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THE COUNTRY WIFE

A brief history of the play by William Wycherley

The following article is reprinted from A Dictionary of the Drama. W. Davenport Adams. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1904.

The Country Wife, a comedy in five acts by William Wycherley, was written about 1671-72 and performed by the King's Company at Lincoln's Inn Fields "some time between the early spring of 1672 and that of 1674," with Hart as Horner, Mohun as Pinchwife, Kynaston as Harcourt, Haynes as Sparkish, Cartwright as Sir Jasper Fidget, Lydal as Dorilant, Shotterel as Quack, Mrs. Bowtel as Mrs. Pinchwife (Margery), Mrs. Knapp as Lady Fidget, Mrs. James as Alithea, Mrs. Corbet as Dainty Fidget, Mrs. Cory as Lucy, Mrs. Wyatt as Mrs. Squeamish, and Mrs. Rutter as old Lady Squeamish.

The plot owes something both to Moliere's L'Ecole des Femmes and to his L'Ecole des Maris. "From the former of these Wycherley derived his conception of the jealous man who keeps under close restraint a young and ignorant woman, with the vain hope of thereby securing her fidelity to him. Agnes's innocent confessions to Arnolphe of her lover's stratagems and her own esteem for him find a counterpart in the Country Wife's frankness on a similar occasion.... From L'Ecole des Maris, again, Wycherley has borrowed one or two incidents: the imprisoned girl's device of making her would-be husband (in the English play, her actual husband) the bearer of a letter to her gallant, and the trick by which Isabella causes her tyrant, under the impression that she is another woman, to consign her with his own hands to his rival" (W.C. Ward).

The comedy was revived at Drury Lane in April, 1709, with Mrs. Bicknell as Margery, Mrs. Bradshaw as Alithea, Wilks as Horner, Mills ad Harcourt, Powell as Pinchwife, Cibber as Sparkish, Bullock as Sir Jasper, Estcourt as Quack; at the same theatre in May, 1715, with Booth as Pinchwife, Norris as Sir Jasper, Ryan as Dorilant, Mrs. Saunders as Lady Fidget, Mrs. Santlow as Alithea, Mrs. Bignall as Margery, and Mrs. Younger as Dainty; at Lincoln's Inn Fields in October, 1725, with Ryan as Horner, Quin as Pinchwife, Walker as Harcourt, Mrs. Younger as Margery, and Mrs. Bullock as Lady Fidget; at Drury Lane in February, 1735, with W. Mills as Horner, Cibber jr. as Sparkish, Griffin as Sir Jasper, Kitty Clive as Margery, and Mrs. Pritchard as Lady Fidget; at Covent Garden in January, 1742, with Bridgewater as Pinchwife, Chapman as Sparkish, Mrs. Pritchard as Margery, and Mrs. Mullart as Lady Fidget; and at Drury Lane in November 1748, with Palmer as Horner, Yates as Sir Jasper, and Woodward as Sparkish. On April 26, 1765, there was produced at Drury Lane an arrangement of Wycherley's play, in two acts, the adapter being Lee, who played Pinchwife to the Sparkish of King, the Harcourt of Parsons, the Dorlant of Packer, the Margery of Miss Slack, and the Alithea of Mrs. Hopkins. In this version Horner and Sir Jasper and Lady Fidget were omitted, Dorilant being made the lover of Mrs. Pinchwife. The first act was practically Wycherley's; in the second the modifications of the original were very considerable. This adaptation was played at Covent Garden in 1768, 1776, and 1786.

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