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Women and marriages in Restoration comedies are satirised for being based on economic or other considerations rather than love and mutual affection. In the late seventeenth century expectations of women were that they were still meant to respect and be faithful to their husbands, but as R. C Sharma says ‘In the latter half of the seventeenth century, the position of women in England had improved. Though legally they were still subordinate to men, the custom allowed them a larger measure of liberty and equality.
‘ In 1662, for the first time professional actress were allowed on the stage, showing that the status of women was improving and as in a lot of Restoration comedies, the heroines reflect an effort by women in Restoration society to both step up from the moral gutter and down from the pedestal. However in Act 1 of the satirical comedy, the views from the men on women are satirised. Act 1 is set at Horner’s lodgings late in the morning, with the entrance of Horner, the rake and Quack, Horners medical confidant. Later on, other characters enter.
Horner, as the main character, shows many a time his opinion on women. He is interested in intelligent women ‘But methinks wit is more necessary than beauty; and I think no young woman ugly that has it, and no handsome woman agreeable with out it. ‘ Here he is most probably describing the stereotypical city woman, as the women in ‘The Country Wife’ have a sophisticated education. This also agrees with how he sees countrywomen, ‘ That grave circumspection in marrying a country wife is like refusing a deceitful pampered Smithfield jade.
‘ Here he is saying that to marry a country wife, must be as bad as having to turn down a disreputable woman. Women in the Restoration period, especially married women had a severe lack of rights, as on her wedding day, a woman surrendered her rights as a femme sole. As a married women, she was a femme covert. In ‘the Country wife’ however because the position of women was slowly changing, the women in the play try to assert some control over the men.
The men however still inferiorise women and make derogatory comment about them. ‘Mistress are like books; if you pore upon them too much they doze you and make you unfit for company, but if used discreetly you are the fitter for conversation by ’em. ‘ This statement by Harcourt represents the general negative attitude of men in this play towards women, by comparing them to inanimate objects. The women are also referred to as animals by Horner, ‘women of quality are so civil, you can hardly distinguish love from good breeding. ‘