Once alone with Marwood, Fainall comments that if he lived long enough to be “rid” of his wife, he would be miserable. Marwood is surprised, to which Fainall then clarifies: that if this one hope—actually getting rid of his wife—were ever to be accomplished, he would not have anything left to hope for and so he would feel wretched.
Both Fainall’s wit and general awfulness are evident in his indirect speech, the way he can insult his wife that wouldn’t be clear to a random passerby. Fainall’s earlier comments to Mirabell about not getting trapped in marriage now have more context as his hatred of his marriage becomes clearer.
Marwood asks Fainall if he wants to follow Mrs. Fainall and Mirabell. Fainall does not. Yet Marwood encourages the idea because she has “a reason.” Fainall immediately asks her if she’s jealous. Marwood is puzzled, wondering who he thinks she’s jealous of. Fainall responds: Mirabell.
Mirabell has insinuated that Fainall and Marwood are having an affair. Mrs. Fainall thinks Marwood loves Mirabell. Now it’s clear that Fainall has similar suspicions about Marwood.
Marwood responds that in fact she is trying to protect Fainall’s “honor.” Fainall realizes her insinuation, that she believes Mirabell and Mrs. Fainall are more than friends. Marwood replies that she believes Mrs. Fainall does not actually hate Mirabell. Fainall claims to be unconvinced. And when Marwood says that Mirabell and Mrs. Fainall are probably deceiving him, he responds that he does sense that he is being deceived: he suspects that Marwood herself is deceiving him. He accuses her of being “false,” or of pretending to love him.
Marwood thinks Fainall can’t see that his wife might be keeping something from him, but as it will be revealed in a bit he just doesn’t care. Fainall is focused on Marwood, not on his wife. Here is proof that he and Marwood are having an affair. But note how Fainall, a cheater himself, is so quick to jealousy, so quick to accuse others of cheating. Falseness seems to breed the sense that everyone is false, resulting in relationships not built on trust.
Marwood is shocked. Fainall accuses her of loving Mirabell and “dissembling,” or hiding her love by pretending to hate Mirabell. He also tells Marwood he thinks that Mirabell is in love with her. He cites her blushing cheeks and “sparkling” eyes as signs of guilt.
Rather than question Marwood carefully, Fainall’s jealousy leads him to see what he wants to see. Though he’s right to feel suspicious about her motives, his emotions weaken his argument. Once again, the body is seen as betraying a truth that a person is trying to keep secret.
Marwood angrily denies Fainall’s accusations. But Fainall persists: he says that he recognized and ignored Mirabell’s “gross advances” toward Mrs. Fainall because, with his wife occupied, he could spend his time with Marwood without being suspected of cheating by his wife. He rebukes Marwood for thinking that just because he was ignoring his wife’s indiscretions that he was equally blind to his lover’s wandering eye.
Fainall’s deceptions become clear: he wanted Mrs. Fainall to be deceiving him because it gave him cover to deceive her in turn. The entire marriage is based on lies. But he has a different standard for his marriage and his affair. He seems really to love Marwood, but this love makes him possessive, jealous, and angry.
Marwood asks him to tell her what, exactly, he is accusing her of. Fainall responds that she is guilty of “infidelity, with loving another, with love of Mirabell.” Marwood demands he prove his “groundless accusation,” and repeats that she hates Mirabell. Fainall thinks he knows why she hates him: because Mirabell is indifferent to Marwood’s affection. He argues that she had no reason otherwise to interfere with Mirabell’s chances of marrying Millamant, unless she did so out of spite.
Fainall makes good (and correct!) points here, though Marwood of course admits no such thing. This is the second instance of the play linking unrequited love with hate—both Marwood and Wishfort seem to have responded to Mirabell’s lack of love to meet their own love with hatred and efforts to harm him.
Marwood again denies this, saying that her “obligations” as a friend to Wishfort, someone she could not stand seeing Mirabell toy with, led her to reveal to Wishfort his true intentions in flattering her. Fainall doesn’t buy Marwood’s explanation, mocking the idea of her “professed” friendship to Wishfort and denouncing “the pious friendships of the female sex!”
Marwood bases her defense on virtue and friendship. Painting herself as a loyal and dedicated friend, Marwood is also trying to make Fainall feel guilty for doubting her. But Fainall does not trust women or believe that a person in general can be intrinsically good. Opportunistic and conniving himself, he sees all people as opportunistic and conniving.
Marwood retorts that female friendship is “more tender, more sincere, and more enduring” than the “vain” and “empty vows” of men to their lovers and to one another. To this, Fainall reminds Marwood that she claims to be his wife’s friend, too. Marwood responds angrily that Fainall has no right to reproach her, particularly about her friendship to his wife. After all, she reminds him, she has sacrificed a lot to be with him. Though false to her friend, she is faithful to him. She continues that he should be happy that she has been “vicious” to his wife given the development of their relationship. She then asks whether he is displacing his own guilt for cheating on his wife onto her.
