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What does Act 1 tell us about contemporary expectations of women in London and the Country?

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Introduction

Sophie Birkett What does Act 1 tell us about contemporary expectations of women in London and the Country? Women and marriages in Restoration comedies are satirised for being based on economic or other considerations rather than love and mutual affection. In the late seventeenth century expectations of women were that they were still meant to respect and be faithful to their husbands, but as R.C Sharma says 'In the latter half of the seventeenth century, the position of women in England had improved. Though legally they were still subordinate to men, the custom allowed them a larger measure of liberty and equality.' In 1662, for the first time professional actress were allowed on the stage, showing that the status of women was improving and as in a lot of Restoration comedies, the heroines reflect an effort by women in Restoration society to both step up from the moral gutter and down from the pedestal. ...read more.

Middle

As a married women, she was a femme covert. In 'the Country wife' however because the position of women was slowly changing, the women in the play try to assert some control over the men. The men however still inferiorise women and make derogatory comment about them. 'Mistress are like books; if you pore upon them too much they doze you and make you unfit for company, but if used discreetly you are the fitter for conversation by 'em.' This statement by Harcourt represents the general negative attitude of men in this play towards women, by comparing them to inanimate objects. The women are also referred to as animals by Horner, 'women of quality are so civil, you can hardly distinguish love from good breeding.' The expectations of woman in London and the country are quite different seen from Act 1 when Pinchwife says 'She's too awkward, ill-favoured and silly to bring to town' which shows this contrasting view as his wife is a country wife. ...read more.

Conclusion

Lady Fidget in Act 1 characterises many of the town-dwelling women in the play. She is flirtatious with most of the male characters, especially Horner. She asks 'How you saucy fellow! Would you wrong my honour?' Horner then replies 'If I could.' These kinds of open displays of sexuality were common for many women of the time, even in front of their husbands. Lady Fidget also mentions her honour. Town women of the time were very preoccupied with the concept of honour. Women were happy to be promiscuous and show contempt for their marriages, as long as they could get away with it. While Act 1 does not show us much about differing views, it does shows us some ideas that expectations of women were different. Women from the cities, including London were assumed to be well-educated and also unfaithful to husbands, whereas as countrywomen were expected to be free of disease, faithful and loyal and not very attractive. ...read more.

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