I love the Restoration for many, many reasons. We can thank this short, vivacious period of history for Wycherley’s brilliant satire The Country Wife. We can also thank the Restoration for… wait for it… the Commemorative Coffee Mug.
Here’s the story, or so it goes: when Charles II returned from exile in France to reclaim the throne, he celebrated with a seven-hour parade. The post-Cromwellian debauchery that ensued in London was unlike anything its citizens had seen in… well, a long time. And to commemorate the long-awaited event, Commemorative Coins and Coffee Mugs were, for the first time, sold on every London street corner. (I love to imagine the wry face of King Charles - ever Rupert Everett, in my mind, thanks to the movie Stage Beauty – smiling up at me from my morning cup of joe.)
To me, this erstwhile coffee mug sums up the beauty and dark delight of the Restoration, brief as it was: that whatever you have, and whomever you are, can be bought and sold – and fabulously remembered – for a price. A price that someone is always, somewhere, willing to pay.
The decadence that followed Charles’ return to England made increasingly clear the sharp divide between the working (middle) and leisure (high) classes of London, and of the divide between city values (?) and ‘country’ (suburb) simplicity. The division wasn’t just economic, of course (it never is). It was cultural, social, political. And here’s where The Country Wife sits. Thank god for satire.
Wycherley’s city men think they’ve got all the answers they need; the city women think they’ve got all the best tricks up their sleeve. The distance between their reputation and their virtue is a pretty wide chasm. And everyone truly, truly believes that what they appear to be is not only good enough, but Actually The Point. This is exactly what Horner (played by Jake Blouch, in our reading) is capitalizing on and, I think, commenting on as well: he’s not just pulling the proverbial wool over the London husbands’ eyes because he’s horny. He’s also doing it Just Because He Can. He’s turned on by the women, no doubt. But he’s also, I think, captivated by the thrill of the hunt, and by watching these women (and, ergo, their men) shed their reputations right along with their lace garters.
And then there’s our dear Country Wife, Margery, the naïve girl from the country. I’ll tell you now, she ends up out-witting them all, and proving that the best pretense is no pretense at all. But I’m not going to tell you how – for that, you’ll have to join us on February 11.
And here’s the moment I love, the kind of moment that keeps me eternally devoted to the PAC: the moment where the imaginative distance between their world and ours completely dissolves. In the Fidgety propriety of the Ladies of London, and their complete obsession with Keeping Up Appearances, I see the importance of our own reputations today, and how hard we all work to keep them up. I see the distance between our own public and private selves; our obsession with brands, logos, tags. The endless chatter of Facebook and Twitter, and how we measure ourselves up to the Zeitgeist it shows us. The distance between our good intentions and our confused actions.
In the end, call it intention or action, public or private; call it town or country, rich or poor. Call it what you like. But for heavens sake call it something, mean the opposite, wink while you say it, and stamp it on a Commemorative Coffee Mug to sell to the highest bidder.
Then join us at Broad Street Ministry on Monday, February 11.
We’ll save you a seat.
-Krista Apple, Director, THE COUNTRY WIFE
Thanks for reading the PAC blog, where we share what's happening behind the scenes, what we're thinking about this week, and what classic stories are inspiring us right now.