Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Mr. Horner, a gallant with a bad reputation for seduction, pretends that he was made impotent through disease and causes word of his misfortune to be spread throughout the town by his quack doctor. Immediately, men who were afraid to let him meet their wives for fear of seduction hasten to assure him that he can visit their homes and escort their women anywhere. Horner’s old companions among the town gallants tease him unmercifully, and at first, the women will have nothing to do with him. Among his friends is Jack Pinchwife, who is vastly afraid of being made a cuckold. He does not even let it be known that he is married. His wife is a woman from the country; she, he thinks, does not know enough about fashionable city life to think of taking a lover.
Pinchwife makes the mistake, however, of escorting his wife to a play, where she is seen by Horner and some of his friends. When Pinchwife returns to his lodgings, his wife, tired of being kept locked in the house, asks her husband to let her go walking. A relative, a woman from the town, speaks for her as well. Pinchwife becomes angry with both: at his wife for wanting to go out and at his relative who is, he claims, corrupting her morals. Pinchwife foolishly tells his wife what she is missing in town life—plays, dinners, parties, and dances—and so arouses her interest in all that he is attempting to keep from her for the sake of his honor.
When a party of women come to take his wife to...
(The entire section is 985 words.)
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The Country Wife begins with Frank Horner instructing a "doctor" to spread the word around London that Horner is impotent. The impotence, he says, is the result of a sexually transmitted disease acquired in Paris. Horner's purpose in spreading this rumor is to seduce London's high society women. These wealthy women will be caught off guard if they believe him to be impotent, for they will not suspect his intentions to be sexually motivated.
This stratagem actually takes up a very small portion of the play's plot. The consequence of Horne's ploy is really what most of the play is about. Odd as Horner’s scheme may seem, there seems to be a method in his madness. On the one hand, it goes against the grain of male bravado to declare oneself impotent.
The feigned impotence starts a chain of reactions that brings out the lascivious nature of all the upper class city-bred women, lurking meanly behind their aggressive references to morality and virtue. This is a typical Restoration and eighteenth century satirical technique, borrowed from the Roman satirists like Horace and Juvenal. An innocent or a naïf or, someone with a fundamental human defect, is presented to society in a story; and everybody begins to take advantage of him or her with the pretense of helping. Wycherley had borrowed the plot of this play from two French comedies (which, in turn, had Latinate origins) and improvised on them.
In this first act, Horner’s central stratagem sets off a sort of the battle of the sexes. We have scenes in which the men (Horner, Dorrilant, Sparkish and Harcourt) rail away at the so-called ladies of fashion. In another scene, women and men criticize each other for their hypocrisy. In yet another, women talk to each other and criticize men. In all of them, however, the talking point is Horner’s impotency.
Horner’s impotency affects, very differently, two couples—Mr. and Mrs. Pinchwife and Sir Jasper and Lady Fidge. Mr. Pinchwife is the epitome of a jealous husband and is absolutely unwilling to let his wife out of his sight. Despite the rumor about him, Pinchwife does not trust him. This is not the case with Sir Jasper. To Jasper, Horner’s alleged impotency is amusing, making his wife (and other women) safe with the dissimulator. So he rather encourages Lady Fidget to be in the “eunuch’s” presence while he is away keeping important people company. Lady...
(The entire section is 3265 words.)