The Double Dealer: Congreve’s art of Plot Construction The Double Dealer

In his Epistle dedicatory Congreve gives an account of the plot – pattern of his second play, The Double Dealer: “I design the moral first and to that moral I invented the fable, and do not know that I have borrowed one hint of it any where. I made the plot as strong as I could, because it was single because I would avoid confusion and was resolved to preserve the three unities of the drama” The statement involves the three main points: 

I . The plot of the play as a moral at the centre of it. 

II. The fable that makes the plot is Congreve’s invention.

III. The plot is an affair of a single story, the structure adhering to the rule of three unities.

The first point is to be discussed first. The moral of the play seems to have much to do with the concept of ‘poetic justice ‘, as introduced by Rymer who in Tragedies of The Last Age declares: “Literature should show any ideal God given order. Though Knaves might thrive outside the theatre, inside it rewards should be passed out to the good, and the bad should get punished to fit crime “Congreve draws the character of Maskwell as a knave, a person who is an adept in playing a double game. His name is connotative. He knows how to wrap a mask well and practice hypocrisy. He intends to grab the property of Lord Touchwood and win the hand of Cynthia who is already engaged to Mellefont. With these two evil purposes in view, Maskwell devises a double plot: continuing a theoretical game of love with Lady Touchwood ; feigning to be a true friend of Mellefont .At the initial stage Maskwell registers success managing to be-fool Lady Touchwood , winning the confidence of Lord Touchwood and throwing dust in the eye of Mellefont . But towards the end his trick recoils on him, his wickedness being exposed. The result is that poetic justice is established, the knave being punished and the good – hearted youth Mellefont receiving his reward. The ending of the play is therefore marked by Lord Touch Wood declaring: “Let Secret villainy from hence be warn’d /Howev’r in private mischief are conceived / Torture and shame attend their open birth'.

Congreve says that the fable he presents in the play is not a borrowed one but of his own invention. The truth of the statement cannot be questioned. Never the less, one may refer to a contemporary case which might have some bearing on the design of the fable. When Congreve was a student preparing the career of a dramatist, a trial was held by the privy council which dealt with the attempt of a young forger named Robert young to duplicate the career of citusoates . The youth forged a document in Marlborough’s hand and the result was that man borough was sent le the tower. However the story of Robert young seems to have supplied the raw material which subsequently receives a new shape in the hand of Congreve. The fable of the plot is Congreve’s invention in so far as it carries a pattern of coherence. 

1740 edition of The Double Dealer
Congreve is an admirer of classical literature. The classical rules that give discipline to the structure also fascinate him. When he goes to construct the plot of The Double Dealer , he keeps in mind  Aristotle who insists on a single story streamlined through an exact beginning , a logical middle and an inevitable end , Hence he concentrates on the story of Maskwell’s futile move to deceive a set of persons and achieve his none – too honest end . The first part exhibits a festive scene with Lord Touchwood hosting a grand feast. He declares two important things:
I Mellefont , his nephew , will be his heir
Ii  Mellefont will soon be married to Cynthia .

So the beginning of the plot serves as a fitting exposition. But as soon as Naswell appears on the scene, complications follow and matters go in his favour . The third makes a turning point, initiating a counter movement. The hypocrisy of Maskwell is exposed and Mellefont is properly rewarded for his integrity. The three parts are bound each to each, and the total pattern is one of coherent inter – weaving.

There is still another feature the plot: the observance of the rule of unities. Since the venue is Lord Touch wood’s house and the garden attached to it, the plot conforms to the unity of the place. Again, the play demonstrates a number of events which are confined to the span of about three hours, where as the stage – performance of the play cause for the same span of time. The correspondence between plot time and dramatic time rigorously accords with the neo – classical rule of the unity of time. Lastly, the play accommodates no sub – plot, and the story that constitutes the plot is a single one, having a beginning, middle and an end. Hence there is no denying that the unity of action asserts itself in the play. Indeed when Dryden causes Congreve ‘the best classical architect of English drama’, he obviously points to The Double Dealer, the plot of which goes well with Dryden’s encomium. 
   Ardhendu De                       
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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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