Harcourt’s beloved, Alithea, is perhaps the most intelligent and, therefore, the most interesting of all the characters. The only woman in the whole play with dignity and common sense, she far outweighs her fiancé, Mr. Sparkish, in intellect. The Harcourt-Alithea “relationship” is complex and romantic. Because Mr. Sparkish shows no jealousy toward the flirtatious Harcourt, Alithea is emotionally caught in a bind. On the one hand, she has her honor to defend. She is being forced to choose between her commitment to her brother and Mr. Sparkish, and the interest—and romantic curiosity—she feels for Harcourt. He has fallen in love with her. She is not a little attracted to his intelligence and amorous advances. A woman of sound practicality and common sense, she also respects the business deal that her brother has struck with Sparkish by joining the properties of the two families together. Thus, Alithea's agitation has to do with her decision to keep her promise to Sparkish rather than follow her heart. Understanding this fully, Harcourt argues that a marriage without love, built solely on a financial trust, is as unfavorable an alternative as infidelity. His message hits home.
In terms of the development of Restoration comedy, Alithea’s character anticipates another, and perhaps the most brilliant, portrayal of a “bluestocking” woman, Mrs. Millamant in William Congreve’s The Way of the World (1700). Like Millamant, she is clever, witty, and yet extremely sensitive. Similarly, she too engages in a battle of wits with the to whom man she is attracted.
The third part of the Horner-Harcourt-Dorrillant triumvirate. He keeps their company, is of the same ilk, and, in general, has very little to do in the play other than to chime in with witticisms. At the end of the play, it is he who drags Quack to the stage and makes him reiterate that Horner is impotent so that Horner may get off the hook.
Harcourt is Mr. Horner’s friend and, in many ways, is like him, except in one important way: Harcourt is capable of falling in love. This saving grace makes Harcourt a much more likeable character than any other in the play. He, too, is witty and charming to women, apparently sharing many of the social and character traits of Horner. Yet the fact that he is love with Alithea and wishes to marry her in an age when marriage seemed to be a very anathema to the well-bred and educated makes him a different type of character from not only those in The Country Wife but most other Restoration comedies. Harcourt and his beloved, Alithea, with their intelligence, wit, and humane principles, make The Country Wife an interesting play.
Mr. Horner is the main character and protagonist of the play. Those familiar with Restoration comedies will at once recognize him as a typical Restoration gallant, given to witty and cynical observations on London society, and living the life of a libertine. He is well-to-do, educated, and belongs to the landed gentry. He is a gentleman, which means that he does not work for a living. He has plenty of time to “fool around”—a contemporary American phrase that suits the Restoration gentlemen rather well.
William Wycherley’s purpose of writing The Country Wife, like that of many other Restoration comedy writers, was pure entertainment. Horner is simply out to have fun, to seduce women whether they be gullible country types like the extremely pretty Margery Pinchwife or hypocritical London women who constantly harp upon their honor.
"Horner" itself is an interesting name. The Restoration, taking its cue from medieval morality plays, named their characters in comedies with “character-names”; that is to say, the name itself says something about a character. Horner, suggesting horns, is supposed to signify a cuckolder. In so doing, Horner, rather ironically, acts as a satiric touch stone. His feigned impotence, publicized throughout London by a doctor, makes the hypocritical men and women of London let...