- Structures of Adultery: Otway’s The Souldiers Fortune and Restoration Domestic Architecture
The subject of adultery in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England has seen a good deal of scholarly interest in recent criticism, particularly as the relationships between the participants in the adulterous transaction have been theorized. But few investigations have considered that the adulterous liaison requires a space for its performance: Samuel Pepys, who has become an emblematic figure in the late seventeenth century for sexual “carrying-on,” records in his diary that his frequent fits of adultery took place in a variety of locations—the houses of his mistresses while their husbands were away, carriages, boats, private rooms in Lambeth alehouses, his own dining-room, even, if we extend our focus to include his extra-marital fantasy and subsequent spontaneous ejaculation, church. Lawrence Stone reminds us that Pepys’s sexuality might not be entirely normative for its period (“Most men at most periods do not record their sexual experiences, and the few that do are likely to be exceptional in some way or other”), but the variety of spaces in which his adulterous liaisons occurs prompts discussion about the architectonics of adultery in the Restoration.1 How is adultery shaped or determined by the physicality of its locus? How does the adulterous act configure space? How do the spatial structures of adultery interact with the discourses of public and private space in the domestic environment? In this present essay I intend to consider how these questions find expression in Thomas Otway’s The Souldiers Fortune (1680), a Restoration comedy that is unusually explicit in its representation of the dynamics of household space.
The premise upon which The Souldiers Fortune functions is typical enough for its genre. After Charles II’s army has been disbanded, Captain Beaugard and his comrade-in-arms Courtine return penniless to London, where Beaugard discovers that in his absence Clarinda, his former mistress, has married Sir Davy Dunce, an aged wealthy man. With the help of the voyeuristic “Reverend pimp,” Sir Jolly Jumble, Beaugard plots—successfully—to cuckold Sir Davy.2 But the play is as [End Page 347] much a representation of political discord as it is of marital difficulty and adultery. Robert D. Hume suggests that the cuckolding in this play can be differentiated from that of other Restoration plays because “Beaugard is not the usual airy younger son, scrambling to make his fortune; rather, he is a grown man facing a bleak future in a desperately inhospitable world.” For Hume, the play’s “harsh realism” and the situations through which “poverty is . . . made real” are results of Otway’s military service in the 1670s and his own first-hand experience of financial distress.3 Michael Cordner casts The Souldiers Fortune as a conflict between Tory and Whig: in Beaugard’s and Courtine’s world, the inversion of social hierarchy has placed these descendants of the “old Cavaliers” (1.15–16) at the bottom of the heap: “Their England is one in which the Whigs’ ascendancy is so total that they have, in effect, already achieved victory. . . . And in that England Beaugard and Courtine are irretrievably outsiders.”4 Sir Davy is the ascendant Whig who “rail[s] against the King and the Government, and is mightily fond of being thought of a party” (1.463–64), and who is in possession of what Beaugard, the Tory, is missing: his mistress Clarinda (now Lady Dunce) and property—an upscale Covent Garden residence that contrasts sharply with Beaugard’s homelessness and starving vagabondage at the beginning of the play. As Cordner remarks, “the story has been set up in a manner which ratifies Tory stigmatizing of the Whig as a kind of enemy within.”5 For both Hume and Cordner, Beaugard’s apparent success at the play’s conclusion is seriously qualified. Hume maintains that “for Beaugard and Lady Dunce there can be no satisfactory conclusion. (Unless, of course, Otway were to . . . provide a legally impossible divorce),” and Cordner concurs.6 Quoting from Lawrence Stone’s Road to Divorce: England 1530–1987 that “England in the early modern period was neither a separating nor a divorcing society,” he proposes that