Mr. Horner, a man with a reputation for lewdness. Newly returned from France, he finds an excellent method of duping unsuspecting husbands. With the aid of a quack, he spreads the fictitious information that he is no longer sexually potent. Foolish husbands, needing someone to escort and amuse their wives, invite the clever Mr. Horner to their homes. In this way, he finds his way to the bedchambers of many high-born ladies who no longer have to fear the tarnishing of their reputations if they associate with a man because this one is impotent.
Mr. Pinchwife, who, like Sparkish and Sir Jasper Fidget, is a cuckold who helps to bring about the very thing he fears most, the seduction of his naïve wife. He is right when he says that cuckolds are generally the makers of their own misfortune. Dour, humorless, and exceedingly jealous, he takes every precaution to keep his wife from falling into the predatory hands of Horner. Foolishly, he is the very instrument that brings about this event.
Mrs. Margery Pinchwife
Mrs. Margery Pinchwife, his country wife. She is little aware of London’s pleasures until she is informed of them inadvertently by her husband. Little by little, she loses some of her innocence until, finally, she meets Horner. After this brief interlude, she learns what a dullard her husband is. Cleverly, she manages to send a love letter, carried by her unsuspecting husband, to Horner.
Mr. Sparkish, a boring idiot who desires, more than anything else, to be a wit. He is called “a bubble, a coward, a senseless idiot” and is outraged. Credulously, he is duped by all he meets, always feeling, however, that he is a wit, even to the very end.
Sir Jasper Fidget
Sir Jasper Fidget, the husband of Lady Fidget. Almost the equal of Sparkish in stupidity, he unsuspectingly begs Horner to be an escort for Lady Fidget. Even when he is in the next room from the lovers, he is unaware that his wife and Horner are doing anything other than looking for china plates.
Lady Fidget, a woman who wants to protect her reputation for virtue at all costs. In public, she raves about her chastity; in private, however, she tells bawdy jokes, drinks wine, and, in her boudoir, finds the indefatigable Horner a delightful and stimulating companion.
Alithea, a comely young woman, the sister of Pinchwife and the mistress of Sparkish. At first, she remains true to her witless lover. Later, however, she finds Harcourt a much more interesting person.
Mr. Harcourt, a friend of Horner. Clever and somewhat unscrupulous, he gulls the would-be-wit, Sparkish, by pretending to be a good and faithful friend.
Lucy, Alithea’s maid, who is clever enough to help Mrs. Pinchwife meet Horner. At the end of the play, she convinces Pinchwife and Sir Jasper that there has been no intrigue between their wives and Horner.
Mrs. Dainty Fidget
Mrs. Dainty Fidget, who, like Lady Fidget, is infatuated with Horner, particularly when she can associate with him without endangering her reputation.
Mrs. Squeamish, another of the many women surrounding Horner. In the end, she learns, as do the others, that she must share him with several women.
A quack, through whose professional status Horner is able to convince the gulls of his impotency. The quack helps him by spreading this information through the city. He is amazed when the scheme works so well.
Mr. Dorilant, Horner’s friend and a man about town. During Horner’s dalliance with Mrs....
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Pinchwife, Dorilant shows considerable interest in Lucy.
A note about the names of the characters: Most of the characters in The Country Wife have "character-names"; that is to say, their names signify a character trait. This is an old tradition in British drama, a carry over from medieval morality plays where characters were named "Avarice," "Greed," "Lust," "Chastity," and so on. Morality plays were primarily interested in teaching religious morals. During the Restoration, playwrights such as Wycherley professed to be teaching morals even though their plays often gave no sign of such, except through the names of the characters.
Alithea Harcourt’s beloved, Alithea is perhaps the most intelligent and, therefore, interesting of all the characters. Althea is the only woman in the whole play who acts with dignity and common sense.
Dorilant Dorilant is a friend of Horner and Harcourt, a gallant. He joins them in witty repartees.
Lady Fidget She is the wife of Sir Jasper Fidget and is in love with Horner. Lady Fidget is as equally debauched as the men and completely hypocritical.
Sir Jasper Figet Lady Fidget's husband, Sir Jasper is equally lewd, but gullible and given to malicious enjoyment of other people's defects. He makes endless and mindless jokes about Horner's alleged impotence.
Dainty Fidget Dainty Fidget is their daughter, and also in love with Horner.
Harcourt He is Alithea's lover. A witty, ebullient man with an intelligent flair, he wants to marry her, which, in the context of Restoration comedies, is unusual.
Horner Horner is the intelligent, intellectual hero of the play, but also a debaucher. A man of the world, he pretends to be impotent in order to seduce London women; he seems to have no scruples in seducing the innocent Mrs. Margery Pinchwife.
Lucy Lucy is the maidservant to Alithea. She is clever and witty and helps her mistress toward Harcourt; she also helps Mrs. Pinchwife deceive her husband, Mr. Pinchwife.
