The Conscious Lovers (1722) by Richard Steele
Scene I Sir John Bevil’s House
Sir John Bevil is a bit dismayed when he discovers during an odd encounter at a masquerade that his son, Bevil Jr., has been entertaining an unknown woman. Bevil Jr. has been fixed to marry the daughter of Mr. Sealand, the connection of which would unite two vast estates. Mr. Sealand learns of the incident and breaks off plans for the union. Sir John instructs his servant, Humphrey, to chat with Bevil Jr.’s servant, Tom, in the hopes of acquiring information; Bevil Jr. was supposed to have married on that very day. Humphrey leaves and Phillis enters.
Servant Tom seems to have eyes and heart for Phillis, maidservant to Bevil Jr.’s bride-to-be, Lucinda, but she’s a little skeptical of his interest. In spite of all this, he instructs her to deliver a letter to Lucinda on behalf of Bevil Jr.
Scene II Bevil Jr.’s Lodgings
Sir John and Bevil Jr. conduct a father and son discussion. Sir John’s riotous marriage from his past is conveyed during the conversation. Bevil Jr. retains a reserved yet uncanny air about his fixed marriage, though he understands that somehow, Sir John is trying to make up for his mistake of marrying carelessly by having his son marry properly, to marry a woman of wealth and decency.
Afterwards, Humphrey and Bevil Jr. talk alone, where Bevil Jr.’s story of love — what is really eating at him — is revealed as a “secret” between the two. The story inspires in Humphrey the desire to help. The scene ends with an essence of discomfort and worry about the future of love.
Scene I Bevil Jr.’s Lodgings cont.
Bevil Jr.’s friend Myrtle loves Lucinda, and he arrives to talk with the former about this. Bevil Jr. assures him he does not want to marry her, but Myrtle informs that the coxcomb Cimberton is a possible threat; Lucinda’s mother wants her to marry him for his money. Cimberton, however, cannot act without consent from his uncle, and this is the case to be put before “her counsel,” lawyers Bramble & Target.
Scene II Indiana’s Lodgings
Isabella, Sealand’s long lost sister, and Indiana, Sealand’s long lost daughter, chat about Bevil Jr.’s behavior. Indiana is in love, but Bevil Jr.’s betrothal to Lucinda has Isabella rendering him nothing more than a pig, a hypocrite. Indiana professes his sincerity, yet a bad relationship from her past has Isabella down on him; she trusts no one.
Isabella leaves, and Bevil Jr. enters to speak with Indiana, who’s suddenly skeptical. He talks of his love for her, how devout he is. She toys with the subject. They talk of opera and project themselves in line with characters, then out of the blue, he has a musician serenade Indiana. They discuss ulterior motives, but he ultimately leaves her feeling confident about him. Isabella returns to shower doubt on the matter, but Indiana refuses to agree with her.
Act III Sealand’s House
Phillis, servant to Lucinda, talking with Tom, wants to know of his love for her. He is trying to get feedback on his master’s letter, but is sidetracked by this activity. Nevertheless, he professes a deep love for her, and talks of the sadness of being a servant while in love; his hope is that their masters may endow them with a meager place to live someday. She finally gives him Lucinda’s response letter, and after he declares his sincerity for her, he kisses her!
Lucinda enters after Tom leaves, and talks to her about love without contracts in the servant world. She talks of herself and the bartering that occurs over her for marriage. After learning of the newest impending deal with Cimberton, Phillis leaves and her mother and Cimberton enter. He cracks his cold, calculating remarks of cynicism of which Mrs. Sealand is overtly thrilled by. He begins to survey Lucinda like a product — she departs in a rage. Cimberton and her mother continue discussing the deal that is to come, and of the lawyers involved. Myrtle and Tom then arrive disguised as “the counsel.” Between the two they spew forth meaningless rhetoric that sounds legal, therefore successfully deterring any immediate union between Lucinda and Cimberton.
