Mrs. Fainall and Witwoud depart, leaving Mirabell, Millamant, and Mincing. Mincing is ignored for the entirety of the scene and doesn’t speak. Mirabell tells Millamant he wants a “little private audience” with her. He believes that she sent him away from the cabal, even though she knew he was visiting her in order “to impart a secret to [her] that concerned [his] love.”
This is the first time that Mirabell and Millamant have been alone together (despite Mincing’s presence) for some time. Mirabell uses this time strategically to find out Millamant’s attitude toward him and the reason for her coldness.
Millamant retorts that he saw she was “engaged.” Mirabell exclaims she was entertaining a “herd of fools,” men who have no wit, and is shocked that she can “find delight in such society” who are unable to admire her properly. Or, if they are able to admire her, he continues, then it should be embarrassing to her because “to please a fool is some degree of folly.”
Millamant wants Mirabell to think that she doesn’t care about him at all so she says and does things that she knows he doesn’t like to further emphasize her independence. Mirabell knows that this is what she’s doing and reminds her that fools are unsuitable company for a woman of her intellect.
Millamant replies that she pleases herself and that “besides, sometimes to converse with fools is for [her] health.” Mirabell is outraged. He asks her if there is “a worse disease” than speaking to fools. Millamant replies that the “vapours” are worse because fools use them along with “assafoetida,” a strong-smelling root, to treat their ailments.
During the course of their argument, Mirabell and Millamant demonstrate great chemistry. Both are incredibly stubborn and passionate. Even though they’re in strong disagreement, they are able to hold a stimulating and witty conversation.
Mirabell asks her if she’s following a “course of fools” as a medicinal regimen. Millamant warns him to back off, and that if he persists speaking to her with “this offensive freedom,” he will “displease” her and she will “resolve after all not to have [him]” because they won’t be able to ever agree.
When Mirabell persists in arguing after Millamant is ready to stop, however, she quickly cuts back to the real topic at hand, the possibility of their engagement, and uses it to coerce Mirabell into silence.
Mirabell admits that they may not ever agree on matters of health, but Millamant continues to criticize their relationship in general. She tells him that in terms of their “distemper” they will also disagree and grow “sick of one another.” She admits that she doesn’t like to be corrected and won’t “endure to be reprimanded nor instructed.” She finds it “dull” to follow the advice of others and “tedious” to be told of her flaws. Having explained her views on why their relationship is doomed, Millamant decides to call it off, telling Mirabell that she is “resolved” to let him go. After breaking up with him, she laughs in his face. She asks him what he would give to stop loving her.
Earlier in the chocolate house, Mirabell said that he loves Millamant for both her virtues and her flaws. Here Millamant lists her own flaws as reasons that their relationship is doomed. She doesn’t realize that Mirabell loves her for those flaws. There is a sense here that Millamant is scared to enter a relationship and give up her freedom—or doesn’t yet have Mirabell’s mature sense of love—and that she relies on making Mirabell feel bad when she breaks up with him because it preserves her reputation as an independent woman and lessens the risk of feeling painful regret for her rash decisions later on.
Mirabell responds that he would give something that would let her know he could not help loving her. Millamant scolds him gently, telling him not to “look grave” and then asks if he has anything to say to her by way of an apology. Mirabell does not apologize to her but, instead, complains that “a man may as soon make a friend by his wit, or a fortune by his honesty, as win a woman with plain-dealing and sincerity.”
Mirabell, patient with her weaknesses, responds sincerely. He wears his emotions on his face, which demonstrate how much he cares about her. Interestingly, Mirabell, in this sincere moment, claims that it is impossible to actually win a woman through sincerity—that it requires wit and banter and some game-playing.
Millamant teases Mirabell, telling him not to look “inflexibl[y] wise” like King Solomon does when he orders the baby boy to be cut in half to give to the two women who both claim to be his mother. Mirabell gravely tells her that she is being “merry” at a time when she needs to be serious.
Millamant relies on joking at this serious time to lighten the tension between them. Mirabell, usually not one to be grave himself or ask others to be serious, has lost his patience with her lighthearted attitude. In asking her to be serious, he is trying to get her attention.
Millamant calls him tedious for being so serious and bids him farewell. She sees Mrs. Fainall and Witwoud from a distance and says that she is going to join them.
Millamant, too concerned with her own pleasure, would rather spend time with those of similar lighthearted temperament.
Again, Mirabell urges her to stop being so “merry” for a moment and try to act serious. But Millamant interrupts him and asks him whether he wants her to be serious so he can tell her about Foible’s marriage and his own plot to marry Millamant. Mirabell is shocked, and asks how she discovered his plan. Millamant shoots back that she either learned of it on her own or either through the help of the devil herself, Foible. And, she adds, when he’s done thinking about that, then he should think of her. She leaves him to join Mrs. Fainall and Witwoud, taking Mincing with her before Mirabell can finish what he was trying to say to her.
Millamant is a force to be reckoned with. She is a good actress, convincing enough to fool Mirabell, the most perceptive character in the play. Having known all along about Mirabell’s plan, her behavior towards him is all the more problematic for Mirabell’s intentions. It truly seems like she doesn’t want to marry him and doesn’t really care about his feelings. Her unceremonious goodbye only emphasizes her disinterest.