UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The thematic unity of Wycherley's plays Shaw, Patricia Nan


This thesis is an attempt to arrive at an understanding of Wycherley's vision and portrayal of human nature through an analysis of the principal themes contained in each of his four plays. The primary theme is the distinction between appearance and reality in human nature. The implications of this theme are explored as they operate through certain subsidiary themes: love, marriage, friendship, honour, affectation, plain-dealing, and jealousy. In examining each of these themes, a pattern emerges within each play whereby men reveal that they are fundamentally hypocritical creatures, motivated by selfish desires. They strive to satisfy these desires by manipulating and exploiting their fellow men. Initially, however, they conceal their inner natures by maintaining a superficial appearance of decorum and respectability. As each play progresses, Wycherley penetrates the outer appearance of each character to reveal his true nature, a nature which is essentially evil. He strengthens this impression by the creation within each play of either an individual or place through which the sordidness of human nature appears completely stripped of any veneer of civilized behaviour. Within each play also, there is an individual or couple whose virtuous example further stresses the corruption of the other characters. Nevertheless, while the same pattern emerges within each play, there are differences in tone, emphasis, characterization, plot, and complexity which reflect Wycherley's developing ability as a dramatist. His first play, Love in a Wood is a typical comedy in which the love chase predominates, but in which Wycherley demonstrates his belief in man's innate depravity. His second play, The Gentleman Dancing-Master is a farce in which Wycherley examines affectations and vanities of a topical nature. With his third play, The Country-Wife, the satirical tone darkens and intensifies. In his final play, The Plain-Dealer, Wycherley broadens the scope of the play to create a sense of an all-pervasive corruption, existing on every level of society. In these last two plays, Wycherley further emphasizes his belief in man's depravity by the use of imagery. Images of disease, food, drink, gambling, and animals serve to strengthen the impression that man is a brutish creature. While Wycherley portrays human nature with greater complexity and subtlety in his last two plays, his focus and conclusion remain essentially unchanged. It is this fact which gives unity and coherence to his drama, and which demonstrates Wycherley1s developing skill as an artist. This skill, combined with the intensity of his vision of human nature, gives his plays a brilliance and impact which is generally overlooked or underestimated.

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