Restoration Comedies: Discussion of Love and Marriage

in The Country Wife and Love for Love

Term Paper, 2007

14 Pages, Grade: 2,3




1. Love and Marriage
1.1. Women and Marriage
1.2. Men and Marriage

2. Marriage Types
2.1. Jealousy and Cuckolding
2.2. Love Marriage
2.3. Trick Marriage
2.4. Mercenary Matches
2.5. Love between Valentine and Angelica

3. Love in Restoration Comedy
3.1. The Country Innocence
3.2. Town People


Cited Works


Two Restoration Comedies that I want to discuss are William Wycherley’s The Country Wife(1675) and William Congreve’sLove for Love(1695). Both plays were written in a time when libertinism prevailed and male stereotypes like rakes and fops and female stereotypes like wives and virgins were popular. Needless to say, both plays not only deal with Restoration society but also with its problems, concerns, and difficulties at the time. And especially,Love for Love, which was written fairly at the end of the Restoration era, still is a conventional play in terms of being libertine-satirical but it already includes some features of sentimentalism. So it is not a postponement from libertinism to sentimentalism yet, but I want to argue in this essay that both plays are rather conventional libertine Restoration plays which include features of early sentimentalism.

I need to give some definitions of what I mean when I say libertine-satirical or sentimentalism in connection with the time and the plays. Libertinism is mainly defined as being a male-orientated society that favours leading immoral lives and seeking pleasure in it. But when I add satirical than I mean that this concept of libertinism is being criticized through the characters in the plays to show the weakness and faults of this concept. Hence sentimentalism is merely the concept of emotion rather than reason.

1. Love and Marriage

The issue of love and marriage in the late seventeenth century has certainly been a different one compared to nowadays. The way men and women handled love and marriage in terms of relationships and their point of views concerning marriage were the most different at the time. For most women love was the one and only reason to get together with a man, for men love was not always nessecary to be together with women. Even conduct books were written about love in which writers emphaized “the importance of a loving, companionate realationship between husband and wife” in order to shore up England’s morals at the time (Tague 80).

1.1. Women and Marriage

But for a woman love was not the only important feature to have in a marriage, she also needed to obey her husband. “Women were told that they must love the man they married to obey him” (Tague 85). For people said a good wife would be a woman who supports and does not resist her husband. Most wives living in that time were also inferior to their husbands and hence had to obey their husbands in order to honour them. A very good example for this obedience is Margery Pinchwife in The Country Wifewho cuckolds her husband, Mr. Pinchwife, while claiming she and Mr. Horner are having an affair which is not true but yet her husband does not know. So Mr. Pinchwife makes his wife write letters to Mr. Horner. This letter-writing scene perfectly shows Mrs. Pinchwife’s obedience to her husband.

Pinchwife. Come, begin. [Dictates] ‘Sir’ -

Mrs. Pinchwife. Shan’t I say, ‘Dear Sir’? - You know one says always something more than bare ‘Sir’.

Pinchwife. Write as I bid you, or I will write whore with this penknife in your face. Mrs. Pinchwife. Nay, good bud. [She writes] ‘Sir’ -

Pinchwife. ‘Though I suffered last night you nauseous, loathed kisses and embraces.’

- Write.

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

Mrs. Pinchwife. Let me but put out ‘loathed’. Pinchwife. Write, I say!

Mrs. Pinchwife. Well then. [Writes.] (IV.ii.215).

1.2. Men and Marriage

The men in the plays are either fops or rakes. A fop is a man who is effeminate but heterosexual and a rake is a man, who is rich and fashionable, and who is thought to have low moral standards, for example, because he drinks or gambles a lot or has sex with a lot of women. We can also find rakes in The Country Wife- Horner, Sparkish and Dorilant and in Love for Loveit is Scandal. Fops, like Harcourt, Pinchwife, and Sir Jasper Fidget mainly have a more positive attitude towards women, love, and marriage Harcourt, for example, thinks that “marriage is rather a sign of interest than love; and he that marries fortune covets a mistress, not loves her. But if you take marriage for a sign of love, take it from me immediately” (II.i.174). He furthermore says that he “never was an enemy to marriage till now, because marriage was never an enemy to me before” but now that he fell in love with Alithea he wants her to break the engagement to Sparkish and marry him (II.i.173).

Pinchwife, on the contrary, prefers a country woman to be his wife because he is not very demanding on women and thereupon they are more likely to be his own. But his attitude towards marriage is “he’s a fool that marries, but he’s a greater that does not marry a fool” (I.i.165). That implies that he wants to be superior to his wife and that he wants his wife to honour and respect him, but also to obey him.

