William Wycherley was one of the most prestigious and well-known of Restoration playwrights. He was a favorite to Charles II, and was known especially for his wit and wry humor. Below is an excerpt from Steele's thumbnail sketches of plays and actors in The Tatler, describing his opinions of Wycherley's The Country Wife.


          The Country Wife. Will's Coffee House, 14 April 1709


          This evening the comedy called The Country Wife was acted in Drury Lane for the benefit of Mrs Bignell. The part which gives name to the play was performed by herself. Through the whole action she made a very pretty figure and exactly entered into the nature of the part. Her husband in the drama is represented to be one of those debauchees who run through the vices of the town and believe, when they think fit, they can marry and settle at their ease. His own knowledge of the iniquity of the age makes him choose a wife wholly ignorant of it and place his security in her want of skill to abuse him.

         The poet, on many occasions where the propriety of the character will admit of it, insinuates that there is no defence against vice but the contempt of it: and has, in the natural ideas of an untainted innocent, shown the gradual steps to ruin and destruction which persons of condition run into without the help of a good education to form their conduct. The torment of a jealous coxcomb, which arises from his own false maxims, and the aggravation of his pain by the very words in which he sees her innocence, makes a very pleasant and instructive satire. The character of Horner and the design of it is a good representation of the age in which that comedy was written; at which timelove and wenching were the business of life, and thegallant manner of pursuing women was the best recommendation at court. To this only it is to be imputed that a gentleman of Mr Wycherley's character and sense condescends to represent the insults done to the honour of the marriage bed without just reproof; but to have drawn a man of probity with regard to such considerations had been a monster, and a poet had at that time discovered his want of knowing the manners of the court he lived in, by a virtuous character in his fine gentlemen, as he would show his ignorance by drawing a vicious one to please the present audience.

         Mrs. Bignell did her part very happily and had a certain grace in her rusticity, which gave us hopes of seeing her a very skilful player and in some parts supply our loss of Mrs Verbruggen.

         I cannot be of the same opinion with my friends and fellow labourers, the reformers of manners, in their severity towards plays; but must allow that a good play acted before a well-bred audience must raise very proper incitements to good behaviour and be the most quick and most prevailing method of giving young people a turn of sense and breeding. [7]


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