Mr. Pinchwife One of the principal characters of the play, he is a jealous husband who tries his best to keep his wife, Margery, from being seduced by Horner. Because of his inefficient machinations, he becomes a cuckold.
Mrs. Pinchwife She is a not-so-innocent, beautiful country woman and the wife to Mr. Pinchwife. Resisting her husband's efforts to keep her imprisoned at home, she finds a way to hoodwink him and have an affair with Horner. She is innocent enough to think Horner would marry her but ends up disappointed. She returns to the country with her husband.
Quack He is the unlicensed doctor who spreads the rumor that Horner is impotent.
Mr. Sparkish Alithea's betrothed, Sparkish is just a stupid and pseudo-gallant who, for a jest, will give away his fiancée to Harcourt. To him, being a fashionable man is more important than being married. He trusts his fiancée and friend completely. He ends up losing her to his so-called friend.
Lady Squeamish She is a society woman who is in love with Horner.
Old Lady Squeamish Grandmother to Lady Squeamish and a hanger-on of Lady Fidget, she makes witty remarks about the women chasing Horner.
Alithea Harcourt’s beloved, Alithea, is perhaps the most intelligent and, therefore, the most interesting of all the characters. The only woman in the whole play with dignity and common sense, she far outweighs her fiancé, Mr. Sparkish, in intellect. The Harcourt-Alithea “relationship” is complex and romantic. Because Mr. Sparkish shows no jealousy toward the flirtatious Harcourt, Alithea is emotionally caught in a bind. On the one hand, she has her honor to defend. She is being forced to choose between her commitment to her brother and Mr. Sparkish, and the interest—and romantic curiosity—she feels for Harcourt. He has fallen in love with her. She is not a little attracted to his intelligence and amorous advances. A woman of sound practicality and common sense, she also respects the business deal that her brother has struck with Sparkish by joining the properties of the two families together. Thus, Alithea's agitation has to do with her decision to keep her promise to Sparkish rather than follow her heart. Understanding this fully, Harcourt argues that a marriage without love, built solely on a financial trust, is as unfavorable an alternative as infidelity. His message hits home.
In terms of the development of Restoration comedy, Alithea’s character anticipates another, and perhaps the most brilliant, portrayal of a “bluestocking” woman, Mrs. Millamant in William Congreve’s The Way of the World (1700). Like Millamant, she is clever, witty, and yet extremely sensitive. Similarly, she too engages in a battle of wits with the to whom man she is attracted.
Mr. Dorillant The third part of the Horner-Harcourt-Dorrillant triumvirate. He keeps their company, is of the same ilk, and, in general, has very little to do in the play other than to chime in with witticisms. At the end of the play, it is he who drags Quack to the stage and makes him reiterate that Horner is impotent so that Horner may get off the hook.
Mr. Harcourt Harcourt is Mr. Horner’s friend and, in many ways, is like him, except in one important way: Harcourt is capable of falling in love. This saving grace makes Harcourt a much more likeable character than any other in the play. He, too, is witty and charming to women, apparently sharing many of the social and character traits of Horner. Yet the fact that he is love with Alithea and wishes to marry her in an age when marriage seemed to be a very anathema to the well-bred and educated makes him a different type of character from not only those in The Country Wife but most other Restoration comedies. Harcourt and his beloved, Alithea, with their intelligence, wit, and humane principles, make The Country Wife an interesting play.
Mr. Horner Mr. Horner is the main character and protagonist of the play. Those familiar with Restoration comedies will at once recognize him as a typical Restoration gallant, given to witty and cynical observations on London society, and living the life of a libertine. He is well-to-do, educated, and belongs to the landed gentry. He is a gentleman, which means that he does not work for a living. He has plenty of time to “fool around”—a contemporary American phrase that suits the Restoration gentlemen rather well.
William Wycherley’s purpose of writing The Country Wife, like that of many other Restoration comedy writers, was pure entertainment. Horner is simply out to have fun, to seduce women whether they be gullible country types like the extremely pretty Margery Pinchwife or hypocritical London women who constantly harp upon their honor.
"Horner" itself is an interesting name. The Restoration, taking its cue from medieval morality plays, named their characters in comedies with “character-names”; that is to say, the name itself says something about a character. Horner, suggesting horns, is supposed to signify a cuckolder. In so doing, Horner, rather ironically, acts as a satiric touch stone. His feigned impotence, publicized throughout London by a doctor, makes the hypocritical men and women of London let their guards down when it comes to their morality. Horner knows this, and, together with his own enjoyment of being an accomplished seducer, he thoroughly enjoys unmasking the pretenders.
