for Lady Mary Wroth's Love's Victory
by Michele Osherow
Wroth's Love's Victory is a play about precisely that--the victory of love (embodied by Venus and her son Cupid) over the hearts of mortals (represented largely by shepherds). The play is divided into five acts, during which we are privy to Venus' varying instructions to Cupid, the effects of Cupid's arrows on the mortals, and Venus' evaluations of her son's activities.
Wroth opens the play with a rather irate Venus. The Goddess of Love wants increased homage and respect from her mortal servants. She instructs her son Cupid to have these mortals bear the full burden of love's power, so that she and Cupid might enjoy greater glory. Cupid lays his ground plan: "Freinds shall mistrust theyr freinds, lovers mistake, / And all shall for theyr folly woes partake" (l. 27-28). The archer wastes no time. In the next scene we meet one Philisses, a shepherd, in love with Musella and lamenting his plight. He fears his beloved is actually in love with his best friend, Lissius. Lissius enters, but is disugsted by his friend's romantic ravings and will have none of it. While Philisses pines for Musella we find Silvesta, a shepherdess who has recently vowed to live a chaste life in the wood as a follower of Diana: "For love is idle, hapines ther's non / When freedom's lost and chastity is gon" (l. 129-130). Her decision comes from unrequited love; she was in love with Philisses, but his heart was (and is) elsewhere. Silvesta's conversion goes particularly hard with the Forester, who is in love with her. These characters are joined by a group of their shepherd friends: Musella, Dalina, Lacon, the Rustick, Fillis, Simeana and Climeana. Dalina suggests that for "sport" they might relate their love experiences in song. Philisses and Musella appoint themselves as judges and Lacon, the Rustick, and Climeana each sing. The act closes with Venus's commentary on Cupid's actions. She's decidedly unhappy since only half of the mortals are suffering for love. She is particularly insistent that Cupid shoot an arrow at Lissius, since he is most scornful of love's power.
The second act opens with the friends finding pleasure in watching Silvesta reject the Forester and jutify her chaste life. Lissius continues in his unromantic vein ("For wee showld women love butt as owr sheep" [l. 67]), and Musella (like Venus) says she hopes Lissius lives to wail and weep for love. Arcas arrives with a book of fortunes and the group makes selections. After this game, Lissius confronts Philisses to find out what's gotten into his friend. Philisses tells Lissius of his love for Musella, and his dread that Musella actually loves Lissius. Lissius assures Philisses that he is not interested in Musella, but instead in Philisses' own sister, Simeana. Philisses, much relieved, offers to help his friend win Simeana. At the close of this act Venus delights in Lissuius' suffering.
The top of the third act finds Musella challenging her friend Silvesta's chaste lifestyle and advises her that ture chastity is found in love. Silvesta claims to pity her friend who's too far gone in love to see the light. Musella admits that, in fact, she is deeply in love with Philisses and also that she knows that he thinks she's in love with Lissius. What to do? Both women acknowledge that Musella cannot confess her love to Philissees ("for a woman to make love is ill" [l. 79]), but Silvesta offers a plan whereby Musella can come across Philisses during his morning love-lament, suggesting that Musella might "show your self but kind" (l. 86). Their girlfriends arrive and Dalina (ever the gamester) suggests a sport in which the ladies confess their love experiences to one another. We find that Fillis was once in love with Philisses. A fight ensues between Simeana and Climeana over Lissius. It would appear that Simeana has a crush on her brother's friend. However, Climeana, Lissius's old flame, wants him back. Dalina advises them all to play hard to get. Lissius enters, begging Love's pardon and pity. Climeana takes the opportunity to throw herself at him, and Lissius is appalled at her behavior. He confesses his love to Simeana who, though she hesitates to believe him, vows that she loves him as well. Venus has witnessed all this, of course, and is disappointed that Cupid did not allow Lissius to suffer longer. As a result, Cupid promises greater misery for Lissius.
Musella follows Silvestra's advice and comes across Philisses anguishing over love. She promises him that if his beloved's heart may be won, she will help him do it. Philisses tells of his passion for her, Musella tells of her passion for him, and the two decide to share this secret with no one except Simeana. At this point, Simeana enters while scorning Lissius. It seems Cupid kept his promise and struck Simeana with an attack of jealousy. Simeana declares she cannot believe in Lissius' love since he undoubtedly said such things to Climeana once upon a time. Simeana claims to Musella, but Musella pleads on Lissius's behalf and Simeana apologizes to Lissius for her distrust.
There's trouble in paradise. Though Philisses and Musella have finally told one another of their love, it seems that Musella's mother is forcing her into marriage with the Rustic. Musella explains to Simeana that although Musella has pleaded with her mother against this marriage, Musella finally gave her (ill) consent; the marriage had been arranged in her father's will. Philisses enters and is confronted with the news. The lovers decide to visit the Temple of Love and kill themselves there. The suicide is problematic, however, since Philisses says he would die for Musella, but not with her; each makes the other promise not to commit suicide, but at the same time suggests that this is the only way they might be together forever. They leave for the Temple and one by one their friends arrive to learn the news. In the next scene, Silvesta has followed the couple to the Temple and offers the lovers a sweet potion so that thier hands will not be stained with one another's blood. The lovers grtefully accept and drink the potion. Simeana enters and declares that Silvesta must die for her part in this scene. The news of the couple's love and demise spreads. A funeral / belated marriage ceremony is held for the couple (as the Rustic saw fit to release Musella from her bond). Musella's mother laments her part in her daughter's death. Silvesta is about to be bourned as punishment for delivering her potion when the Forester offers to exchange his life for hers. Silvesta, much pleased, allows him to do this, as do the priests. Venus takes pity on these folks and shows herself to the mortals. She then awakens Musella and Philisses to the delight of all. Musella's mother allows Musella to marry Philisses; Simeana and Lissius rejoice as one; Dalina offers herself to the Rustic who happily will have her; and Silvesta, though determined to remain chaste, pledges her loyalty to the Forester.
Link to cast of characters.
See possible performance spaces.
Return to "Integrating the Web into the Women's Studies Curriculum" directory.