The Importance of Being Frank:
Reconsidering Harcourt in Wycherley’s The Country Wife
Wycherley’s The Country Wife opens on Horner, the lead, telling his physician about his plan to change his reputation from that of a rake (promiscuous man-about-town) to that of a eunuch in order to gain access to women without anyone knowing. He withholds this plan from everyone but the doctor, who becomes his accomplice by spreading the rumor of Horner’s impotence to the gossipiest women in London. Horner’s sex life constitutes two of the three main plots, in both of which he gains access to a married woman and cuckolds her husband. He comes close to being found out but narrowly escapes discovery when the women of the play and the doctor reaffirm his condition, thus persuading the cuckolded husbands that they have not been made cuckolds. The other plot involves Harcourt, Horner’s best friend, who falls in love with and immediately proposes to Alithea when Sparkish, the would-be wit whom she is arranged to marry, introduces them in an attempt to make Harcourt jealous and thus win his approval. Harcourt then spends the rest of the play making failed attempts to win Alithea away from Sparkish. In the end, Horner’s plots intersect with Harcourt’s, and Horner slanders Alithea to keep his affairs secret. Sparkish had kept Alithea’s loyalty because ostensibly he was not jealous and seemed to trust her, but he believes what Horner says about Alithea without waiting to hear her defense and shows that he is not really who she thought he was, nor did he ever really care about her. Harcourt, on the other hand, defends her honor and trusts her, despite the slander, and once again offers marriage. Alithea, who had fallen for Harcourt but had to keep her feelings secret, is now free to marry him, and we assume they live happily ever after.
Though The Country Wife has provoked a great deal of critical interest, most of it focuses on Horner. Thomas Fujimura developed a system of categorization that allowed him to label every character in Restoration drama a “Truewit,” “Witwoud,” or “Witless.” These categories were based on Hobbes’s understanding of wit as equal parts fancy (creativity and inspiration) and judgment (knowing when to make a comment, how best to make use of the fancy, etc). The Truewit had both fancy and judgment, the Witwoud had only fancy, and the Witless had neither. When he applied these categories to The Country Wife, Fujimura spent the most time on Horner, though he acknowledged that Harcourt was a Truewit as well, because his argument was in many ways a response to moralists who said the play was too smutty to study, a judgment they based on Horner’s involvement with women, not Harcourt’s. Norman Holland was the first to bring Harcourt and Alithea to the fore. He argued that they were the moral center of the play and meant to be contrasted with Horner’s “wrong” behavior with women. Before Holland, most critics had dismissed Harcourt and Alithea. After, they paid attention to the “Harcourt and Alithea plot,” but were largely uninterested in Harcourt and Alithea themselves because they wanted to find the play’s center, the key that would unlock the play’s meaning.
I propose we take another look at Harcourt. The fact remains that we do not fully understand an important subjectivity in the play, that of the “wit,” because Horner, who is both rake and wit, has been made exemplary wit by critics who find Harcourt unimpressive. I confess that I am not really interested in Harcourt for his own sake, nor am I doing a character study; rather, I am interested in Harcourt as a wit who contributes substantially to our understanding of the society of the wits, what it means to be a wit and what the society of the wits requires (wit as an identity), and what attitudes and behaviors wits exhibit, what I will be calling wit subjectivity. Harcourt has frequently been overlooked and subjected to Horner-centric understandings of wit (those that derive primarily from Horner) that conflate a certain kind of masculinity or relationship to women with wit subjectivity. Harcourt is a different kind of masculine subject than is Horner, in that he is not shown to be rake and proposes marriage to Alithea after falling in love with her at first sight, yet both men consider each other to be wits. My intention here is to extricate wit subjectivity from the kinds of masculinity and sexual subjectivity with which it has become conflated, largely because Horner is so popular among critics, and I will do so by demonstrating Harcourt’s attitudes and behaviors as a wit in order to provide an example of wit subjectivity other than Horner’s. Wit is a particular kind of subjectivity that, once recovered from Horner-centric notions of wit, will allow us to recognize the differences in attitude and behavior between Harcourt and Horner—both of whom exhibit other subjectivities and identities as well as wit— without having to subordinate one character to the other to understand them. Though some critics would disagree with giving Harcourt this kind of attention and importance, I feel comfortable doing so because Harcourt has his own plot, spends two-thirds as much time on stage as Horner, and contributes substantially to the audience’s understanding of what a wit is. What is more, as I hope to demonstrate, many of the best criticisms of Harcourt as a second-class wit either apply just as easily to Horner or are actually criticisms of his masculinity as compared with Horner’s that have nothing to do with wit, which is an identity predicated on wit subjectivity.
