Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Olivia’s lodging

Olivia’s lodging. London home of the mistress of Captain Manly, the “plain-dealer” of the play’s title. The play’s stage directions do not provide a description of Olivia’s rooms, but the actions that occur there distinguish the site as the most important set in the play. William Wycherley’s intent in The Plain-Dealer is to satirize both hypocrisy and idealism, and his satire becomes blatantly obvious every time the scene switches to Olivia’s lodging. It is there that Olivia’s true nature, an unfaithful, flirtatious hypocrite, is revealed. The plain-dealing Manly is often seen in the shadows or in darkness while visiting Olivia at her home, and truly, he is, for a while, in the dark about her real character. Likewise, she tries to keep others in the dark about the reality of her moral fiber.

Manly’s lodging

Manly’s lodging. London home of the naval captain Manly whose chief interest is finding a new ship after losing his last ship in a battle against the Dutch. Manly’s lodgings are meant to be a stark contrast to Olivia’s. While untruth and infidelity pervade Olivia’s “world,” his dwelling is, in his own opinion, a shrine to truth and virtue. He will not allow shallow flatterers or false friends into his home; in fact, he attempts to thwart visitors by placing guards outside his door. Ultimately, his actions and attitude simply reveal that he is an idealist and a bit of a misanthrope, a person who erroneously thinks that he can live a righteous life by alienating himself from humankind, thereby avoiding any falseness.

Cock in Bow Street

Cock in Bow Street. London tavern that is a center of intrigue. There, Manly and his page Fidelia, an heiress in disguise, scheme to expose Olivia’s promiscuity; Manly’s previous trusted friend Vernish exposes his hypocrisy; and the widow Blackacre and two knights talk of past and future forgeries of legal documents. Ultimately, all characters seen at this tavern prove themselves hypocrites, even Manly, who prides himself on his “plain-dealing.”

Westminster Hall

Westminster Hall. This legal arena provides more insight into the character of Widow Blackacre, a woman obsessed with the law, lawsuits, legal briefs, and legal cases. In addition, her courtroom scene there directly links the legal motifs that pervade the play.

The Plain-Dealer Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Holland, Norman. The First Modern Comedies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1959. The chapter on The Plain-Dealer focuses on the play as the dramatization of the question: Can an idealist live in the real world? Discusses the play’s focus on the conflict between appearance and nature, and suggests that the title character is both innately good and a deviant from his society.

Hughes, Leo. Introduction to The Plain Dealer, edited by Leo Hughes. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967. A very useful general introduction to Wycherley’s play. Includes information on definitive texts and variants, stage history, and social and theatrical contexts. Compares Wycherley’s drama with that of Ben Jonson and John Dryden; briefly discusses the play’s origins in Molière’s Le Misanthrope.

Rogers, Katharine M. William Wycherley. New York: Twayne, 1972. A good basic introduction to Wycherley’s dramatic work. The chapter on The Plain-Dealer discusses Wycherley’s adaptation of Molière’s Le Misanthrope to the English stage and suggests that in this play, Wycherley’s moral zeal nearly overbalances the comedy, resulting in a main character who is almost tragic. Points out that the play has two incompatible moral viewpoints and two conflicting levels of reality.

Thompson, James. Language in Wycherley’s Plays. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1984. Focuses on the role of language in exposing characters’ inner psychological realities. Suggests that the sense of extremes in The Plain-Dealer is created by linguistic contrasts and describes the play as Wycherley’s most chaotic and discordant work.

Zimbardo, Rose A. Wycherley’s Drama. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1965. Discusses Wycherley’s plays as Restoration revisions of formal classical satire and views the major characters in The Plain-Dealer as English manifestations of the classical satirist and adversarius. Treats the play as both satire and a satiric questioning of satire itself.