The Country Wife, Dance of the Cuckolds


David Gelineau


The dance of the cuckolds ends The Country Wife. This dance forms an emblem of the whole play and its relationship with its audience. While the first level of the symbolism, that the dance mockingly represents the two literal cuckolds—Pinchwife and Sir Jasper—standing on the stage watching it, is often noticed, two other deeper levels of the symbolism are not. The second level of the symbolism is that cuckolding is the central metaphor that describes how meaning operates in this world. All social relations, not only marriage, are shown to be cheats to those who trust them; consequently, all (or almost all) the characters on the stage are figurative cuckolds. The third level of symbolism shows how the dance and its audience on the stage is a perfect emblem for the play and its audience in the theater: as the characters watch the performance, they are symbolic stand-ins for the audience, and the dancers are the stand-ins for the characters in the play, thereby showing that the play has been a mirror held up to its audience. By this move, performed as a classic case of audience entrapment, Wycherley condemns the modern sympathies for the materialist heroes represented by Horner.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.