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The Country Wife – Summary And Analysis Of The Plot

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Summary and Analysis of the plot William Whycherly’s The County Wife is a hilarious comedy about men and women in love and marriage. In the midst of a continual banter of sexual innuendo there lies, cynical commentary and misogonistic attitude’s upon women, love and what is socially accepted.

“˜Mistresses are like books. If you pore upon them too much, they doze you and make you unfit for company, but only for a night and away, to taste the town better when a man returns’ This quote from Horner represents the general negative attitude of men in this play towards women, by comparing them to inaminate objects.

“˜ Marrying to increase love is like gaming to become rich; alas, you only lose what little stock you had before’ This is only one example of the love vs. lust debate common in many restoration plays.

Many men never married but went after other men’s wives’s, this wasn’t always possible due to jelous, dominating husbands like Mr Pinchwife . Horner therefore, devises a plan, he is crafty enough to know not to share it with his friends, as bragging about this trick (to make other men comfortable leaving their wives within his prescence as he is not a man ) would only cause a breakdown of his plan.

Horner’s famous line: “˜Wine gives you liberty, love takes it away,’ He is saying that men lose their freedom by being attached to women. Ironically, Horner has lost his own “˜freedom’ of being a whole man, for in trying to get close to women, he has soiled his reputation. Many of Horner’s remarks about women are derogatory that women “˜ are like soldiers, made constant and loyal by good pay rather than oaths and convenants.’ There is a little of irony intwined within the play, especially in Horner’s hot-headed statements. At one point, Horner complains how all women use him, wheras in actual fact he is using them and their husbands, to him it is all a game.

Meanwhile, Mr Pinchwife has just married and is extremely jelous of his new bride Margery. The cosmopolitan Mr Pinchwife married his homely, country wife so that to avoid all the infidelity, extravagance, and impertinence associated with the stereotypical city wife. Mr Pinchwife has to resort to keeping Margery as a prisoner in her own home. Mr Pinchwife tries to justify his behaviour by stories of theatregoers who lust desirously at young women, yet he only intrigue’s Margery even more. Hoping to quence her curiosity, he takes Margery out into town dressed as a boy, however they bump into Horner who has been said to love Margery since he first saw her, Mr Pinchwife know’s of his feelings. Horner figures out that Margery is not a boy but he never lets on, but perceeds to shame Mr Pinchwife. Mrs Pinchwife realises this is the man who claims to love her and falls in love with him also.

While Mr Pinchwife is desperately trying to keep from being cuckolded, he is all too ready to marry his sister Alithea to Mr Sparkish the play’s hilarious fop. Unlike Mr Pinchwife, Mr Sparkish showsno jelousy towards the flirtatious Harcourt who has fallen in love with Alithea right under Mr Sparkish’s nose. Harcourt is fearless and crafty in his seduction of Alithea, . As a result, Alithea is emotionally caught in the middle of things. She must choose between her honor towards her fiance and passion for Harcourt.

Mr Sparkish completely trusts Alithea, which, in turn makes her feel obligated to remain faithful. At first glance, it is puzzling why Alithea so fervently rejects the passionate Harcourt, to remain loyal to her promised husband. She remains faithful to Sparkish out of respect for his trust, but is faced with the dilemma of being attracted to the fervour and wit of Harcourt. However Mr Sparkish unintentionally uses reverse physchology to keep Alithea loyal; the trust he has in Alithea causes her emotional anxiety. She is forced to repress her passion for Harcourt to stay guilt-free. Alithea’s agitation as she makes a decision between keeping her promise to Sparkish or following her heart, here Wycherley maintains that a marriage without love, built solely on trust, is an unfavourable alternative to a relationship characterized by infidelity. Love, in addition to trust, is a critical element for a successful marriage, something most characters are only in the process of learning.

On the surface, it seems as if Mr Sparkish , Mr Pinchwife and Horner are created to satirize men’s treatment of women. Restoration audiences may have laughed at Mr Pinchwife’s ridiculous measures to promote fidelity, his attempts eventually lead to the failure of his marriage. Margery’s love affair with Horner and Mr Pinchwife’s frustration of being made a cuckold, despite his drastic measures to prevent it.

The only character who is truly happy throughout the entire play objects to marriage and serious relationships with women. Horner, unlike Mr Sparkish and Mr Pinchwife, does not have to keep a woman faithful. Whycherley presents Horner as the most likeable character because he is witty and never jelous. By pretending he is a eunch , Horner enjoys the company of many women because husbands willingly leave their wives under his care. For example, when Sir Jaspar Fidget leaves his wife alone with Horner, he feels that Horner will keep her from running off with another man, but in actual fact she is yet another of Horner’s lovers. Horner’s overall view is that women are good company, but marriage is a troublesome commitment.

The failed relationships in The Country Wife are ostensibly caused by the woman’s infidelity. For example, Mrs. Pinchwife is curious about city life and is drawn to the wit and novelty of Horner, she ignore’s her husbands orders and write’s passionate letters to him. However, Mrs Pinchwife’s actions are the effect of Mr Pinchwife’s restrictions on her behaviour.

“˜Would it not make anyone melancholy, to see you go every day fluttering abroad, whilst I must stay at home like a poor, lonely, sullen bird in a cage? “˜ Complains Mrs Pinchwife to Alithea . Alithea “˜fluttering about’ and eventually deciding to leave Mr Sparkish, her rebel also brought on by the man in the relationship. Compared to Mr Sparkish’s blind trust and lack of love, Harcourt’s passion and aggressiveness seem more attractive to Alithea. Alithea and Harcourt end the play as happy lovers, it is not known what will become of their relationship in the future. However, events in the play suggest their marriage will also be a failure. They enter into the relationship with love and initial attraction, yet there is evidence that Harcourt will become demanding and manipulative : “˜If You cannot condescend to marry me, you should not take my wretch, my rival’ Although he practically orders Alithea to break her promise to Mr Sparkish, Harcourt may use her dishonourable actions as a reason for not trusting her in the future . Thus , in addition to the relationships which fail during the course of The Country Wife, the presumably happy union between Harcourt and Alithea at the end of the play , is also damned.

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