Does Love Exist in Marriage?: An Analysis of Love in The Country Wife The Country Wife by William Wycherley is a comedy full of naughty laughs, and an elaborate game between men that illustrates several themes concerning men, and women. Throughout Wycherley’s play, he clearly shows the contrasts between the single life and married life in London during the 1670’s. Eventually, going as far as having the audience undoubtedly believing that love does not exist in marriage, shown specifically within the play, when Margery Pinchwife writes in her attempt at a second letter to Horner “I have got the London disease they call love; I am sick of my husband and for my gallant” (Wycherley 2266). Despite this, Wycherley gives his audience hope that love can exist in marriage through the courtship of Harcourt, and Alithea. Wycherley assigns Harcourt as the true romantic in the play, whose relationship with Alithea by the end of the play resembles the perfect relationship/marriage. He further makes Harcourt, as a lover, and Harcourt and Alithea’s relationship evident by putting their relationship alongside Horner’s relationship towards all women overall, and Pinchwife and his marriage.
From the start of the play Wycherley makes it obvious that the male characters have their own beliefs on love and women. For instance, in Act I scene 1, the conversation between Horner, Dorilant, and Harcourt display Harcourt’s and Horner’s slightly different beliefs on love, and women at the beginning of the play. In the following quote, Horner makes statements on how love makes you dull, and restrained. “Wine gives you liberty, love takes it away” and “Wine gives you joy; love, grief and tortures, besides the chirurgeon’s. Wine makes us witty; love only sots. Wine makes us sleep; love breaks it” (Wycherley 2220). Horner uses wine as a metaphor for the single life and therefore most likely love could also represent marriage. This quote demonstrates clearly that he believes that loving or marrying a women would keep him from begin independent, and restrain him from the pleasures that he can find and already has as a bachelor. Harcourt simply responds to Horner and Dorilant’s statements on love saying, “I grant it; love will still be uppermost” (Wycherley 2220). This quote suggests that Harcourt believes love to be of the highest principal, during a period of the play where the audience still believes Harcourt to have similar qualities as Horner. Also in this conversation, Horner expresses that “Women…keep a man from better company…[and that] Good fellowship, and friendship are lasting, rational and manly pleasures,” vulgarly showing that to him all women, not just mistresses, are only worth being with to satisfy his sexual needs (Wycherley 2220). Harcourt replies by saying “No, mistresses are like books. If you pore upon them too much, they doze you and make you unfit for company; but if used discreetly, you are the fitter for conversation by ‘em” (Wycherley 2220). Harcourt’s comment may seem to be just as offensive as Horner’s, but when looked closely it becomes apparent that Harcourt’s statement is not that insulting. Harcourt doesn’t say women, like Horner, and instead specifically mentions mistresses, which implies that he believes this to be true only about mistresses and not all women. Furthermore, this quote is just stating that mistresses are better in small doses, which is usually or at least sometimes the case for being around most people.
Towards the end of Act I, Wycherley makes Pinchwife’s beliefs about marriage apparent when Pinchwife visits Horner and they begin conversing about Pinchwife’s marriage and affairs in town. Pinchwife’s attitude toward women becomes evident when he declares, “I must give Sparkish tomorrow five thousand pound to lie with my sister” (Wycherley 2223). While this quote, given its sarcastic tone, is at first humorous it also exhibits Pinchwife’s possessiveness towards women, even his own...
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