Before discussing the society of the wits, let me make clear that one of my working assumptions is that the wits enjoy each other’s company, accept each other, and represent solidarity and unity—that there really is a community we can identify as the society of the wits. This assumption deserves a study of its own, but my argument in brief is that, while Horner is most definitely an enemy to the men of the play, he is a loyal friend to the wits. He teaches Harcourt how best to fool Sparkish and gain access to Alithea (III.ii.49-64), becomes “much troubled” when he thinks Harcourt has failed to win Alithea (IV.iii.371-3), and never approaches Alithea or rivals Harcourt for her, despite having said “methinks wit is more necessary than beauty, and I think no young woman ugly that has it, and no handsome woman agreeable without it” (I.i.395-7). He becomes bound by his intrigue with Margery, the country wife who falls in love with him, and thus becomes a hindrance to Harcourt in the final act, but he tries to make amends by giving his right to marry Alithea, which had been given to him by Alithea’s cousin (part of the play’s comedy of errors), to Harcourt.
Identifying the similarities between community members is not difficult. Identifying their differences, though, requires an understanding of how community identity works, how it creates borders, how it allows those the community members perceive to be like themselves into the group and how it keeps everyone else out. In The Country Wife, the audience or reader learns who the members of the society of the wits are by recognizing a certain kind of subjectivity that some of the men exhibit. These men, called “wits,” also help this process along by calling each other “wits” explicitly, creating friendships with each other largely because they are so called, and rejecting the company of Sparkish because he is not a wit. Thus, learning who is and is not a wit is a game of comparison. I have proposed reconsidering Harcourt specifically because of this process, which, if we slightly modify Fujimura’s system of categorization, yields the following arrangement:
/ \ \
Horner Harcourt Sparkish
This diagram illustrates the game of comparison that readers and viewers must play in order to learn about wit. I would prefer not to adopt “true wit” and “false wit” as real terms but will use them in order to differentiate those who successfully exhibit wit subjectivity from those who do not but who self-identify as a wit because they are unaware they lack wit subjectivity. A quick way to justify the arrangement above is to note that, from very early on, Horner, Harcourt, and Dorilant call each other wits and call Sparkish a fraud (I.i.220-49) and that Sparkish himself acknowledges that the three are wits (I.i.316-20). In the scenes during which Sparkish converses with the wits, we see right away that he wants to be one of them, but that he is not, that he is a pretender. But learning about wit as an identity and a particular kind of subjectivity is a two step process. First, one learns the difference between the wits and those who only claim to be wits by comparing Sparkish, who shows us how not to become a wit, to either Horner or Harcourt, who make Sparkish’s failures apparent by criticizing him openly and by their example. Second, one learns the difference between Horner and Harcourt, both of whom remain prominent wits despite their differences, in order to separate wit subjectivity from any kind of sexual subjectivity or masculinity with which it has become related.
I said earlier that Harcourt spends two-thirds as much time on stage as Horner. It is useful to examine briefly how that time is spent, especially when deciding whether to compare the example of Horner or Harcourt to Sparkish. The following table shows that Horner and Sparkish spend only one period (55 lines) together away from Harcourt, whereas Harcourt and Sparkish spend four periods (472 lines) together away from Horner:
(Hc = Harcourt, H = Horner, S = Sparkish)
I.i 164-261 Hc – H – S
262-331 Hc – H – S
332-470 Hc – H
II.i 118-297 Hc – – S
III.ii 1-54 Hc – H
55-160 Hc – H – S
161-81 Hc – – S
188-356 Hc – – S
368-468 Hc – H
471-74 Hc – H
521-50 Hc – H
IV.i 72-177 Hc – – S
IV.iii 350-405 – H – S
V.iv 217-411 Hc – H – S
Harcourt spends much more time than Horner does with Sparkish, with whom he shares a plot and interacts throughout the play, and is thus the more sensible choice when the audience or reader wants to compare Sparkish to an example of true wit. What is more, within their shared plot, Sparkish desires Harcourt’s approval, thus reinforcing that Harcourt functions as an exemplary wit. Eve Sedgwick has argued persuasively that Sparkish’s “anxious questions are reserved for Harcourt’s verdict: ‘Do you approve of my choice?’ ‘Tell me, I say, Harcourt, how dost thou like her?’ ‘Prithee, Frank, dost think my wife that shall be there a fine person?’” These questions reveal that Sparkish considers Harcourt his “beau idéal.” To meet with Harcourt’s approval is to meet with the approval of the wits. It would seem, then, that Sparkish compares himself to Harcourt. Returning again to the diagram above, one sees the important role Harcourt plays in The Country Wife as an exemplary wit. The game of comparison requires that one compare the false wit to one of the true wits, who will be used as the exemplary true wit. Both Sparkish’s desire for Harcourt’s approval and Wycherley’s arrangement of scenes and characters recommend Harcourt over Horner for this purpose.
