The Country Wife

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The happy think a lifetime short, but to the unhappy one night can be an eternity.
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The Country Wife is an English Restoration comedy from 1675 by William Wycherley.

Quotes from the play

  • Well, but let me tell you, women, as you say, are like soldiers, made constant and loyal by good pay rather than oaths and covenants. Therefore I'd advise my friends to keep rather than marry. (I.i.464—67)
  • But methinks wit is more necessary than beauty; and I think no young woman ugly that has it, and no handsome woman agreeable without it. (I.i.425—27)
  • Your women of honour, as you call'em, are only chary of their reputations, not their persons, and 'tis scandal they would avoid, not men. (I.i.167—69)
  • A mistress should be like a little country retreat near the town, not to dwell in constantly, but only for a night and away. (I.i)

Pinchwife tells Mrs. Pinchwife of the pleasures of the town

Pinch. ... But were you not talking of plays and players when I came in?—[To ALITHEA.] You are her encourager in such discourses.

Mrs. Pinch. No, indeed, dear; she chid me just now for liking the playermen.

Pinch. [aside]. Nay, if she be so innocent as to own to me her liking them, there is no hurt in’t.—[Aloud.] Come, my poor rogue, but thou likest none better than me?

Mrs. Pinch. Yes, indeed, but I do. The playermen are finer folks.

Pinch. But you love none better than me?

Mrs. Pinch. You are my own dear bud, and I know you. I hate a stranger.

Pinch. Ay, my dear, you must love me only; and not be like the naughty town-women, who only hate their husbands, and love every man else; love plays, visits, fine coaches, fine clothes, fiddles, balls, treats, and so lead a wicked town-life.

Mrs. Pinch. Nay, if to enjoy all these things be a town-life, London is not so bad a place, dear.

Pinch. How! if you love me, you must hate London.

Alith. The fool has forbid me discovering to her the pleasures of the town, and he is now setting her agog upon them himself.

[Aside.

Mrs. Pinch. But, husband, do the town-women love the playermen too?

Pinch. Yes, I warrant you.

Mrs. Pinch. Ay, I warrant you.

Pinch. Why, you do not, I hope?

Mrs. Pinch. No, no, bud. But why have we no playermen in the country? (II.i.67–96)

The penknife scene

Pinch. Come, begin:—“Sir”—

[Dictates.

Mrs. Pinch. Shan’t I say, “Dear Sir?”—You know one says always something more than bare “Sir."

Pinch. Write as I bid you, or I will write whore with this penknife in your face.

Mrs. Pinch. Nay, good bud—“Sir”—

[Writes.

Pinch. “Though I suffered last night your nauseous, loathed kisses and embraces”—Write!

Mrs. Pinch. Nay, why should I say so? You know I told you he had a sweet breath.

Pinch. Write!

Mrs. Pinch. Let me but put out “loathed.”

Pinch. Write, I say!

Mrs. Pinch. Well then.

[Writes.

Pinch. Let’s see, what have you writ?—[Takes the paper and reads.] “Though I suffered last night your kisses and embraces”—Thou impudent creature! where is “nauseous” and “loathed?”

Mrs. Pinch. I can’t abide to write such filthy words.

Pinch. Once more write as I’d have you, and question it not, or I will spoil thy writing with this. I will stab out those eyes that cause my mischief.

[Holds up the penknife.

Mrs. Pinch. O Lord! I will. (IV.ii.92–114)

The china scene

Context: extract from the notorious "China scene", where Horner and his mistresses carry on a sustained double entendre dialogue purportedly about Horner's china collection. The husband of Lady Fidget and the grandmother of Mrs. Squeamish are listening front stage and nodding in approval, failing to pick up the double meaning which is obvious to the audience. Dialogue such as this made "china" a dirty word in common conversation, Wycherley later claimed.

Mrs. Squeam. I can’t find ’em.—Oh, are you here, grandmother? I followed, you must know, my Lady Fidget hither; ’tis the prettiest lodging, and I have been staring on the prettiest pictures—

Re-enter Lady Fidget with a piece of china in her hand, and Horner following.

Lady Fid. And I have been toiling and moiling for the prettiest piece of china, my dear.

Horn. Nay, she has been too hard for me, do what I could.

Mrs. Squeam. Oh, lord, I’ll have some china too. Good Mr. Horner, don’t think to give other people china, and me none; come in with me too.

Horn. Upon my honour, I have none left now.

Mrs. Squeam. Nay, nay, I have known you deny your china before now, but you shan’t put me off so. Come.

Horn. This lady had the last there.

Lady Fid. Yes indeed, madam, to my certain knowledge, he has no more left.

Mrs. Squeam. O, but it may be he may have some you could not find.

Lady Fid. What, d’ye think if he had had any left, I would not have had it too? for we women of quality never think we have china enough.