The rakes in both plays have a rather negative attitude towards women, how to use them or what they are useful for and, of course, marriage. Horner certainly is the personification of the perfect libertine and he can also be satirical at times. He is the very model of the seventeenth century rake because he not only drinks heavily in a scene but he also sort of debauches in the famous “china scene”. As Horner says “wine gives you liberty, love takes it gives you joy, love grief tortures, besides the chirurgeons. Wine makes us witty, love only sots. Wine makes us sleep, love breaks it” (I.i.159). He does not like women it seems for he says that wives are monsters and that “ women serve but to keep a man from better company” and that is why he would never marry (I.i.159).

He rather has a mistress around and to get as many mistresses as possible he has to resort to subterfuge which is that he pretends to be impotent in order to get the trust of husbands to leave their wives in Horner’s lodgings. By the time the husbands know that he is impotent they think he is not a danger to their wives when they leave their wives with Horner. “But his seductions become merely mechanical. He is more like chain smoker that a great lover” as Robert Hume claims (103). Furthermore Horner is not only a rake in speech but also in deed. And so the famous “china scene” finally reveals that Horner loves to have sex with as many women as possible who know that he is not unfit for women. That makes Horner look like the “representative of the ‘élan vital’ and ‘the life force triumphant’...’a wholy positive and creative comic hero’” (Hume 97) But at the same time, as Robert Hune argues, Horner “is a Truewit who carries out a witty intrigue successfully and in the process exposes the affectations and follies of the others” (100).

Sparkish and Dorilant are also rakes but they do not live up to what they say at least in comparison to Horner. We do not get to know what Dorilant’s attitude towards marriage is but we know that he also prefers mistresses. And for him “a mistress should be like a litte country retreat near the town, not to dwell in constantly, but only for a night and away, to taste the town the better when a man returns” (I.i.159). So to speak he only needs a woman to have fun with but nothing more than that and he also would not sup with a woman if it was not for sex (III.ii.190). Sparkish is a different type of rake. He is engaged to Alithea, which is very strange because usually rakes do not end up getting married, and he just got to know that Harcourt fancies his fiancée. He says he is not jealous and “that he makes love to you is a sign you are handsome” he tells Alithea (III.ii.195). That kind of gives the reader the feeling that he either wants to test Alithea if she does not cheat on him or perhaps he is naive, but on the other hand one can think that he is not serious about the getting married when he is not jealous when another man courts his fiancée.

Scandal inLove for Loveis also a rake type of character. He also likes drinking with his friend valentine and his attitude towards women is also rather negative. As Mrs. Foresight says about Scandal “you are a libertine in speech as well as practice” and that he proved before when he seduced her when her husband Mr.Foresight was asleep (III.i.322). Scandal could never believe that women can be virtuous when Angelica convinces him when she finally confesses that she has always been in love with Valentine:

“I was an infidel to your sex, and you have converted me. For now I am convinced that all women are not like fortune, blind in bestowing favours, either on those who do nor merit, or who do not want’em” (V.i.362-3).

2. Marriage types

The institution of marriage is being discussed inThe Country Wifeas well as inLove for Lovebut there are different kinds of marriages in each play. We can find a marriage that is being disturbed by jealousy and cuckolding, than there is sort of a love marriage as well as a trick marriage and a mercenary marriage. All kinds of marriage suffer from a burden which varies from couple to couple but the good thing about it is that the problems can be solved.

2.1. Jealousy and Cuckolding

The marriage of Mr. And Mrs. Pinchwife in The Country Wifeis a loving one but Mr. Pinchwife is very jealous. That is also a reason why he married a coutry woman who is ignorant and does not know anything about life and men. When he first takes her to London for his sister’s wedding they go to a play but they sit in the Eighteen-penny place, the place that is usually occupied by whores because he is afraid that his wife could be seen in public.


Excerpt out of 14 pages


Restoration Comedies: Discussion of Love and Marriage
in The Country Wife and Love for Love
Free University of Berlin  (Institut für Englische Philologie)
Restoration Comedies
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
445 KB
Anglistik, Englisch, Englische Philologie, Amerikanistik, Restoration Comedy, Restoration Comedies, The Country Wife, Love for Love, William Congreve, William Wycherley, Love, Marriage, Restoration period, England 1660
Quote paper
Magister Anke Werckmeister (Author), 2007, Restoration Comedies: Discussion of Love and Marriage, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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