Scripting Libertine Tricksters: The Man of Mode and The Plain Dealer
Horner’s choice to maintain his ruse of impotency at the end of William Wycherley’s The Country Wife is fundamentally a decision to abandon reputation, fraternity, and marriage in order to continue to satisfy his sexual desire unabated. In making this choice, he became the paradigmatic libertine figure of the Restoration for many scholars. But as we have already seen, Horner’s isolation at the end of the play is not representative of Wycherley’s earlier protagonists, nor does it reflect the fact that the libertines in Charles II’s court cultivated homosocial bonds between themselves as a means of augmenting their prominence at court and throughout London. Indeed, unlike Wycherley’s previous libertine tricksters, who adapt the transformative activities of libertines in Charles II’s court to make them less overtly threatening to the general populace, Horner remains an ambiguous and potentially menacing figure. Unlike Ranger, Valentine, Gerrard, and Harcourt, who end their plays successfully reinscribed into the social nexus through a radically re-envisioned form of marriage, Horner stands alone, unwed, and with no libertine friend as a confidant. Horner’s isolation is, at least in part, a witty victory over the sexual hypocrisy of many of the other characters in the play, including Pinchwife, Sir Jasper Fidget, Lady Fidget, Mrs. Dainty Fidget, and Mrs. Squeamish, but his isolation also dramatizes the increasing social and political isolation of the libertine wits in Charles II’s court.
KeywordsPremature Ejaculation Heterosexual Marriage Privy Council Libertine Performance Libertine Circle
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