Shakespeare’s day

Sparkish is a type of character, the fop, very popular on the Restoration stage from this time on, because he is not only a half-wit, but also a pretender, one who thinks he is the epitome of fashion at the time. When he meets Horner, Dorilant and Harcourt in Act 1, he tries to impress them with references to social engagements, aristocratic acquaintances and skill at clever talk. He makes references to the King and his court at Whitehall, and to the theatre where he goes as a matter of course when there’s a new play on.

Wycherley, here, is satirising the so-called fops, who were around the inner circle of wits of Charles II’s court and because Wycherley himself was a court wit, he was in the midst of the courts. Wycherley’s success in portraying this dandy led to a new trend in the theatre. The following year, in 1676, Sir George Etherege’s ‘The Man of Mode’ the ‘Sir Fopling Flutter’, character, an imitator of all the latest French fashions and a blockhead who tries to be a clever fellow, was enormously popular with the London audience. The fop thereafter became the essential comic character in Restoration plays.

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Wycherley paved the way for this trend with his depiction of the superficial, dandified Sparkish. Sir Jasper Fidget is a character cuckolded by Horner in the play. His visit to Horner in the first scene, when he brings Lady Fidget and his sister with him, he knows that Horner is a man supposedly suffering from a disease and yet Sir Jasper finds this hilariously funny and a reason for taunting Horner ‘hahaha! I’ll plague him yet. ‘ He taunts him to assert his own superiority over him but also to off-load on to Horner his social responsibilities as a husband.

It is he and not Horner who takes the initiative here and this is the whole point behind Wycherley’s satire of this character. Sir Jasper, self-interested to the point of greed can hardly wait top exploit the sufferings of another fellow human being so as to provide himself with more leisure for business. Therefore, in all comedies where greed is being exposed – Ben Jonson’s ‘Volpone’ being an example – it is clear that the greedy man will do anything to gain his ends and the so-called Villain, which in ‘The Country Wife’ is Horner, has only to remain passive.

The greedy man will take the initiative himself and this makes him comic, for he digs his own ‘comic’ grave. The last character which may be a target of Wycherley’s satire is Horner. Horner is a Restoration type, a cynic, a wit and a despiser of marriage. But he also is intellectual in his attitude to life even though he is a pleasure seeker. Therefore it is difficult to be sure about Horner, because Wycherley, himself, was a rake like character, and thus would have been satirising himself.

To some extent Horner is the Restoration hero, who thinks of little else besides sex and conquest but he appears to have an accompanying motive. In proving that what should repel women actually attracts them, Horner shows in a way that he could not possibly like women, if all he wants to do is show how hypocritical they can be. Therefore, most of the characters, excluding Alithea and Margery Pinchwife, are in some way satirised in the play by Wycherley. These upper-class characters would have been reflected in the audience of the period, as the audience was much more elite than in Shakespeare’s day.

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