Thus, Horner is manly, bold, and, in many ways, straightforward. He is not frank, but blunt; he is not honest, but realistic. His attitude to the members of his own society is cynical without being vindictive. He is not a complex character, but his thoughts are complex. His opening sentence line is, “A quack is as fit for a pimp as a midwife is for a bawd; they are still but in their way helpers of Nature.” From this very first utterance, one can tell that Horner has the capacity for metaphysical wit, comparing a quack (an unlicensed physician) to a midwife (one who helps in delivering babies in childbirth) vis-à-vis pimps and bawds (women with loose sexual morals). The aphorism suggests that pimps and bawds do not need doctors and midwives because their sexuality is unproductive—purely for enjoyment. Their usefulness to nature is because they are an unpleasant necessity. As you can see, Horner thinks.
His treatment of Margery Pinchwife, however, leaves much to be desired. It is not that Horner is amoral. That would have excused him somewhat. The play is strewn with observations from Horner that suggest he has a cognitive moral sense. That is why the way in which he deals with Margery is so wrong. He appreciates her innocence, is veritably bowled over by her beauty, even sympathizes with her for having a husband like Pinchwife, but none of this prevents him from taking advantage of her, simply because she is willing. If the ladies he criticizes protest too much their honor, Horner protests too much their hypocrisy.
Lucy Although this character is relatively minor in terms of lines spoken, Alithea’s maidservant is instrumentally critical to the play. Wycherley draws upon a very old dramatic tradition, starting from the fools in Elizabethan tragedies where a king’s fool (for example in King Lear) is made to utter all sorts of wise observations on society. In French comedies of the seventeenth century, the servant, usually male, was both comic and wise enough to engineer the happenings in the play. In Restoration comedies, we witness the manservant to the protagonist doing the same thing, as in George Etherege’s The Man of Mode. Lucy is not quite of the same order, but is made to give her opinions on the manners of the times, especially in matters of love. It is she who, toward the end of the play, helps Mrs. Pinchwife to hatch her plots.
Lady Fidget, Dainty Fidget, Mrs. Squeamish, and Old Lady Squeamish Like their male counterparts (Sparkish and Sir Jasper Fidget), these women are just as foppish, hypocritical, and ludicrous. They all serve Wycherley to paint a farcical and satirical portrait of London city life. Instrumentally, they are all in love with Horner (except Old Lady Squeamish), and they all use him and are used by him for sexual escapades. Lady Fidget is also a bit of a shrew.
Mr. Pinchwife Instrumentally, it might be said that Mr. Pinchwife is one of the principal agents of the play’s action (the others being Margery, his wife, Harcourt, and to a lesser extent, Lucy.) Made famous in British theater as a jealously paranoid cuckold, he is a classic comic character, if the definition of a comic character is one who acts comically but does not realize he is funny. His many curses and oaths, diatribes against everyone in society, especially Horner, his despicable treatment of his wife—all make him a memorable character. There is no sympathy for him in the play because he is such a crude and typical male chauvinist. Even when he realizes that, despite his desperate attempts, he has been cuckolded, and he hides his face in shame and then lunges to kill Horner, no one feels sorry for him. When he is let off the hook by the Quack’s fraudulent announcement, we do not feel happy for him. Rather, the whole play ends with cynicism, and Pinchwife is one of the main causes of it.
Mrs. Pinchwife Mrs. Pinchwife is in some ways the most important character in The Country Wife. Indeed, one can argue that she is the protagonist of the play. An ingénue and naïf (two terms frequently used in Restoration and eighteenth-century satire), this character is not only central to the development of the plot, she in fact brings out the true nature of Horner. Until her seduction, in which no doubt she is a willing accomplice, there is some possibility that Horner is an honorable man. The way she is treated by him after the assignation leaves no doubt in any reader’s mind as to what kind of a person Horner is. Margery Pinchwife is pretty, funny, and, in the end, a bit pathetic. Characters like her (and Harcourt and Alithea) elevate The Country Wife to the level of an engaging and interesting play.
Quack Quack is both his name and profession. He is an unlicensed doctor and fulfills the material function of spreading the rumor that Horner is impotent. What is important about Wycherley’s creation of Quack is that it may be Wycherley’s support for the development of the medical profession. With the rise of modern science and the Royal Society, alchemists and quacks were steadily falling out of favor.
Mr. Sparkish and Sir Jasper Fidget These two characters are almost the mirror opposite of Mr. Pinchwife. Whereas Pinchwife is jealous, Sparkish is fashionably indulgent to his friend's flirting with his fiancée. His reason is that only boors are grumpy about such things. Desperate to be called a London wit, he mindlessly apes the gallants and jovially tolerates Harcourt's romantic overtures to Alithea. He believes nothing he sees.
Sir Jasper Fidget, on the other hand, is a complete town fop; that is to say, he is completely taken in by outward appearances. Not surprisingly, his wife, Lady Fidget, easily deceives him. If Sparkish believes nothing he sees, Jasper believes everything he hears. Wycherley uses characters like these not only to add to the play's entertainment value but to satirize the modish behaviors of London fops.