieves his ends through questionable activities, such as deceit and impersonation. These rakish characteristics are Fainwell’s rakish inheritance, and they are what enable him to successfully pursue Anne Lovely where another purely honest man would have failed.
 A rake, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a fashionable or stylish man of dissolute or promiscuous habits.” The OED definition for “libertine” is “a man who is not restrained by moral law, esp. in his relations with the female sex; one who leads a dissolute, licentious life.” Therefore, “libertine” is used here and throughout this essay as a rough synonym for “rake.”
 “Pay back,” as defined by The Broadview Anthology’s glossary in this edition.
 “Cheat,” as defined by The Broadview Anthology’s glossary in this edition.
3. Female Sexual Oppression: Anne Lovely and the Female Libertine
Susanna Centlivre’s plays contain an inherent element of proto-feminism that results from her status as a successful female playwright during an era in which female playwrights were uncommon. Being female, of course, is not the only qualification for being a proto-feminist writer, but according to Nancy Copeland, Centlivre’s Whig ideology encompasses ideas of liberty that tie her to the ideals of feminism (721). Copeland suggests, then, that we must read A Bold Stroke as a proto-feminist text to some extent.
Thus far, I have argued that Colonel Fainwell is the key factor that affords Anne Lovely her sexual freedom, and in so doing, I have suggested that the rake-hero is a necessary agent in this quest for freedom from sexual oppression. The necessity of a rake-hero’s involvement implies that women are incapable of achieving this on their own. But to what extent does Anne, then, if Centlivre’s values are to be taken as proto-feminist, have the ability to free herself from this oppressive, contractual state?
In accordance with her father’s wishes, if Anne decides to marry a man who does not fit her guardians’ preferences, she will lose her fortune of thirty thousand pounds. Her maid, Betty, suggests that she “give up [her] own fortune and throw [her]self upon the colonel’s” (I.ii.26-7), but Anne refuses to give up her fortune for the sake of her own sexual freedom; it is a paradox for her—if she achieves sexual autonomy, she loses financial freedom, and if she keeps her financial security, she cannot marry and will likely “die a maid” (I.i.19). She is determined, however, to hold on to both of these assets, and looks to Colonel Fainwell to enact his plans and ensure her freedom. But under her guardians’ control, she is sexually oppressed to varying degrees. Misty G. Anderson calls one of her guardians, Periwinkle, “an image of scholarly misogyny” (134). Tradelove acts on his name and literally trades her for his own monetary benefit. Perhaps worst of the four, though, is Obadiah Prim, whose sexually repressive Quaker values seep from every word he utters: “Those breasts inflame desire; let them be hid, I say” (II.i.61-2). Anne is indeed oppressed by her contract, but she still refuses to waver on her decision to keep her fortune. Why, then, does she not attempt to free herself from her contractual burden? Is it possible that Centlivre could have established Anne as a female libertine who could then achieve her own sexual freedom? Does Anne exhibit some of the same elements of boldness that Fainwell, a confirmed rake-hero, also exhibits? And what would it mean for her to be a female libertine in this setting?
Nancy Copeland’s introduction to the text states that “Anne’s position within these transactions [her guardians’ giving of her hand with or without her consent] is that of a commodity, coveted by Fainwell and traded by her guardians. Her largely passive role is characteristic of the developing position of the genteel middle-class woman within capitalism” (721). I would argue, however, that while Anne is unable to assert substantial control, she is anything but willingly passive. She is a victim of circumstance, but she does not allow her situation to keep her subdued.
Just as Colonel Fainwell’s first words of the play help to establish his character as a lover, Anne’s first words of the play are an exclamation of defiance: “Must I be condemned all my life to the preposterous humours of other people and pointed at by every boy in Town? Oh! I could tear my flesh and curse the hour I was born” (I.ii.4-7). She implies here that she would rather die, or at least never have existed, rather than be subject to the oppression of her four guardians. In spite of this shocking declaration, she will not take the easy way out, as Betty suggests. Anne asks her, “So you would advise me to give up my own fortune and throw myself upon the colonel’s” (I.ii.26-7). When Betty advises that she should “make [her]self easy,” Anne replies, “That’s not the way, I am sure” (I.ii.28-9). She asserts herself on this matter, refusing to give up either her fortune or her freedom.
