Critical Evaluation

The first of three satiric comedies by William Wycherley, Love in a Wood shows brilliantly the playwright’s genius. Wycherley gained his insights into high society as an intimate of high-ranking individuals on both sides of the English Channel. It was this play that gained for the young author the king’s favor and the love of the king’s mistress, the duchess of Cleveland.

As Wycherley uses the phrase, “in a wood” means “confused”; such a description might apply as well to the audience and to readers of this play as to the characters in it, for by the end there are no less than five marriages, one accomplished and four in prospect. The unusually large quantity of couples, the complicated intrigues in which they indulge, and the various unravelings that are required keep the play bustling with physical and dramatic movement. It is, however, a movement less controlled than in the playwright’s later satiric masterpieces, The Country Wife (pr., pb. 1675) and The Plain-Dealer (pr. 1676).

Love in a Wood contains many of the motifs of deception that were to become standard in Restoration comedy—disguises, mistaken identity, hiding, and overheard and misinterpreted conversations, all of which create confusion between appearance and reality. Valentine, for instance, hears an apparently compromising report of Christina and concludes that she is unfaithful, Gripe frantically attempts to maintain the pretense of Puritan piety and respectability, and Sir Simon poses as a clerk and then discovers, to his consternation, that Martha refuses to believe he is a knight. Critics have pointed out that Wycherley uses the metaphor of light and...

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