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Sir Arthur W. Pinero's play The Second Mrs. Tanqueray was written in 1893 and was constructed around the conventions of the well-made play. The well-made play originated in France as the pièce bien faite, and is characterized by a detailed, practical intended organization of plotting. The logical precise construction of the well-made play is characterized by a number of conventions: the audience is quickly introduced to the characters and their relevant histories, there is a complication usually a withheld secret, known to the audience but unknown to the characters, which, when revealed at the climax, is an unreal coincidence and it reverses the fortunes of the play's hero. The hero's fortune fluctuates during this conflict with the antagonist until finally, at the climax, the plot unravels, quickly, the secret is revealed in the final dénouement, or resolution. The Second Mrs. Tanqueray is an effective well-made play because of its structure and the way it impacts the audience in the end. As the elements of the well-made play entail, we are introduced to all of the characters and have an understanding of their history and the troubles that their history can cause. More precisely this is a story of a very non-conventional woman of this audience's time and by going through the play I will identify its key representations of the well-made play.
Aubery Tanqueray, a self-made man, is a Widower at the age of Forty two with a beautiful teenage daughter, Ellean whom he seems very protective over. His deceased wife, the first Mrs. Tanqueray was "an iceberg," stiff, and assertive, alive as well as dead (13). She had ironically died of a fever "the only warmth, I believe, that ever came to that woman's body" (14). Now alone because his daughter is away at a nunnery he's found someone that can add a little life to his elite, high class existence; a little someone, we learn, that has a past that doesn't quite fit in with the rest of his friends.
The problems begin in Act One, the exposition, on the night before Aubery's wedding to an unknown individual. Aubery has drinks and dinner with his three closest friends, Cayley Drummel a bachelor, Doctor Gordon Jayne, and Frank Misquith, Q.C., M.P. His conversation seems to be that of a farewell, "We'll end a pleasant chapter here tonight, and after tonight start afresh.
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Shortly after Cayley's departure there is an unannounced arrival of this new woman, Paula Ray, she is alone, and it's late in the evening but her arrival is important because she has brought her soon to be husband a letter addressed to him containing a confession of the her past in detail. To identify another problem, Aubery doesn't want to read the letter and throws it into the fire with his reasoning, "I can't bear to hear you always talking about what's done with. I tell you I'll never remember it; Paula can't you dismiss it? Try. Darling, if we promise each other to forget, we're bound to be happy" and then sends Paula home with concern that the servants had seen her because of her unladylike behavior having shown up so late and comfortably doing so (21). Before Paula's departure Aubery opens another letter, this one he has received from his daughter announcing that she doesn't want to be at the convent anymore, as her deceased mother had requested, and she'd like to come home to live with her Father. His daughter Ellean is our "ingénue" character, the young and endearingly innocent woman, who deserves nothing but kind things in her life.
Act Two, also known as the complication, begins several months later. The couple, who should happily be enjoying their marriage, sits bored and unengaged. The situation is very tense and Paula isn't exactly happy with the marriage: "Oh! I have no patience with you! You'll kill me with this life! What is my existence, Sunday to Saturday?" (26). Aubery hasn't had much contact with his friends and Ellean is living at home again and isn't quite comfortable with something in regards to Paula. Paula is jealously anxious admittedly to win Ellean's confidence and friendship; "You could cure me of my jealousy very easily. Why don't you like me?" (29). In Paula's desperation to find friendship she invites, to Aubery's dismay, Lord George Orreyed and his chorus girl wife to be their guests. Lady Orreyed serves as a bit of a foil to Paula, she is a woman that is younger then her husband, she's good looking, "Her affections, emotions, impulses, her very existence a burlesque!" and has a bit of a past as well but it has not effected her current life, unlike what will eventually transpire with Paula (11). In the midst of this, Mrs. Cortelyon, a neighbor, asks if she can take Ellean to Paris and London for the season and Aubery agrees, admitting that they themselves can't give Ellean the social background to which she is entitled being cooped up in the country. Drummel puts it best before Aubery agrees to send Ellean off with Mrs. Cortelyon: "You must either restrict her to a paradise which is, like every earthly paradise, necessarily somewhat imperfect, or treat her as an ordinary flesh-and-blood young woman, and give her the advantages of that society to which she properly belongs" (32).
Act three begins, also known as the climax, and Paula finds herself just as bored as before her guests had arrived, and her relationship with her husband continues to suffer. The couple argues continually about the problem of Paula's past "I know what you were at Ellean's age You hadn't a thought that wasn't a wholesome one think of the difference between the two Paulas and then ask yourself what sort of a friend such a woman as you are today would have been for the girl of seven or eight years ago" (47). As if things couldn't get anymore complicated, surprisingly Ellean returns home, having had a wonderful time with Mrs. Cortelyon, to ask her father's permission for her to marry a gentleman by the name of Captain Hugh Ardale. Hugh's characteristics are similar to Paula's, in example, he shows up late at night, uninvited, to woe his lovely Ellean: "You must go away; it's not right for you to here like this" (52). Paula upon meeting Captain Ardale is clearly upset, and her "past" is now back to haunt her, Captain Ardale and Paula used to have relations and lived together. In literary terms he is considered the "rake" because he can be defined by his past as a man who participates in immoral behavior. With this Paula feels impelled to confess to Aubrey the sort of things that were in the letter that was burned in Act one. Ellean, as sweet as she is, does for Captain Ardale what her father never did for Paula and that is, to forgive him for his past: "As far as I could forgive him, I forgave him" (64). Aubery serves as a blocking figure to Ellean's happiness, per request from Paula and her unwillingness to forgive herself from destroying our young "ingénue's" life. "Damn this chance!" (55).
Act four is the "dénouement" or resolution of the play. Unfortunately the resolution is that of a gloomy one making our play a clear tragedy. The foils and guests to Aubery and Paula Tanqueray, Sir George and Lady Mabel Orreyed, are thanking the Tanqueray's for being wonderful hostesses to their stay. Ellean with mysterious instinct realizes, after her conversation with her father that forbids her to see Captain Ardale again, that there is a sort of "past" about Paula that is going to affect her future with her one true love. Ellean tells Paula, "I have always known what you were!" There is a pure desperation from Paula, "Ellean, I'm a good woman! I swear I am!" (66). Ellean's taunting drives Paula extremely upset and our woman with a "past" can not have a future and ends her own life. Paula's final conversation defines her character in the well-made play. As a realist with passion and certain nobility, Paula says, "I believe the future is only the past again, entered through another gate," (68). She sees no other way to live.
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray was constructed around the conventions of the well-made play to tell a tale about a non-conventional woman for audiences of their time. Paula's past was that of a free spirit who hardly stayed grounded, wholesome, or within the conventions like the woman were expected to behave. Paula sought after a life of high class and the possibility to lead an elite life, but it was her own conscience that kept her unhappy. Her marriage was a failure from the start because Aubery married her with the assumption that he would remain lonely with his daughter away, and Paula was forced to be cooped up and act in a manner that wasn't quite natural to her. The well-made play has troubling elements; here we have the destroyed letter, the misfortune of Ellean returning home and then wanting to marry a man that used to be her step-mothers previous lover, and the conscience of a woman that just won't be reasonable. There are many underlying issues as well. In The Second Mrs. Tanqueray there isn't another ending that would be as effective as Paula committing suicide; this is the ultimate misfortune for the plays hero. Paula has a "past" and she pays the crucial price for it. The well-made play is entirely that, well made and it's no exception when speaking of this play. Sir Arthur W. Pinero has success with this play because it stirs the audience's emotions as they become connected to the characters, especially to Paula.