William Wycherley Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although William Wycherley’s reputation among modern readers rests entirely on his work as a playwright, he wrote poetry as well, most of it in his later years. Twenty-eight years after his last play, he published Miscellany Poems: As Satyrs, Epistles, Love-Verses, Songs, Sonnets, Etc. (1704), a collection of unremarkable pieces on a variety of subjects. The volume has lighter verses, songs of wine and women, but to the reader of the plays, there is matter of perhaps greater interest. Certain poems suggest that the dark vision of the later dramas continued to grow in Wycherley until he despaired of any hope for humanity.

William Wycherley Achievements

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

William Wycherley’s dramatic canon consists of only four plays, and his stature in English letters depends almost entirely on a single work, The Country Wife. In his own day, The Plain-Dealer was his most popular comedy, but more recent criticism has called attention to certain problems with that play that have diminished its reputation. Interestingly, the play’s flaws are a result of Wycherley’s excessiveness in the very quality that makes his dramatic achievement unique. More than his contemporaries, Wycherley deals bluntly (some critics have said crudely) with the tendency of social conventions to corrupt natural human instincts. More specifically, he posits the need of men and women to come together in relationships of love and mutual respect, and he exposes the ills that result when that need is perverted by marriage for purely material reasons. As the real meaning for marriage, the strongest bond between two individuals, becomes infected and weakened by social concerns, so the more casual relationships between men and women suffer corruption as well. Finally, Wycherley’s vision is a world of grotesques, moral cripples, through which a very few good people grope their way in search of honorable relationships.

William Wycherley Bibliography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Markley, Robert. Two Edg’d Weapons: Style and Dialogue in the Comedies of Etherege, Wycherley, and Congreve. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. This study is concerned with the comic style and language of Sir George Etherege, Wycherley, and William Congreve as the rewriting or adaptation of systems of theatrical signification in predecessors, as the reflection of particular cultural codes of speech and behavior that would be accessible to their audience, and as a comment on the culture of which they and their audience were a part. Includes bibliography.

Marshall, W. Gerald. A Great Stage of Fools: Theatricality and Madness in the Plays of William Wycherley. New York: AMS Press, 1993. Marshall examines the concept of mental illness as it appears in the works of Wycherley. Includes bibliography and index.

Thompson, James. Language in Wycherley’s Plays: Seventeenth-Century Language Theory and Drama. University: University of Alabama Press, 1984. Thompson discusses how Wycherley used language in his dramas and relates his usage to the broader context. Includes bibliography and index.

Vance, John A. William Wycherley and the Comedy of Fear. Newark, N.J.: University of Delaware Press, 2000. An analysis of Wycherley and his works with the focus on his treatment of fear. Includes bibliography and index.

Young, Douglas M. The Feminist Voices in Restoration Comedy: The Virtuous Women in the Play-Worlds of Etherege, Wycherley, and Congreve. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1997. A study of feminism and women in the works of Wycherley, George Etherege, and William Congreve. Includes bibliography and index.