The next step toward understanding wit involves comparing Harcourt and Horner to avoid reducing wit subjectivity to either character’s example alone. The scene table above indicates the amount of time Horner and Harcourt spend onstage together, which totals nine periods (790 lines). Opportunities to see these two characters together are plentiful, but comparing Harcourt and Horner presents a problem. For a variety of reasons, critics have often privileged Horner as “top wit.” Perhaps they devalue Harcourt to make The Country Wife tidier: if Horner dominates the society of the wits and is the leader, the play is less complicated, less of a “muddle.” David Vieth calls Horner “the acknowledged leader among the three male truewits,” but neither Harcourt nor Dorilant acknowledges Horner as the leader. Vieth bases his claim on III.ii.49-51: “But hark you, sir, before you go, a little of your advice; an old maimed general, when unfit for action, is fittest for counsel.” But is this sufficient evidence? Generals advise superiors and command subordinates. Harcourt, having asked expressly for advice, is not acknowledging Horner’s superiority within the wits, just that Horner is an able strategist. Earlier in the play, Horner tries to convince his friends that wine is preferable to love, but Harcourt remains unconvinced (I.i.215-7). Critics may certainly argue that Horner is superior to Harcourt, that he ought to be the leader, but they will be hard pressed to find evidence that Harcourt agrees. Horner is a sparkling wit and the play’s lead character, but these facts do not make him the leader of the wits, nor do his abilities prevent us from recognizing that Harcourt exhibits wit subjectivity in different ways, which are important to our understanding of the society of the wits precisely because they are different, not inferior.
Critics have subordinated Harcourt to Horner because they find Harcourt “bumbling and ineffective.” They disapprove of his disguise as a parson because it is farcical; they fault him for losing his temper when Alithea tries to reveal his intentions to Sparkish; and they undervalue his dissembling as improvised and desperate. They derive an understanding of wit subjectivity from Horner’s example alone and measure Harcourt by Horner’s standard. Never is Harcourt considered a standard of measurement. Robert Hume, who has no regard for Harcourt, is one such critic: “If the vapid Harcourt was supposed to be a standard of measurement, then the ideal is betrayed by its feeble presentation. Far more probably, I believe, the Harcourt-Alithea-Sparkish plot line is included for necessary fullness and variety.” James Ogden compares Harcourt and Horner and concludes that “the comparison between the two men is not exactly in his [Harcourt’s] favor. Harcourt is less witty and amusing; and some of the respect he wins for his romantic idealism he loses through his farcical intrigue.”
But such criticisms do not do justice to the similarities between Harcourt and Horner.
We credit Horner with the ability to know how much trickery is necessary to fool a rival and not his lady, but we do not credit Harcourt similarly. Yet, it is equally possible that Harcourt knows how much trickery is necessary to fool Sparkish and not Alithea. In both wits’ dissembling, the wit must disguise himself to his rival and remain undisguised to his lady. Harcourt’s disguise as a parson, hardly a desperate, last-minute scheme, is consistent with his earlier disguise as Sparkish’s “dear, dear friend,” which was similarly farcical and allowed him to speak frankly to Alithea without Sparkish understanding. As for the costume’s farcical nature, one must realize that Horner’s disguise as a eunuch is equally farcical and implausible. The play requires of its audience and readers a willing suspension of disbelief. Improbable costumes and disguises abound and are hardly sufficient grounds on which to argue characters are “bumbling and ineffective.”
As for losing his temper at Alithea, Harcourt cannot be made less the wit for that. Although he expresses his frustration with more restraint, Horner loses his cool, as well. Critics use this charge against Harcourt to undervalue his abilities as a dissembler, the argument being that a good dissembler does not lose his temper. But, while he faces initial frustration, both emotionally and in his schemes, Harcourt learns and drafts new plans of attack. Having failed to convince Alithea of his love by appealing to logic (II.i.238-262), Harcourt comes to a realization: “Nay, poetry in love is no more to be avoided than jealousy” (III.ii.107). He then tries to convince her of his love by making emotional appeals like a poet (III.ii.290-321). He says that he loves her “with all [his] soul,” “with the best and truest love in the world.” He says that he loves her “more than women titles, or fortune fools,” that he “can only match [her] faith and constancy in love,” and that he loves her “better than his eyes, that first made him love [her].” These emotional appeals are met with resistance, but, as we learn in IV.i.7-10, not complete resistance. Lucy asks Alithea about her feelings for Harcourt: “Nay, madam, I will ask you the reason why you would banish poor Master Harcourt forever from your sight. How could you be so hardhearted?” Alithea replies, “‘Twas because I was not hardhearted.”