Horn. Do not take it ill, I cannot make china for you all, but I will have a roll-waggon for you too, another time.

Mrs. Squeam. Thank you, dear toad.

Lady Fid. What do you mean by that promise?

[Aside to Horner.

Horn. Alas, she has an innocent, literal understanding.

[Aside to Lady Fidget. (IV.iii.183–207)

The ladies' drinking scene

Context: the "brimmer" is a drinking cup going from hand to hand.

Lady Fid. Now, ladies, supposing we had drank each of us two bottles, let us speak the truth of our hearts.

Mrs. Dain. and Mrs. Squeam. Agreed.

Lady Fid. By this brimmer, for truth is nowhere else to be found—[aside to Horner] not in thy heart, false man!

Horn. You have found me a true man, I’m sure.

[Aside to Lady Fidget.

Lady Fid. [aside to Horner]. Not every way.—But let us sit and be merry.

[Sings. Why should our damned tyrants oblige us to live
On the pittance of pleasure which they only give?
We must not rejoice
With wine and with noise:
In vain we must wake in a dull bed alone,
Whilst to our warm rival the bottle they’re gone.
Then lay aside charms,
And take up these arms.
’Tis wine only gives ’em their courage and wit;
Because we live sober, to men we submit.
If for beauties you’d pass,
Take a lick of the glass,
’Twill mend your complexions, and when they are gone,
The best red we have is the red of the grape:
Then, sisters, lay’t on, And damn a good shape.

Mrs. Dain. Dear brimmer! Well, in token of our openness and plain-dealing, let us throw our masks over our heads.

Horn. So, ’twill come to the glasses anon.

[Aside.

Mrs. Squeam. Lovely brimmer! let me enjoy him first.

Lady Fid. No, I never part with a gallant till I’ve tried him. Dear brimmer! that makest our husbands short-sighted.

Mrs. Dain. And our bashful gallants bold.

Mrs. Squeam. And, for want of a gallant, the butler lovely in our eyes.—Drink, eunuch.

Lady Fid. Drink, thou representative of a husband.—Damn a husband!

Mrs. Dain. And, as it were a husband, an old keeper.

Mrs. Squeam. And an old grandmother.

Horn. And an English bawd, and a French surgeon. (V.iv.19–55)


Context: Squeamish, Dainty, and Lady Fidget have realized that that Horner is the lover of them all, and that they have no choice but to keep the secret.

Mrs. Squeam. Did you not tell me, ’twas for my sake only you reported yourself no man?

[Aside to Horner.

Mrs. Dain. Oh, wretch! did you not swear to me, ’twas for my love and honour you passed for that thing you do?

[Aside to Horner.

Horn. So, so.

Lady Fid. Come, speak, ladies: this is my false villain.

Mrs. Squeam. And mine too.

Mrs. Dain. And mine.

Horn. Well then, you are all three my false rogues too, and there’s an end on’t.

Lady Fid. Well then, there’s no remedy; sister sharers, let us not fall out, but have a care of our honour. Though we get no presents, no jewels of him, we are savers of our honour, the jewel of most value and use, which shines yet to the world unsuspected, though it be counterfeit.

Horn. Nay, and is e’en as good as if it were true, provided the world think so; for honour, like beauty now, only depends on the opinion of others. (V.iv.159–176)

Quotes about the play

"The only thing original about Wycherley, the only thing which he could furnish from his own mind in inexhaustible abundance, was profligacy. It is curious to observe how everything that he touched, however pure and noble, took in an instant the colour of his own mind. Compare the Ecole des Femmes [Molière's School For Wives) with the Country Wife. Agnes [in the School For Wives] is a simple and amiable girl, whose heart is indeed full of love, but of love sanctioned by honour, morality, and religion. Her natural talents are great. They have been hidden, and, as it might appear, destroyed by an education elaborately bad. But they are called forth into full energy by a virtuous passion. Her lover, while he adores her beauty, is too honest a man to abuse the confiding tenderness of a creature so charming and inexperienced. Wycherley takes this plot into his hands; and forthwith this sweet and graceful courtship becomes a licentious intrigue of the lowest and least sentimental kind, between an impudent London rake and the idiot wife of a country squire. We will not go into details. In truth, Wycherley's indecency is protected against the critics as a skunk is protected against the hunters. It is safe, because it is too filthy to handle and too noisome even to approach." (Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1841)

Context: A famous and extreme outburst of Victorian distaste for Wycherley, in a review of Leigh Hunt's edition of Wycherley and other comic dramatists of the Restoration.

"When the play concludes with no poetical justice that makes Horner really impotent, leaving him instead still potent and still on the make, the audience laughs at its own expense: the women of quality nervously because they have been misogynistically slandered; the men of quality nervously because at some level they recognize that class solidarity is just a pleasing fiction" (Canfield, p. 128).

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