How far do you agree that Wycherleys The Country Wife is an attack on marriage?

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How far do you agree that Wycherley’s ‘The Country Wife’ is an attack on marriage?

One of the primary focuses of William Wycherley’s comedy, ‘The Country Wife’, is the concept of satirising the pretence and artificiality surrounding marriage particularly during the Restoration era and its rebellion against the prior strictness of the Puritan rule. Traditional marital values of love, fidelity and trust are distorted by intense emotion and lust, and these qualities are applicable to the typical comic characters of rakes, and adulterous wives who cuckold their husbands. The play may simply expose the ignorance of conventional fools to provide humour using dramatic irony and may not be deriding the amoral quality of marriage. Yet, more commonly inferred is the critical denouncement against the hypocrisy of ‘respectable’ people and their attitudes towards marriage, mirroring the age in which Wycherley was writing.

The characters’ lack of contentment in a relationship is obvious, and the quick craving and yearning that results from this, for other men and women. This is unmistakeable in both sexes alike; the wives are cast off and abandoned, and consequently look for other men to fulfil their romantic desires – initiating cuckoldry. Throughout the play, nearly all characters are preoccupied with their reputation, and thus lie; but as the play ends with the restoration of order and inevitably the truth comes out, Sparkish, the stock fool, explicitly portrays the reality of marriage. Revealing his real attitude to his marriage vows, he declares he would have cast off Alithea “with as much joy as I would after the first night, if I had been married to you.” The candid language stresses the lack of respect and affection he ever had for her, and hence his indifferent view of marriage. The men, for instance Sir Jasper Fidget, are also completely preoccupied with business “which must be preferred always before love and ceremony with the wise”, and Wycherley’s disapproval of this is evident as he has created Sir Jasper as a fool, who ends up being cuckolded by his wife, Lady Fidget. Arguably, it is only human nature for a man to desire to be upwardly mobile; however valuing your profession higher than that of your wife surely indicates the unpleasant morals of this society, which the writer is criticising.

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Likewise, we see the wives in all of the marriages, the adulterous town wives (Lady Fidget, Dainty and Squeamish, and the stock character of the country bumpkin, Margery) end up being unfaithful as “a woman of honour loses no honour with a private person”.  Clearly, they do not care for their husbands, and would do anything to satisfy their own sexual desires. It is arguable that, in reality, men may actually deserve to be cuckolded if they discard their wives whilst they “go abroad indecently alone” and this view will definitely be employed by a modern, feminist audience. 

Furthermore, it ...

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