Sunday, 14 April 2013

Review: 'The Country Wife' by William Wycherley

This was one of the last plays I had to read for my Introduction to Drama module. I've still got one or two coming up, but I thought I'd review this one before I started reading those.
It is a satirical comedy sharply focussed on the follies, vices and hypocrisies of Restoration London through its central characters: the desperate Pinchwife; his naive wife; the sex-obsessed Horner and Lady Fidget's 'virtuous gang' of town ladies.
One of the first things that needs to be said about this play is that it is a Restoration comedy. The Restoration period is known for its freer, anti-Puritan approach. The monarchy had just been restored and was more flamboyant than it had ever been. Most plays written at the time were comedies of a, perhaps, questionable nature, both dealing loosely with sexuality and yet delivering social commentary quite satirically. The same is true for this play. 'The Country Wife' may seem trivial, and is for the largest part, yet it also comments on the hypocrisies of both city- and countrylife. 

As you may have seen from the blurb, characters have been given names to symbolise their characteristics. I myself have never really liked it. Of course names always reflect the characters because authors brood over those names long and hard, but this is simply too obvious for me. In drama many things are different from fiction writing, yet this seems like an easy way out. Pinchwife is peculiarly obsessed with his wife, Horner tries everything to get into a woman's pants and Mrs. Squeamish is...well, squeamish. 

The plot is severely hindered by its characters. Mrs. Pinchwife is incredibly annoying and blind. It is hardly funny. Clearly she is a satire of innocent country wenches that are brought to the big city, but there is hardly any merit to her. Her husband always finds himself on the wrong side of 'domestic abuse' track and you can hardly feel sorry for him to be stuck with such a wife. The only character with some sense in him is Horner and he therefore rules the play. All others are pawns in his game. 

It is hard to enjoy a play or book when you "have" to read it. And yet I can positively say that my dislike for this play does not stem from this. The play 'The Rover', also a Restoration comedy, was also required reading and yet I quite enjoyed it. Characters and dialogue were witty and the plot was interesting. It is a shame to see a play from the same time be its complete opposite. 

I give this play...

2 Universes!

It does not happen often that I truly dislike a play, but there was simply little to enjoy for me in 'The Country Wife'. It is a simply read that doesn't take very long. Scenes written for laughter are, on occasion, fun yet more often than not I found myself exasperated. All I can do is pray that this play is not chosen for our exam next month.

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