‘The Country Wife’ by William Wycherley

One of the most notorious Restoration comedies in existence, William Wycherley’s The Country Wife is a lively and riotous exploration of courtly and city life in the seventeenth century, which was rife with unremitting sexual intrigue and conquest. For the basis of his plot, Wycherley here borrows heavily from the work of Molière, but abandons the French master’s unity and economy by introducing several interlocking storylines and characters, all of them clamoring for attention amidst Wycherley’s hard-hitting colloquial dialogue and double entendres. The main plot follows the clever town rake Horner, who feigns impotence in order to seduce women of quality and cuckold their unwitting husbands. One woman who takes interest in him is Margery, a seemingly naive country girl married to the pathologically jealous Pinchwife. Her desire to pursue an illicit affair with Horner yields a multitude of complications and misunderstandings, many of which are left scandalously unresolved by the time the final line is spoken.

With startlingly frank explorations of gender dynamics, marital structures, female autonomy, misogyny, and seventeenth-century societal obligations, as well as an infamous “china scene” positively dripping with innuendo, The Country Wife remains a classic of its genre that continues to invite fresh and exciting interpretations with each new performance.

I play Alithea, sister of Pinchwife.

The Country Wife by William Wycherley

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