The Country Wife

Attitudes Towards the Urban in Restoration Literature: Readings from Etherege, Wycherley, and Pope College

‘Ye who amid this feverish world would wear/ a body free of pain, of cares a mind,/ Fly the rank city, shun its turbid air’(JOHN ARMSTRONG) Trinity 2017.

Here, John Armstrong connects the Restoration city to ideas of suffering, evident in his reference to ‘pain’ and the ‘feverish world’, and also to ideas of decay and corruption, referring to ‘the rank city’. The monosyllabic nature of this last phrase, and Armstrong’s overall use of iambic pentameter in the quote draw the reader’s attention to this connection between degradation and the city. Restoration playwright William Congreve wrote that Restoration comedy should depict ‘the worst sort of people’. With this in mind, this essay will discuss how Restoration comedy and poetry reflects these negative attitudes towards urbanity, arguing that London was seen as a pit of moral depravity in the period and that city folk offer a wide resource of material to parody, satire, and attack within Restoration literature.

Firstly, I will focus on Armstrong’s imperative statement, ‘Fly the rank city.’ When discussing notions of the city in restoration literature, it is interesting to consider attitudes towards the rural sphere in contrast. Whereas towns and cities were envisaged to be...

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