How did the Restoration affect The Country Wife ?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Charles II's Restoration ideas about art and drama played a significant role in affecting Wycherley's The Country Wife.  One of these ideas was that wit and humor become part of the dramatic narrative structure.  Charles's mistresses found Wycherley's sense of humor appealing, being "extremely fond of him upon account of his wit."  Charles's penchant for drama told to the audience with an emphasis on wit and witticisms impacted The Country Wife. In contrast to the Puritanical- like dogma of Cromwellian England and the lyricism of Shakespeare in the Elizabethan era of the stage, a more wit- centered approach to language was emphasized.  This aspect of the Restoration and Charles's insistence impacted The Country Wife, as it is told through a more direct form of language, full of what we would call "one- liners" and double entendres that were intended to evoke audience laughter.  This wit and construction of humor that allowed sexual influence to pervade the drama is evident in the turn of phrase in the drama's title.  In this regard, the Restoration time period had much to do with the play's approach.

The ability to openly employ sexual reality on the stage is another way that the Restoration affected the drama.  The Country Wife is open about its sexual content.  This is a direct reflection of Charles II and the Restoration.  In contrast to the Puritan approach of Cromwell's England, where marriage was affirmed as a social institution beyond criticism, the Restoration often enjoyed taking shots at marriage and exposing the hypocrisy that was perceived to be a part of it.  Horner's openness about attracting rakish women who are pretending to be virtuous under the pretense of marriage is itself a Restoration idea. In this arena, power is held by those are insightful enough to see through this pretense with a sense of insight and honesty about the way things are and the motivations that exist within human beings.  Restoration notions tended to side with the artist who could effectively communicate this with a sense of wit, impacting the reception to The Country Wife.  The openness with sexual appetite is explored and its use as a way to establish power over others are ideas from the Restoration which had an impact on the development of Wycherley's work.  Such approaches to sex and drama often pushed the contours of what was previously seen as "acceptable."  This was a significant aspect of The Country Wife and its time period.

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