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Wycherley's The Country Wife

            The Country Wife is the third Restoration comedy by William Wycherley written in 1675. The exact date of the first performance of the play is unknown. January 12, 1675 is first appearance before royalty, indicated by The Lord Chamberlains records. Though some scenes of the play are indebted to Molieres plays LEcole des Maris and LEcole des Femmes, the play is Wycherleys own. The Country Wife has been approached with much controversy since its original publishing for its sexually explicit subject matter and moral tone. The play depicts a snobbish and anti-Puritan ideology. Structurally the play surpasses most comedies of the Restoration in dramatic situations, characterization, comic dialogue, and in satiric wit and irony. It rises above realistic comedy into the realm of intellectual comedy (Fujimura, xvii). Although it still consists of three sources and three plots, typical of the time. The three sections of plot that consist of Horner impotence scheme, the life of married Pinchwife and Margery, and the courtship of Alithea and Harcout. All plots are intermingled, but develop distinctly different moods. The story unfolds as Horner makes his conquest on the women of Londons aristocracy using his ruse of impotence. The remainder of the main action is based on the pretense of Horners impotence. It calls for a suspension of disbelief at the start of the play and establishes contrast between appearance and reality to set up situations of dramatic irony. Wycherley exploits these situations fully without any subtlety or regard for the squeamish and dainty. It is in these situations that some object to the play for its lewdness, since sex is the main ingredient. The central symbol who dominates the plays sexual content is Horner. His name itself is a pun on cuckolds, a voracious gallant who stalks all women within his haunt. Using Horner, this sort of dues ex machina character, Harcout, and Pinchwife, Wycherley satirically exploits the hypocrisy and incompetence of unworthy characters to elucidate themes of marriage and misogyny.

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