But the boldness of Anne’s character does not end at her private conversation with Betty. She freely expresses her frustration with the Prims as they attempt to impose upon her the restrictive dress and morals of their Quaker beliefs. When Obadiah Prim asks her to cover her chest with a handkerchief, she smartly replies in a passive-aggressive manner, “I hate handkerchiefs when ’tis not winter, Mr. Prim” (II.ii.55-6). When the Prims try again to force her to follow their rules, she exclaims to them, “I wish I were in my grave! Kill me rather than treat me thus” (II.ii.79-80), alluding to her earlier wish for death. And when even this cannot accomplish her goals, she boldly points out Prim’s hypocrisy, blackmailing him in an aside to him: “Thou blinder of the world, don’t provoke me, lest I betray your sanctity and leave your wife to judge of your purity. What were the emotions of your spirit when you squeezed Mary by the hand last night in the pantry…? Ah! You had no aversion to naked bosoms when you begged her to show you a little, little, little bit of her delicious bubby” (II.ii.100-107). It becomes clear that while Anne may be incapable of boldness through actions, she, like Fainwell, is capable of assertiveness and even rakishness through speech. Indeed, this is not her only similarity to Fainwell. She herself notes that she “must vary shapes as often as a player” (II.ii.66-7) when she is traded from guardian to guardian, just as Fainwell eventually must do, literally speaking, in order to enact his plan. So is it possible that through the right twist of plot, Anne Lovely, who is so protective of her fortune and so forward with her sexuality, might have become some form of female rake within this play?
While Erin Mackie asserts that “there is no feminine analogue for the rake … the rake’s counterpart is not the ‘female rake’ but the harlot” (131), Laura Leigh Linker writes of the existence of a female libertine—and furthermore, notes how the female libertine and the rake-hero may exist to the same effect: “Scholars have traditionally studied the female libertine as a reflection of her more notorious male counterpart, the rake-hero” (1). Whether a “harlot” or a simple reflection of a rake-hero, the female libertine exists as an example of rakish inheritance; she contains the thread of sexual agency necessary to be considered a rakish character. It is hard to accept that one could call the female libertine a harlot, considering she falls so well into the category of libertine described by Jeremy Webster: “a familiar figure as a sexual adventurer and as a radical questioner of social, political, and moral values” (2). With this description, it seems the female libertine may be even more revolutionary than the male rake; it is far more shocking for a woman to fill this role as a “radical questioner” than a man. So why might the female libertine be thrown into the category of harlot? Perhaps because of the conventions of this era, the female rake could exist in no form other but a harlot. Kathleen Wilson affirms this idea, noting that the “female rake, as sexual agent, could not be accounted for except through the languages of primitiveness or depravity” (109). Essentially, eighteenth-century society’s structure had no place to include a rake-heroine.
Pat Gill’s essay, “Gender, sexuality, and marriage” goes further in establishing the reasons why a female rake-hero is unable to exist in eighteenth-century drama: “In a clearly gender-determined dramatic convention, the sexual bravado and amorous guile of rake-heroes become sexual rapaciousness and hypocrisy in women” (199). The rakish characteristics in male characters, specifically their promiscuity, do not transfer to female characters in a way that preserves the purity and femininity which they are expected to maintain. As Mackie argues, the presence of masculine characteristics (such as “sexual bravado”) in women causes the woman to be perceived as a harlot character. In many ways, Anne exhibits qualities of a rake-hero: longing for freedom, willingness to speak out, interest in self-preservation, and a desire for a sexual relationship with the person of her choice. But were she to push the boundaries of the gender-based restrictions that surround her and turn her body over to Fainwell in the interest of pursuing her sexual desires, she would cross the boundary between rebellious and promiscuous. It seems, then, that Anne is incapable of achieving her own sexual freedom without disgracing her good name and essentially falling into the role of harlot, making it impossible for her to exist as a rake-hero within this play.
 This idea was addressed by Catherine Burroughs in a class discussion on April 14, 2010.
4. Conclusion: The Rake-Hero as Agent to Female Sexual Autonomy
As Anne Lovely is incapable of achieving sexual autonomy without losing her fortune or ruining her name, she is therefore forced to remain “largely passive” (Copeland 721) in her actions throughout A Bold Stroke. However, she is able to assert herself on the single issue of wishing to keep her fortune, and refuses to accept any alternative. Either she will marry the man of her choice when he is accepted by all four of her guardians so that she will not lose her fortune, or she will stubbornly die unmarried. Betty explains the easiest solution: to marry the colonel regardless of her guardians’ wishes, knowing that she will lose her fortune, since her fortune would fall into the hands of her husband, regardless. But Anne refuses, telling Betty, “[Colonel Fainwell] promised to set me free, and I, on that condition, promised to make him master of that freedom” (I.ii.49-51). By successfully winning her hand in marriage, Fainwell will become “master of [her] fortune” (I.ii.39), which will only shift the power over Anne’s life and money from her guardians to Fainwell. So, in this sense, even marrying the man she loves will not grant Anne any apparent level of financial freedom. It therefore seems strange that Anne is so insistent on refusing to marry Fainwell without her guardians’ approval, since it only means keeping a fortune she will simply give up once she is married.
