Restoration comedy - William Wycherley`s "The Country Wife"
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RESTORATION COMEDY William Wycherley`s "The Country Wife" is a typical Restoration comedy; its main agenda is sex and how to find it. Not only sex, but STD`s, bed-swopping, adultery and whoring. The ancient critic William Archer once described it as "the most bestial play in all literature". This did not frighten Laurence Boswell (director), his production of Wycherley`s debauched farce animated and enhanced the rife innuendo. The tale itself is not unusual in its interlacing of complicated plots and sub-plots. Horner (Patrick Robinson), notorious libertine, begins rumours that he has returned from France a eunuch. As the story spreads he is allowed unreserved access to all the wives of `honour` in London with the full consent of their unknowing husbands. Meanwhile the old fornicator Pinchwife ( Karl Johnson) has acquired a country wife (Sara Crowe) and unable to suppress his jealousy, he endeavours to keep her away from fashionable society. He does not have such control over his sister, Alithea (Jaye Griffiths), who intents to slight her genuine admirer and marry the foolish `wit`, Sparkish. Despite the variety of under-currents, Horner himself is at the centre of disruption and will stop at nothing in his devious quest for women, particularly the country wife. Though initially difficult to follow, the cast literally grabbed the play round the throat and mastered it uniquely. Set in modern London with fabulously outrageous costumes and stage, Boswell brought the hilarity of the Restoration to the context of the present day.
Pinchwife, who loves him, from the wrath of her husband; he "must save [his] mistress...come what will on't" (5.4, 80). Horner not only deceives husbands in appearing impotent, but is in some respects morally ambiguous, a more decent person than he first seems to us. Horner and his mistresses conceal themselves throughout the play, but other characters wear literal disguises. Mr. Pinchwife, for example, makes his wife sit with the prostitutes in the theatre, so that nobody will think her married to him, and that is precisely when Horner first sees her. Pinchwife next has Margery dress as a man when she goes out, to keep men from seducing her, but Horner sees through the disguise at once and uses it as an opportunity to kiss her without her husband's being able to protest. This pretense soon leads to another, in which Pinchwife leads his wife, whom he takes to be his sister, to an assignation with Horner. All of Margery Pinchwife's disguises bring her closer to an affair, and the audience cannot help but cheer her on and smile each time the tyrannical Mr. Pinchwife draws her closer to Horner. Not all such tricks lead to illicit affairs. Harcourt, hoping to wed Alithea, dresses up as a priest in order to marry her to Sparkish, her fiancé. He speaks to Alithea in ostensibly religious but obviously amorous addresses, such as "With all my soul, divine, heavenly creature, when you please" (4.1, 48)
threaten her or disobey his father. Mrs. Sealand even knows that Cimberton does not love Lucinda; nobody falls in or out of love, nobody reveals a new facet of character. The only real surprise, that Indiana is Sealand's daughter, is a plot contrivance, not a secret. It allows the play to end happily, but without any change in the deadlocked arrangement of static characters. The Conscious Lovers, with its exemplars of honesty and honor, conveys moral messages without the characters' stooping to guile. It sets out to produce joy in the audience by showing people behaving well, and it succeeds at least in the second part of its objective. Steele, in fashioning a new form of comedy, employs deception reluctantly, apologizing for its inherent immorality and shunting it to servants. The Country Wife has no more noble purpose than to entertain the audience, and embraces the old comic convention of disguise to accomplish all sorts of adulterous ends. Each approach fits its play and characters, but Wycherly's is the more complete. The Country Wife lies in a firm comic tradition; The Conscious Lovers, unwilling to abandon its roots entirely, stakes out uneasy ground between comedy and tragedy. We must not laugh at Tom and Myrtle's jokes; Bevil Jr. chastises those who conceal their identities, and would have us delight in virtue instead. Unless we smile at the protagonist's exaggerated goodness, what humor remains in The Conscious Lovers is hard to accept. The characters in The Country Wife may be unscrupulous, and we may be so for laughing at them, but the play teaches us to expect no better of ourselves.
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