William Wycherley and the Comedy of Fear

William Wycherley and the Comedy of Fear

William Wycherley and the Comedy of Fear

William Wycherley and the Comedy of Fear

Synopsis

"This is a study of the four plays of William Wycherley - long considered one of England's most important playwrights especially of the theatrically rich Restoration period, 1660-1700. The subject of many a study by the period's leading scholars, Wycherley has been perceived as a vigorous satirist, setting out "quite openly to teach his audience" about a multitude of personal and social sins. This study takes issue with such impressions. It argues that Wycherley was not so much an attacking playwright but rather a thinking one - little concerned with larger social, political, and moral matters but one fascinated instead by the workings and motivations of fallible and insecure men and women - by that which is constant, pervasive and obsessive." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

WYCHERLEY’S FIRST COMEDY OFFERS THE SAME CHALLENGE POSED BY such plays as Love’s Labour’s Lost—to find something worthwhile in an early minor work by a major playwright. Were not Shakespeare the author of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the argument might go, who then would have had much to say about it? But as industrious critics have successfully mined Shakespeare’s earliest comedies, so too have Wycherley’s commentators at least attempted to discover the gold in Love in a Wood, or, St. James’s Park. Some have opted to place this work within the context of early Restoration stage history, to distinguish it from its possible sources, while others have searched for the genesis of later Wycherlean characters as a way to avoid dismissing the play as deservedly forgettable. However, beyond these historical and structural contexts, Love in a Wood introduces the major concerns and motifs that permeate all four of Wycherley’s comedies: the destructive interaction between males, the dread of humiliation, the fear and avoidance of truth, and the accompanying need for indirection. We moreover discover the exuberance of Wycherley’s female characters and the playwright’s proficiency in luring his audience and readers into an unkempt labyrinth filled with unexpected turns and blocked exits.

One longstanding assumption is that Wycherley built his first comedy upon a tripartite structure of low, middle, and high-plot characters—presenting harsh criticism and satire in the low, a reflection of realism in the middle, and the right-way alternative in the high-plot group. Still, such divisions unnecessarily restrict one’s perspective of the play and distort its design. Wycherley’s intermingling of the characters from the “three plot” groups and easy transition from one to another reveal that there is in essence only one world, one set of impulses common to men and women regardless of station. High-plot characters may be less rumpled and soiled, but the basic instincts are the same for the resplendent as well as for the untidy. And a good place to begin challenging these and other views is with a reevaluation of the irrepressible Lady Flippant, often filed away in the “low-plot” group as just one more of a voluminous number of hypocritical characters inhabiting seventeenth-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.