Marwood argues that women in general are more trusting and loving than men ever are. When Fainall attacks her with her affair to him, she turns the argument around on him, saying that men are what make her—and women in general—sacrifice their love and trust in each other. It is unclear if Marwood truly believes this, despite the fact that even at this moment she is lying to Fainall about her feelings for Mirabell, or if she’s just trying to win the argument with Fainall.
Fainall, chastened, says that Marwood misinterpreted him. He meant only to remind her of how she used to place even her closest relationships beneath her love to him. Marwood doesn’t buy this explanation, and accuses him of wanting to cause her pain intentionally. Fainall responds that it’s her “guilt” rather than her “resentment” that’s made her angry. He says that if she actually loved him, she would forgive his jealousy. He adds that she’s “stung” that he’s discovered her secret love of Mirabell.
The argument seems to follow a predictable course: Fainall sort of apologizes while trying to make things Marwood’s fault, Marwood guilt-trips him back, and then Fainall tries to use her love for him to guilt-trip her into forgiving him even as he also tries to make her admit that he was right all along! This spot-on portrayal of an argument/battle between men and women is the point – this is the way of the world.
Marwood angrily says she’s going to reveal their affair to his wife and that she’d rather be exposed as an adulteress than allow Fainall’s continued bad behavior. She says the world needs to know about the “injuries” he has done to her fame and fortune, both of which she entrusted to him. Fainall, shocked, responds that he has protected her fame and used her fortune on “pleasures” that they both shared.
Again it is unclear if Marwood is honest here—if she’d actually rather publically expose her adultery than be privately harassed by Fainall—or if this is just another tactic to defeat Fainall. Fainall discusses his affair in monetary terms. The “love” in this relationship seems based on surface things—“pleasures”—rather than the sort of deep love Mirabell described earlier in his feelings for Millamant.
Fainall adds that if Marwood hadn’t been untrue, he would have repaid her expenses. He explains that if Marwood hadn’t intervened, and Mirabell and Millamant had married without Wishfort’s consent, Wishfort would’ve been so upset that she would’ve disinherited Millamant. Millamant’s fortune would then have gone to Mrs. Fainall and Fainall would have had access to that money to spend on Marwood. Marwood doesn’t believe Fainall. He implores Marwood to reconcile with him and with the “truth,” but Marwood responds that he and “truth” are “inconsistent,” and says she hates him.
Now Fainall’s plotting is revealed: he was doing nothing to stop Mirabell because he saw how Mirabell marrying Millamant would make him money (it also shows how dependent Fainall is on women for money: he wants to pay back Marwood with his own wife’s inheritance. For Fainall, money is not something that can secure a life of love, it and the pleasures it buys are the same as love. Marwood hypocritically wants her affair to be based on truth
Fainall replies that they must not part like this, and grabs her hands. Marwood tells him to let her go. Fainall apologizes, but Marwood doesn’t care. He refuses to let her go. She again asks him to let her go, then tells him to break her hands, as she’d go to that length in order to get away from him.
Unable to use his words to keep her from leaving, Fainall must rely on his physical strength to restrain her. Though the violence doesn’t go beyond what is shown here, in this display there is a suggestion of the physical threat that men pose to women.
Shocked to hear Marwood speak to him like this, Fainall promises her that he would never hurt her, but still does not let go of her. He asks her if there is no other hold than his physical restraint that keeps her standing there with him. He tells her he loves her. Marwood replies that she hates mankind, herself, and the “whole treacherous world.”
Marwood and Fainall have incompatible ideas of the power structure of a relationship. Both want to dominate the other, rather than work together. Marwood’s deeply bitter final comment suggests how much she hates her position. Her identity as a false friend and false lover contributes to her low self-esteem and pessimism about the entire world.
Fainall says she’s being dramatic, but asks her forgiveness, and tells her not to cry. He accepts the blame for the situation and says that he couldn’t love her and “be easy in [his] doubts” at the same time. He tells her he believes her and again apologizes. He promises to leave his wife and steal all her money. He also tells Marwood that they’ll run away together and get married to get her to stop crying.
In Marwood’s tears Fainall can finally see physical evidence indicating how much he has hurt her. Awakened to his brutish behavior, Fainall snaps back into a gentlemanly pose—though of course this pose involves stealing from and leaving his wife. And note how Fainall equates love with jealousy, the latter following naturally from the former
Suddenly, he sees Mirabell and his wife approaching. He urges Marwood to compose herself and hide her face behind a mask she has with her. Then, he guides her down a different path to avoid Mirabell and Mrs. Fainall.
Twice Marwood’s face has revealed the truth behind her lies. Now she wears a mask to even more fully hide. The different paths of the couples suggest their growing opposition.