Moral Virtue In William Wycherley’s The Country Wife

995 words - 4 pages

The Country Wife – written by William Wycherley in 1675 – is a Restoration comedy based upon the life of the aristocracy. Restoration comedy is a style of drama that was made popular in the late seventeenth century. It refers to the period in England when King Charles II was returned as the head of the English empire. Life under King Charles II was seen as hedonistic: people were motivated by pleasure. These moral virtues represented the degradation of society, rampant with sexual explicitness and obscenity (“Charles II”). The definition of moral virtue can be quite ambiguous. For the purpose of this essay I will define moral virtue as such: A set of accepted traits or qualities which are accepted as "right” or “good” in society. The Characters of The Country Wife set out to wrong one another. William Wycherley comments on the degradation of moral virtue in society through the negative values held by his characters. The characters exemplify immoral and disgraceful traits including jealousy, deception, and sexuality.
The concept of jealously in The Country Wife is personified through Harcourt, the dashing and depraved friend of Horner who falls in love with Alethea. Harcourt is jealous of Sparkish who is set to marry his mistress Alethea. Harcourt expresses to Alethea that he feels in marrying Sparkish she would be dishonouring herself: “if you do marry him-with your pardon, madam- / your reputation suffers in the world” (II.i.235-236). Wycherley uses Harcourt to exemplify the effect jealously can have on a person. Harcourt declares himself a rival to his former friend Sparkish and insults him in the hopes that Alethea with change her mind. “He’s beneath an injury-a / bubble, a coward, a senseless idiot, a wretch so contemptible to all / the world...” (II.i.248-250). He even goes as far as to express that if she does decide to marry Sparkish, he has every intention of breaking up the marriage: “I wish it / were in my power to break the match; by the heavens I would” (II.i.178-179). Wycherley shows how jealousy can make people lose their moral standards and commit acts with little regard for others. Harcourt’s jealousy causes him to go to extremes. He disguises himself as a parson with the intent to deceive Sparkish into believing he has been married to Alethea. Wycherley reveals Harcourt’s real plan to marry himself to Alethea to the audience through the use of irony: “nobody else / shall marry you, by heavens; I’ll die first, for I’m I should die / after it” (IV.i.148-150). Harcourt is propelled by jealousy, resorting to deceit and manipulation while holding little regard for others. Through Harcourt we witness jealousy’s corruption of society, making people superficial and selfish.
Society’s moral standards and values digress through deception and pretence. This deterioration is personified through Mr. and Mrs. Pinchwife. In The Country Wife, Mr. and Mrs. Pinchwife exemplify the effect of deceit through trickery and...

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