Love in a Wood; The Gentleman Dancing-Master; The Country Wife; The Plain Dealer

By William Wycherley; Peter Dixon | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

IN the spring of 1660 the English monarchy was restored, in the person of Charles II. In the autumn of that year the public theatre was restored to London, when Charles granted patents to two courtier-dramatists, empowering them to establish theatre companies. Though the decade that followed was not productive of many comic masterpieces, it was a period of vigorous experimentation. By 1670, when William Wycherley, in his late twenties, was ready to begin his dramatic career, there was no lack of models for imitation. (There were also some dire examples of what an apprentice dramatist ought to avoid.)1 The public had been entertained, and sometimes disappointed, with farces, with intrigue-comedies based on Spanish plots, and with plays involving sexual skirmishings and reconciliations. The satiric 'humours' comedies of Ben Jonson and the witty comedies of John Fletcher were well-represented in the repertoires. And Wycherley himself was particularly well-placed to profit from the leading exponents of seventeenth-century comedy on the Continent. He had spent three or four years in France during his adolescence, and he was probably the 'Mr Wycherly' who accompanied the English ambassador on a diplomatic mission to the court of Spain in the mid-1660s. The nature of his debts to Caiderón in his first two plays, and to Molière in his last two, shows that he knew his sources in their original languages, and that he knew them well. Added to the stimulus of competition was the challenge of writing good parts for actors who had already demonstrated their abilities by playing such comic types as the frenchified fop, the hypocritical Puritan, and the inept country gentleman, as well as young and charismatic heroes and heroines. The

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1
Internal evidence and the dates of the source-materials suggest that the first three plays, at least, were written shortly before they were produced, though Wycherley repeatedly told the young Alexander Pope that all his plays were composed between the ages of 19 and 32, i.e. between 1660 and 1672. He was perhaps trying to impress the precocious poet with his own precocity. He also insisted that The Plain Dealer was his third play, preceding The Country Wife ( Joseph Spence, Observations, Anecdotes, and Characters of Books and Men, ed. James M. Osborn ( Oxford, 1966), i. 34). It is possible that an early version of The Plain Dealer (c. 1673) was rejected by the theatres, and subsequently revised for production after the success of The Country Wife: see Robert D. Hume , "'William Wycherley: Text, Life, Interpretation'", Modern Philology, 78 ( 1981), 401.

-vii-

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Love in a Wood; The Gentleman Dancing-Master; The Country Wife; The Plain Dealer
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Country Wife and Other Plays i
  • Oxford English Drama ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vi
  • Introduction vii
  • Note on Staging xxii
  • Note on the Texts xxv
  • Select Bibliography xxix
  • A Chronology of William Wycherley xxxiii
  • Love in a Wood,∘ - Or, St James's Park 1
  • [dedicatory Epistle] to Her Grace the Duchess of Cleveland.∘ 2
  • Prologue∘ 5
  • Epilogue 95
  • The Gentleman Dancing-Master 97
  • Prologue 99
  • Epilogue Spoken by Flirt 189
  • The Country Wife 191
  • Prologue Spoken by Mr Hart 193
  • Epilogue Spoken by Mrs Knepp∘ 282
  • The Plain Dealer∘ 283
  • [dedicatory Epistle] to My Lady B-----∘ 289
  • Prologue Spoken by the Plain Dealer 290
  • Epilogue 399
  • Explanatory Notes 400
  • Glossary 467
  • Selection of Oxford World's Classics 487
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