The Conscious Lovers

Let it be Decieved: Deception in The Country Wife and The Conscious Lovers

Deception and disguise, classic elements of comedy, are found in both William Wycherly's The Country Wife and Richard Steele's The Conscious Lovers. These devices rely on gaps of knowledge between different characters, or between characters and the audience, of a person's true identity, but the true natures of the two plays' characters are very different. The Country Wife is a typical stage comedy; most of the characters, including the protagonist, are humorous, flawed people who wish to hide their faults from others. The Conscious Lovers is a sentimental comedy, in which, according to Oliver Goldsmith, "the virtues of private life are exhibited, rather than the vices exposed" (491). The good guys have no vices either to expose or hide; they are without flaw or stain, exemplars of virtue for the audience, and distance themselves from deception, all of which aims to have the right couples marry. Each play treats disguise in a manner consistent with the moral atmosphere; in The Country Wife, it is accepted as yet another human foible, whereas The Conscious Lovers seeks to eliminate and condemn it.

Deception is prevalent in The Country Wife. Lady Fidget, Dainty Fidget, and Mrs. Squeamish value their...

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