Scene I Bevil Jr.’s Lodgings
Bevil Jr. is questioning Tom about his encounter with Myrtle. Tom has inadvertently revealed to Myrtle about the exchange of letters between Bevil Jr. and Lucinda. This exchange has made Myrtle aggressively jealous, and has demanded a duel between Bevil Jr. and himself. Myrtle appears at his house and a heated argument unfolds. Myrtle, truly unaware of the nature of the letter to his love, Lucinda, pushes Bevil Jr. to the point of accepting the duel, though all along Bevil Jr. has been level headed about the matter. He recovers only to learn that Myrtle would just assume Bevil Jr. to be innocent. He shows Myrtle the letter; Myrtle goes red with embarrassment, but is quickly forgiven. The renewed friends discuss the problem of rash decisions vs. maintaining patience and virtue.
Scene II St. Jame’s Park
Sir John and Mr. Sealand discuss Bevil Jr.’s disposition. Sealand can’t forget seeing the young man with Indiana, and persists in thinking him a Rake. Sir John is adamant in defending his son as a man of honor, though he avoids the nature of his relationship to Indiana. Sealand is pointed in his disdain for Bevil Jr.’s behavior and therefore decides to address Indiana personally.
Humphrey enters after Sealand leaves, admitting he knows information about matters. He speaks on behalf of Bevil Jr.’s love for Indiana, and the discussion puts Sir John in a state of mental agitation. Sir John knows of the immense wealth a marriage to Lucinda will bring, and to think of a union otherwise, torments him.
Scene III Bevil Jr.’s Lodgings
Phillis endeavors to help Lucinda by addressing Myrtle personally. She proposes that he disguise himself as Sir Geoffrey, who is to arrive soon to seal matters between Cimberton and Lucinda. Myrtle accedes to the plan of which, Phillis does not openly convey her role in. Her words are simply, “Leave the rest to me,” and Myrtle is left hoping that he will ultimately be with Lucinda.
Scene I Sealand’s House
Myrtle-as-Geoffrey begins by pointing out that Lucinda is of the “merchant” class, the truth of which does not bother Cimberton. Phillis then endeavors to get Lucinda to notice the trick that is unfolding. In another room, Myrtle exposes himself to her. Phillis then notifies Mrs. Sealand that Mr. Sealand still intends to wed Lucinda to Bevil Jr.
Mrs. Sealand is frustrated over the notion of who controls her daughter, and declares that the matter will be settled once and for all, by taking everyone to confront Sealand.
Scene II Charing Cross
Humphrey encourages Sealand to seek Indiana, yet stresses the need for propriety in the matter. At Indiana’s, old Sealand bribes the young boy Daniel to gain entrance.
Scene III Indiana’s House
Isabella notices her brother Mr. Sealand automatically. She doesn’t tell him but rather, allows him to speak with Indiana personally. She is willing to hear him, though she declares the lowliness of her class and situation, deeming herself unworthy. Indiana suspects he is there to solidify the union between Bevil Jr. and Lucinda, to discourage her from interfering. Sealand, on the contrary, wants to know more about Bevil Jr.’s relationship with her. She discloses their passionate love, of his virtue, and Sealand begins to relinquish the idea of a fixed marriage. Indiana, ashamed of herself, pleads that he persist in his plan, to ignore her, insisting she must deal with the matter as is, yet in so doing, she reveals her troubled past. The thought of losing Bevil Jr. hurts her incredibly, and as she feels the onset of her pain — that her life continues to experience emotional disillusionment — she drops a bracelet that once belonged to Sealand.
Isabella enters to clarify the situation, that she is Sealand’s sister, and that Indiana is his lost daughter. The three of them embrace, and the first order of business becomes to wed Bevil Jr. and Indiana. Isabella departs then returns with the entire gang. When Cimberton learns Lucinda has become worth only half the estate, he takes his leave of her. The group is surprised when Myrtle then reveals himself from his disguise. The two couples are thus free to marry who they please, and Sir John ends the play by attributing the course of events to the power of Providence.