Hardheaded, maybe, but not hardhearted. Harcourt has gotten through, despite his initial frustration. But he is unaware of his success, so he carries off a scheme that prevents Alithea’s marriage to Sparkish in the most effective way possible: he creates a character for himself, a twin brother Ned, who just happens to be a parson. Disguised as Ned, he offers his services to Sparkish, who foolishly allows him to perform the marriage ceremony. As a result, Sparkish and Alithea, though they have participated in a ceremony, have not been married. What is more, because Sparkish believes Ned has married them, Alithea will be hard pressed to convince him otherwise, as she has failed to convince him of all else. Thus Harcourt ensures that Alithea will remain unmarried. Had he done anything else to stop their marriage, his resistance would have been met in kind and revealed him as a rival to Sparkish. Better for him to encourage their marriage, keep himself close to the couple, and take control of the ceremony. Having prevented the wedding (or rather, having wed them falsely and prevented the chance of any real union), Harcourt makes his final appeal. He disbelieves the things being said about Alithea, shows her that he trusts her, and wins her in the end. His schemes and appeals pay off, though Alithea’s resistance requires multiple plans of attack and much persistence. Horner, one might add, faces no such resistance from his women and thus never fails and has to try again. Easy conquests do not suggest talent.
Thus, though they call him “bumbling,” critics do not show Harcourt sweat. After all, Harcourt’s scheme to win Alithea from Sparkish is never discovered. Horner, on the other hand, is kept from being found out in the last act of the play not by any act of his wit or will but by a conspiracy effort on the part of all the women of the play (even the “virtuous” Alithea) and the miraculous appearance of the Quack. Horner, the wit one critic has called “superhuman,” loses control of his intrigue with Margery, who, as Lady Fidget points out, threatens to undo his whole scheme (V.iv.370) and render him truly impotent to do anything about it. A deus ex machina is necessary to save him. By contrast, Harcourt faces no such scenario. “Bumbling and ineffective,” then, are probably not the right words to describe Harcourt, who successfully prevents Sparkish and Alithea’s marriage, wins the woman he loves, and does not seem any more worried about possible failure than Horner.
The point of this analysis has not been to diminish Horner, so much as to give Harcourt his due. In Horner’s plots, wit and the status of the members of the society of wits is not at stake. Pinchwife and Sir Jasper, the husbands that Horner cuckolds, are hardly pretenders to wit, neither do they have any ostensible desire to be like Harcourt, Horner, and Dorilant. It is not that Harcourt supplants Horner. Horner already has his hands full as the wit associated with rakishness (his name makes this clear enough) and satire on marriage, to the degree that we agree the play is satiric. He is a wit in one register and a highly sexual subject in another. Harcourt is not a cuckold-maker in the play, and his plot is hardly satire (a point often held against it). Rather, he is the wit who helps us learn what a true wit is by standing in opposition to Sparkish, the fraud. Thus Horner and Harcourt, both members of the society of the wits, provide different examples of wit subjectivity. Multiple models do not produce a muddle, as Wain suggests. Rather, as the diagram indicates, they complicate and enrich our understanding of what a wit is (wit as an identity) and what attitudes and behaviors one associates with wits (wit subjectivity, or the subjectivity of those successfully identifying as “wits”). Privileging one wit’s example over the others’ impoverishes, rather than enables, one’s reading of the play and makes impossible a rich understanding of the society of the wits and wit subjectivity that is useful to understanding the men themselves.
