The Plain Dealer [ePub]

by William Wycherley

Spoilers, here.

This is a later Restoration play, and not one of my favorites. I've read others by Wycherly, such as the Country Wife, that I remember liking much better than this one. It's the man tests woman by leaving her lots of money while he's gone to fight a war (or whatever) type of play. But it's a highly cynical twist on that typical formula. Everyone is corrupt, and everything goes wrong, quite quickly.

I initially liked the fact that it was a twist on this stock story, but I found it poorly written. I love the intricate, elaborate language of restoration comedies, but this play's writing is just tortured and confused. And, what's worse, neither witty nor funny. There are lots and lots of insults and sketches of various "types" that the hero, Manly, hates, but they're just the typical sorts of insults (lawyers are bloodsuckers and liars, woman are inconstant, courtiers are flatters, wits are simply insultmongers) you find anywhere, with no imagination to gild them.

And the twist itself (that Olivia, the tested woman) is just a money-hungry seducer just really doesn't strike me as a clever subversion of the genre. Wycherly adds a single decent woman to the play, in the form of the breeches part Fidelia, who follows Manly around as he moons over and tries to be revenged on, Olivia. She's such a poorly drawn character, however, that the miraculous "happy" ending does little to save the play from feeling mysogynistic and bitter. The subplot in which Manly's friend tries to blackmail a pettifogging widow into marrying him is even less likely to arouse any sort of sympathy, in my opinion.

I'm currently reading a much more interesting version of the guy-leaves-woman-his-money to test her play, Fair Maid of the West. This one is much more fun; it's lighthearted, full of duels, terrible puns (I think the audience is supposed to groan at some of them) woman privateers, and so on, and the heroine is just that. It's nice in that the hero, Spencer, doesn't intentionally give her his money simply to test her, it just sort of turns out that way. My mother saw an RSC version of this with Sean Bean and said it was the best play she ever saw (and she's seen hundreds).

22.11.2012

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