Tragic Gesture 2

Miss Bruston as Calista 1791.jpeg

While we do not see up close the female characters in “Two Gallants,” we understand their plight.  In earlier centuries, however, the plight of the female characters was less appreciated, and they were often seen, alongside the seducer Lothario character, not as victims but as villains of “the courtly vice of changing” (1703, 13).  The Fair Penitent itself was an adaptation of an earlier Jacobean tragedy called The Fatal Dowry (1632) by Philip Massigner and Nathan Field.  Rowe created new character names and advanced the plot at the outset, so that Lothario’s boasting tale of his denial of Calista occurs in the opening scene.  

In the play, Lothario relays his conquest of Calista directly after we hear Altamount declare his love of Calista.  In these prints, one can see the tragic gestures that Lothario would have imitated when he relayed his story.  I reproduce the passage from the Wikisource full text version of The Fair Penitent (

ROS. What of the lady?  180

LOTH. With uneasy fondness
She hung upon me, wept, and sigh'd, and swore
She was undone; talk'd of a priest, and marriage;
Of flying with me from her father's pow'r;
Call'd every saint, and blessed angel down,
To witness for her that she was my wife.
I started at that name.

ROS. What answer made you?

LOTH. None; but pretending sudden pain and illness,
Escap'd the persecution. Two hights since,
By message urg'd and frequent importunity,
Again I saw her. Straight with tears and sighs,
With swelling breasts, with swooning, with distraction,
With all the subtleties and powerful arts
Of wilful woman lab'ring for her purpose,
Again she told the same dull nauseous tale.
Unmov'd, I begg'd her spare th' ungrateful subject,
Since I resolv'd, that love and peace of mind
Might flourish long inviolate betwixt us,
Never to load it with the marriage chain;  200
That I would still retain her in my heart,
My ever gentle mistress and my friend!
But for those other names of wife and husband,
They only meant ill nature, cares, and quarrels.

ROS. How bore she this reply?

LOTH. "Ev'n as the earth,
"When, winds pent up, or eating fires beneath,
"Shaking the mass, she labours with destruction."
At first her rage was dumb, and wanted words;
But when the storm found way, 'twas wild and loud.
Mad as the priestess of the Delphic god,
Enthusiastic passion swell'd her breast,
Enlarged her voice, and ruffled all her form.
Proud and disdainful of the love I proffer'd,
She call'd me Villain! Monster! Base Betrayer!
At last, in very bitterness of soul,
With deadly imprecations on herself,
She vow'd severely ne'er to see me more;
Then bid me fly that minute: I obey'd,
And, bowing, left her to grow cool at leisure.  220



Fair Penintent print from Rowe's collected plays.jpeg

Print of the death of Lothario from The Fair Penitent in Bell's British Theatre, vol. 3.

The play ends with Altamount killing Lothario and then preventing Calista from taking her own life, as this print depicts.  The tragic gestues seen here would not only have been available for Lothario but would have been known by Lenehan, if not Corley.  But Lenehan is not mocking a young woman, but her seducer.

Joyce's story is not a modern adaptation of The Fair Penitent, although it too revolves around tropes of seduction and tragic gestures.  Joyce's story tells of trickery, deceit, and another kind of seduction, one far less romantic, that of the reader into a supposed lustful tale.

As Philip Keel Geheber points out in his essay, “Allround Lenehan and the Art of the Remix” in Genetic Joyce Studies, 13 (Spring 2013), Lenehan is later reused in Joyce's Ulysses offers us a key to understanding the intertexual wit of Joyce.  Geheber comments on Lenehan’s virtuosity but notes that:

“In ‘Two Gallants,’ Lenehan is described as ‘a sporting vagrant armed with a vast stock of stories, limericks, and riddles’ (D 50). Since “Two Gallants” is mostly about Corley’s tales of conquest, though, there is no fitting opportunity to deploy Lenehan’s linguistic gems. Emulating the same punning language that Lenehan himself uses, many of the additions that Joyce makes in the margins of the Ulysses manuscripts seem to operate as associative additions in response to the text that Joyce is revising, much like the way in which some of Lenehan’s quips are triggered by the speech of other characters.”

Neverthless, Lenehan is one of Joyce’s most linguistically playful characters.  Geheber continues:

“Other than Buck Mulligan, Lenehan is one of the most playful Dubliners in his punning, word-play, euphemistic stories, and riddling. He repeatedly inserts French words and double entendres into his speech for comic effect, participating in the same kind of multilingual word-dropping that refuses to allow or acknowledge a unilateral and unchallenged English influence on English as it is spoken in Dublin.”

Lenehan’s use of “Base betrayer!” is another such use of double entendres, but it is not for comic effect only here.


In pretending to be Lothario, Lenehan is also pretending to be Corley.  In such he displays a degree of ambivalence about his teacher’s, practice of seducing women.  During a first read, however, our attention is elsewhere, thinking about Corley’s carnal seductions.  But, just as confidence men distract their targets, Joyce distracts us, leading us away from Lenihan’s main concern, which is after all pecuniary. 

"Two Gallants" passage
Tragic Gesture 2