Study Guide

The Country Wife

by William Wycherley

The Country Wife Characters

Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

Mr. Horner

Mr. Horner, a man with a reputation for lewdness. Newly returned from France, he finds an excellent method of duping unsuspecting husbands. With the aid of a quack, he spreads the fictitious information that he is no longer sexually potent. Foolish husbands, needing someone to escort and amuse their wives, invite the clever Mr. Horner to their homes. In this way, he finds his way to the bedchambers of many high-born ladies who no longer have to fear the tarnishing of their reputations if they associate with a man because this one is impotent.

Mr. Pinchwife

Mr. Pinchwife, who, like Sparkish and Sir Jasper Fidget, is a cuckold who helps to bring about the very thing he fears most, the seduction of his naïve wife. He is right when he says that cuckolds are generally the makers of their own misfortune. Dour, humorless, and exceedingly jealous, he takes every precaution to keep his wife from falling into the predatory hands of Horner. Foolishly, he is the very instrument that brings about this event.

Mrs. Margery Pinchwife

Mrs. Margery Pinchwife, his country wife. She is little aware of London’s pleasures until she is informed of them inadvertently by her husband. Little by little, she loses some of her innocence until, finally, she meets Horner. After this brief interlude, she learns what a dullard her husband is. Cleverly, she manages to send a love letter, carried by her unsuspecting husband, to Horner....

(The entire section is 612 words.)

The Country Wife List of Characters

A note about the names of the characters:
Most of the characters in The Country Wife have "character-names"; that is to say, their names signify a character trait. This is an old tradition in British drama, a carry over from medieval morality plays where characters were named "Avarice," "Greed," "Lust," "Chastity," and so on. Morality plays were primarily interested in teaching religious morals. During the Restoration, playwrights such as Wycherley professed to be teaching morals even though their plays often gave no sign of such, except through the names of the characters.

Alithea
Harcourt’s beloved, Alithea is perhaps the most intelligent and, therefore, interesting of all the characters. Althea is the only woman in the whole play who acts with dignity and common sense.

Dorilant
Dorilant is a friend of Horner and Harcourt, a gallant. He joins them in witty repartees.

Lady Fidget
She is the wife of Sir Jasper Fidget and is in love with Horner. Lady Fidget is as equally debauched as the men and completely hypocritical.

Sir Jasper Figet
Lady Fidget's husband, Sir Jasper is equally lewd, but gullible and given to malicious enjoyment of other people's defects. He makes endless and mindless jokes about Horner's alleged impotence.

Dainty Fidget
Dainty Fidget is their daughter, and also in love with Horner.

Harcourt
He is Alithea's lover. A witty, ebullient man with an intelligent flair, he wants to marry her, which, in the context of Restoration comedies, is unusual.

Horner
Horner is the intelligent, intellectual hero of the play, but also a debaucher. A man of the world, he pretends to be impotent in order to seduce London women; he seems to have no...

(The entire section is 512 words.)

The Country Wife Characters

Alithea
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.

Mr. Dorillant
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.

Mr. Harcourt
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
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...

(The entire section is 1716 words.)