The Country Wife
by William Wycherley

William Wycherley - The Country Wife

BBC Third Programme

Broadcast: Tuesday 14th June 1960

Considered too obscene to be staged in its original form for nearly 200 years, William Wycherley's raunchy Restoration comedy tells the tale of Mr. Horner, the randy Restoration rake who devises an ingenious scheme for ruthlessly seducing the women of London society. By spreading the false rumour that he is impotent (following a bungled treatment for venereal disease), he gains the sympathy of the husbands of the town and – crucially – free access to their wives.

Meanwhile, the newly married Pinchwife, who has not heard the news of Horner's unfortunate condition, desperately attempts to keep his naïve country bride from discovering the many and varied pleasures of London life. When she and Horner meet, events spiral out of his control...

Adapted for radio from the 1675 Restoration comedy "The Country Wife" by William Wycherley, a mordant satire of a sexually and financially rapacious society.

With Clive Revill [Mr. Horner], Howieson Culff [A Quack], Nigel Anthony [A Boy], Mark Dignam [Sir Jasper Fidget], Edith Evans [Lady Fidget], Sylvia Coleridge [Mrs. Dainty Fidget, Sister of Sir Jasper], Michael Turner [Mr. Dorilant], Richard Hurndall [Mr. Harcourt], Anthony Jacobs [Mr. Sparkish], Douglas Wilmer [Mr. Pinchwife], Joan Plowright [Mrs. Margery Pinchwife, the Country Wife], Mary Watson [Alithea, Sister of Pinchwife], Nan Monro [Mrs. Squeamish], and Judith Whale [Old Lady Squeamish].

Music by Solomon Eccles adapted and arranged by Lionel Salter.

Produced by Charles Lefeaux.

Note: No. 109 in series World Theatre.

115 min.


"The Country Wife" is a Restoration comedy written in 1675 by William Wycherley. A product of the tolerant early Restoration period, the play reflects an aristocratic and anti-Puritan ideology, and was controversial for its sexual explicitness even in its own time. Even its title contains a lewd pun. It is based on several plays by Molière, with added features that 1670s London audiences demanded: colloquial prose dialogue in place of Molière's verse, a complicated, fast-paced plot tangle, and many sex jokes. It turns on two indelicate plot devices: a rake's trick of pretending impotence in order to safely have clandestine affairs with married women, and the arrival in London of an inexperienced young "country wife", with her discovery of the joys of town life, especially the fascinating London men.

The scandalous trick and the frank language have for much of the play's history kept it off the stage and out of print. Between 1753 and 1924, The Country Wife was considered too outrageous to be performed at all and was replaced on the stage by David Garrick's cleaned-up and bland version The Country Girl, now a forgotten curiosity. The original play is again a stage favourite today, and is also acclaimed by academic critics, who praise its linguistic energy, sharp social satire, and openness to different interpretations.


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