Mirabell quietly enters the room and begins to recite the next lines of the poem by Edmund Waller that Millamant is trying to learn from The Story of Phoebus and Daphne, Applied: “Like Daphne she, as lovely and as coy.” He flirts with Millamant, asking her if she locks herself away to make his search more interesting or to signify that she’s done running away from him. Millamant responds that she’ll always run away, even on the day she gets married.
Sir Willful’s failed visit offers a stark contrast to Mirabell’s visit. Judging from his suave entrance, Mirabell is more than Millamant’s intellectual match. Not only does he know she is reading poetry, he knows the poem by heart! Millamant, meanwhile, flirts with him but also reasserts her desire for independence.
They begin to speak about their ideas of love. Millamant says that she won’t marry unless her husband assures her that she can keep her independence and will provide her pleasure. Mirabell asks her if she wants both now, or would she be content to wait for the latter until after they marry.
Millamant’s comment here speaks to the importance of money in love. While she wants to marry for love, there would be no point if it did not come with the money to leisurely enjoy that love. Mirabell’s joke purposely misinterprets her comment as a suggestion that they have sex right now.
Millamant tells him not to be impertinent and insists that she cannot give up the habits she has developed as an independent woman, like waking up late and daydreaming. Mirabell remarks that if she keeps those habits up, then he will wake up as early as he wants once they’re married.
Here, Millamant and Mirabell begin to outline the terms of their ideal marriage, a famous scene which scholarly studies of the poem have termed the “proviso scene.” What they begin sketching out is a marriage in which they marry for love but neither gives up their independence.
Millamant agrees to this and tells him that she also won’t be called by pet names once married. She begins to outline her ideal marriage to Mirabell. They won’t kiss in public or act familiar towards one another. They won’t go to the park on the first Sunday of every month as is the fashion with married couples, only to not be seen together again thereafter. She tells him that she wants them to be “strange” toward one another, as if they were married for a long while and “well bred,” so that others wouldn’t think them married at all.
Millamant is concerned with seeming too attached to Mirabell. Her worry is not only that other people will judge them if they don’t always look like they’re in love but she also worries that loving him too much will lessen her independence and cause them to take each other for granted. She seems not to want to put on a show of being married.
Mirabell asks her if she has any more “conditions” to add and compliments her demands as pretty reasonable, thus far. She adds other conditions: she will be allowed to pay and receive visits to and from anyone she wants, can write and receive letters without Mirabell’s jealousy, won’t have to spend time with his friends, can come to dinner when she wants or dine by herself without giving him a reason. She must also be in control of the tea table, designing the menu, etc. He must also always knock before entering her room, she adds. If he lets her have her way in these matters, then she might “by degrees dwindle into a wife.”
Mirabell is happy with the terms because he, too, is wary of becoming too attached to Millamant to the point that it lessens his admiration and appreciation of her. Millamant’s other terms all speak to her need to retain a separate identity after getting married—she wants to be a person, not just a role. She wants to be Millamant, not just a wife. She doesn’t want her marriage to be ruled by the dictates of her husband and instead expects him to remember that that she is her own person.
Mirabell’s accepts her conditions and says that when she dwindles into being a wife then he must be “enlarged into a husband.” Then, he adds his own conditions to their marriage: she must not have close female friends who would try to lead her astray and ruin her marriage, she must not dislike her own face as long as he likes it, she must not wear masks, she must also not wear corsets while pregnant, and must only have simple English fare at her tea table. He says that if she agrees to these articles, then he will be an accommodating husband. They agree to abide by the rules they have devised and Mirabell kisses Millamant’s hand to seal the contract. Mrs. Fainall approaches to bear witness to their agreement.
Mirabell is not going to simply let Millamant make all the demands. Though he doesn’t counteract her wishes, he does make sure that she realizes that his role as her future husband is important and should be honored. He demands concessions that protect their friendship and insist upon openness. In this way, his requirements for their marriage are much less self-serving than hers. Having established the “contract,” the two are engaged.