Perhaps Anne is merely being practical; she recognizes that there is no way to be entirely independent in a world where her money has been, and always will be, in the control of the men in her life—first her father, then her assigned guardians, and finally, her husband. Anne, therefore, has only three options: to have her fortune, but remain under the control of four men she hates; to give up her fortune for the sake of sexual autonomy; or to give Fainwell, the man she loves, control of her fortune, in exchange for that sexual autonomy. Of the three choices, the third is the one that affords her the most independence, though she is still restricted by placing herself and her finances under a man’s control. Anderson explains the reasoning behind Anne’s decision: “A Bold Stroke does not recant Centlivre’s earlier claims that women should have access to the public, civil dimensions of contract, but she does admit that the access women have to that realm is tenuous and must at some level be granted by men” (132). Anne’s decision to keep her fortune until she is freed by Fainwell shows her understanding of her situation: though she will never be entirely free from male control, it is better for her to be under the control of one man whom she loves than four whom she hates; thus, she puts her sexual autonomy in Fainwell’s hands.
With her decision in place, “Anne [is left] with only the security of the lengths to which Fainwell is willing to go” (Anderson 138). In fact, Anne appears rarely throughout the play after she makes her decision in act one, scene two, emerging again only in act two, scene two, and act five, scene one. The rest of the play is centered on Fainwell’s efforts to defeat the guardians’ contract and win Anne’s hand in marriage. Anne’s forced passive role and the lack of her presence throughout the play indicates that the focus is on Fainwell’s ability to use his rakish characteristics to defeat each of the guardians and win Anne her sexual independence.
Between the latter two scenes in which Anne appears, Fainwell works every plot he can conceive in order to persuade, deceive, or trick each of Anne’s guardians into relinquishing control over her. He befriends Sir Philip in the guise of a Frenchman, makes a monetary deal with Tradelove while pretending to be a Dutchman, acts as Simon Pure to win the Prims’ approval, and when Periwinkle catches him masquerading as an Egyptian trader with a magic girdle, Fainwell disguises himself as a steward and eventually manages to get Periwinkle to sign off on Anne’s contract by tricking him into thinking it is a lease. It is this outright rakish behavior that enables him to gain the necessary signatures from the guardians and, eventually, obliterate the contract that is restricting Anne. By using his rakish characteristics to enact a plot that eventually is able to legally break the contract, Colonel Fainwell enables Anne to make the decision that affords her the most independence: to marry him with her guardians’ approval and put him in control of her fortune.
According to Harold Weber, the “Restoration rake … reflects a remarkable transformation in conceptions of sexuality, inaugurating the culture’s attempt to transfer the control of sexuality from the divine to the secular world” (179). A Bold Stroke represents this transference: the “divine world” that has control of female sexuality is here represented by Anne’s four guardians, who have been given their orders by Anne’s deceased father. He is working like the divine, asserting godlike powers over her sexuality even after he has passed away. Colonel Fainwell, as a rake-hero, represents the movement of sexuality from divine to secular. He uses any means necessary to thwart the “divine” contract and to afford Anne control of her own sexuality, and in doing so, he successfully transfers “control of sexuality … to the secular world” (179). His rakishness also helps to break the tradition “for strict fathers to function as blocking devices as they sought to prevent their children from marrying the partner of their choice… [irresponsible fathers] whose authority needs more than correction: it needs to be overturned” (Munns 144).
As Jessica Munns goes on to explain beautifully, “The comedies’ rake-heroes and the heroes of serious drama have frequently been seen as diametrically opposed figures, but they are better understood as differently nuanced versions of figures who pit their drives—for sex, for glory—against civil or religious authority” (150). Yes, a rake-hero is a form of hero, for he is able to accomplish incredible, meaningful things using his craftiness and deceitful nature—and Colonel Fainwell is a perfect example. His sincerity regarding his love for Anne, his drive to fight against authority, and his interest in saving Anne from her sexual and financial restrictions are the qualities that distinguish him from the early rakish “sexually predatory male” described by Michael Mangan (cited in Webster 4) and help to depict him as a form of hero. Yet throughout the play, Fainwell is not simply a “[hero] of serious drama” as Munns mentioned—he maintains enough of the traditional rakish qualities, such as a promiscuous past, an inclination toward chicanery, and a willingness to stop at nothing to achieve his goals, to be considered a nuanced version of the rake. Thus, Colonel Fainwell’s status as an evolved rake enables him to become a heroic representation of the new moral values associated with the early eighteenth century while still maintaining the necessary characteristics to thwart the conservative masculine control over female sexuality and to successfully act as an agent and a catalyst to female sexual autonomy.
Anderson, Misty G. Female Playwrights and Eighteenth-Century Comedy: Negotiating
Marriage on the London Stage. 1 ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. Print.
Centlivre, Susanna. A Bold Stroke for a Wife. The Broadview Anthology of Restoration and Early Eighteenth-Century Drama, Concise Edition (Broadview Anthologies of English Literature). Concise ed. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2003. 721-761. Print.
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