Staging Libertine Conduct: Love in a Wood, The Gentleman Dancing-Master, and The Country Wife
When William Wycherley’s first play, Love in a Wood, or St. James’s Park, premiered in 1671, his connections at court were tenuous at best, but its success changed his social status and brought him a place among the court’s libertine wits. The play illustrates his wit and spirit, his understanding of libertinism, and his willingness to participate in similar activities as the libertines at court. According to John Dennis, for example, this play brought Wycherley to the attention of the king’s mistress, Barbara Villiers, duchess of Cleveland, and permanently connected him to the libertine circle. Dennis’s version of Wycherley’s introduction to Cleveland sounds as if it were a scene from a Restoration comedy: as the new playwright drove through Pall-Mall shortly after the play’s premiere, he came upon Cleveland, “who, thrusting half her body out of [her] Chariot, cry’d out aloud to him, You, Wycherley, are a Son of a Whore, at the same time laughing aloud and heartily.” Realizing that her exclamation was a reference to the end of a song in his play that claimed “When parents are slaves / Their brats cannot be any other; / Great wits and great braves / Have always a punk to their mother,” and that she was thus complimenting him as a wit, Wycherley ordered his coachman to turn around.
KeywordsProgressive Ideology Libertine Performance Libertine Circle Dancing Instructor Plain Dealer
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