The Country Wife

Themes and analysis

The dynamics of marriage

People marry for the sake of outward appearances, for example Alithea feels that she has no choice but to marry Sparkish because her status in society expects her to. Wives are treated as property as made evident by Pinchwife who locks Margery in her room and forbids her from speaking to men. Sir Jasper's marriage to Lady Fidget is beneficial to his business; therefore he treats her as his asset. He constantly asks Horner to “watch” her so that she will have no opportunity to make a cuckold out of him. Furthermore, there is a struggle for dominance between men and women. As Pinchwife says, ‘”If we do not cheat women, they’ll cheat us” is the very basis for the chief plot of the play, “which centers upon the exchange of positions of dominance within his own family.”[4] Pinchwife decides to marry a country woman in the hopes that she will not be clever enough to know how to cheat, but his extremes in preventing her exposure to men leads to his downfall. Only the women are expected to remain faithful to their husbands. As a result, Lady Fidget “uses sex as a means of revenge against their husbands and achieve a kind of moral victory over them by making them what they most fear to be – cuckolds.”[5]

Horner’s position of power

Initially, Horner is confident that he can seek out the married women who are willing to have affairs because they are the ones who do not care about their honor. Horner seems to believe he is in a position of power over the women because their extramarital affair is with him, but his power wanes during the duration of the play. In Act 5, Scene 4, Lady Fidget, Dainty Fidget, and Mistress Squeamish barge into Horner's lodgings despite his protest, conveying “his lower position that alludes to his disguise: a lowly eunuch.”[5] They talk about him as if he was not present, referring to him as a ‘beast,’ ‘toad,’ and eunuch. Cohen says, “As the ladies grow in aggressive self-confidence, Lady Fidget also ‘claps him on the back’ thereby revealing the altered socio-sexual roles that are now presented.”[5] While Horner thinks he is manipulating the women, he has “exhausted his sexual resources and has, in reality, become that impotent and useless object with the world publicly recognizes him to be.”[5] Horner's true power is not in relationship to the women, but to the men. He shows his dominance over the men he cuckolds.

Horner’s true intentions towards women

Andrew Kaufman claims that although Horner may seem to pretend to despise women because of his pretended state as a eunuch, his hatred towards women is real. When asked whether he enjoys the company of women, “Horner’s language in a constant barrage of hostile wit, discharging hostility which cannot, at the moment, be directly expressed. His characteristic action, verbally, is to ‘unmask’ women.”[6]

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