William Wycherley

Plays by William Wycherley

The Country Wife

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A satirical comedy focused on the vices and hypocrisies of Restoration London, The Country Wife has been admired as a farce, condemned as immoral or frivolous, and praised as a sharp and sophisticated drama.

Wycherley satirises female hypocrisy, true and false masculinity and human folly through three neatly linked plots. In the first, the rakish Horner pretends to be sexually impotent in order to trick his way into the intimate company of married ladies; he is confident that their fear of scandal is the only thing keeping them from debauchery.

In the second plot, Mr and Mrs Pinchwife come to London from the country; Mrs Pinchwife wants to enjoy all the pleasures of the town, including being loved by Horner, and her husband’s covetousness plays right into her hands. In the third plot, Horner’s friend Harcourt successfully woos Pinchwife’s sister, Alithea, away from her proposed husband Sparkish.

Wycherley’s racy prose dialogue creates an energetic and complex comedy of sex that combines cynicism, satire and farce. The Country Wife was first performed in 1675 by the King’s Company at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

William Wycherley (1640-1716) was an English playwright of the Restoration era, whose bawdy and satirical plays contain elements of biting social criticism. Despite their harshness, his works enjoyed a great vogue, and Wycherley became a favourite of King Charles II. Congreve was amongst those who saw Wycherley as an essentially moral writer appointed 'to lash this crying age'.

As a young man Wycherley studied law but became bored and abandoned it: his first play, Love in a Wood, or, St James's Park, was produced at Drury Lane in 1671. He followed this success with The Gentleman Dancingmaster (1672) and his two great plays The Country Wife (1675), and The Plain Dealer (1676). However, as a result of his somewhat dissolute lifestyle, he spent seven years in debtors' prison until rescued by James II.