We may now observe the different examples of wit subjectivity provided by Harcourt and Horner. I have defended Harcourt at some length above in order to justify calling him an exemplary wit, and I did so by showing that disparaging remarks made by critics against him frequently apply to Horner as well. To a degree, Horner and Harcourt are similar in ability and disability. And why should it be otherwise? They are both wits. Comparing them is a tricky business, though, because models of Horner and Harcourt differ from critic to critic; thus, the following models cannot be definitive, nor, consequently, can the amalgamation of these models be definitive. Nevertheless, we need models of the two wits if we are to disassociate wit subjectivity from certain kinds of masculinity and sexual subjectivity that are characteristic of Horner, but not Harcourt. Thus, for the purposes of the argument, I will begin with Horner, attempt to sketch him, and contrast his example with Harcourt’s.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about Horner is that he does not care about being admired. Before the play begins, Horner has gained the reputation of rake extraordinaire and, as his name suggests, master cuckold-maker. Most men would envy this reputation, which is a testament to one’s virility and masculinity. Such a reputation, though, makes husbands wary and prevents one’s becoming intimate with “civil ladies.” So, Horner creates a new reputation for himself as a eunuch. As Eve Sedgwick points out, “because in one register he withdraws from the role of rival to that of object—he is able in another register to achieve an unrivaled power as an active subject.” In his own words, “husbands and keepers, like old rooks, are not to be cheated but by a new unpracticed trick” (I.i.46-8). Thus he “ruins” his reputation among men as a rake to gain new access to women, to become an invisible rake. This shift in sexual subjectivity, which does not really take place but is perceived by the other characters, has no effect on his status as a wit. He continues to exhibit wit subjectivity, and the other wits continue being friends with him, as though nothing had changed between them.
Apart from his disregard for his reputation, Horner has other important characteristics. He is promiscuous (he is a rake, after all); and, in his relations with women, though Sedgwick points out that he is active in a sense, he is a largely passive character. To say that he “seduces” women would be too much. Rather, they flock to him. He builds the trap, baits it, and waits. As his name implies, he has no qualms about having sex with married women (though he is careful to keep these relations private to protect their honor). He is duplicitous but not really secretive: though he has to hide the nature of his scheme from his friends to maintain it, he cannot help telling someone about it and so unfolds his plans and intentions to his “physician.” However, one must not confuse keeping secrets from friends with having no friends, as some critics are wont to do. After all, the first time we see the wits together, Horner and Harcourt complain to each other about how Sparkish “will not let [them] enjoy one another” (I.i.236). Overall, Horner is a complicated character about whom we may say a few general things: he is loyal to the wits and dangerous to the fools, a protector of women’s honor and a destroyer of men’s, promiscuous, innovative, and thoroughly self-confident.
Though similar to Horner in many respects, Harcourt differs from him in others. He too is loyal to the wits (when Pinchwife draws his sword to attack Horner in V.iv, Harcourt protects Horner), but his loyalty is more consistent than Horner’s (he never hinders either of his companions and ostensibly keeps no secrets from them). He too is dangerous to the fools (he steals Alithea from Sparkish), but he is not a cuckold-maker (Alithea is not married to Sparkish). He too is a protector of women’s honor (he challenges Horner on Alithea’s behalf and offers his good name to redeem her honor), but he never threatens a woman’s honor (Horner, by contrast, threatens Alithea’s honor and, much more seriously, Margery’s and the virtuous gang’s). Harcourt shares with Horner a lack of interest in his own reputation, although he does show concern for Horner’s (III.ii.10-2). He too is innovative, but he needs multiple schemes to win Alithea. Whereas Horner waits passively for women to express interest in him before pursuing them, Harcourt, the active subject, pursues Alithea despite her apparent lack of interest. He exhibits persistence, something we do not really see in Horner.
Harcourt’s persistence in the face of frustration is indicative of his genuine love for Alithea, with whom he becomes smitten at first sight (II.i). Here Harcourt differs from Horner most significantly. In the wits’ debate on “love and wenching” vs. wine and friendship (I.i.190-219), Harcourt grants that the two may not complement each other, but he maintains that, for him, “love will still be uppermost.” Harcourt’s “love” is hard to pin down this early in the play because he speaks disrespectfully about women (I.i.217-9), but we may be sure that it comes to mean genuine love when he sees Alithea (II.i.205-221) and immediately proposes marriage to her. By contrast, Horner feigns disliking women but spends much of the play with them. He also feigns disliking love, and, on this score, he does not seem to present evidence to the contrary. He never expresses or experiences love like Harcourt does.
Drawing on the discussion above, we see that a wit is loyal to his friends and shows genuine concern for them, though he may hinder them if he has to. He may keep secrets from his friends, or he may confide in them and ask their advice. Though the group enjoys a degree of solidarity, things upon which they all agree and which tie them together, a wit debates with his friends, disagrees with them, and is free to hold his own opinions. He may be concerned for his honor, the honor of the group, or not at all. He may actively pursue women or passively set traps and wait. He may protect the honor of women with whom he is involved and with whom he only wishes to be involved. He may pursue married or unmarried women. He may succeed immediately in his schemes or have to persevere. He may express and experience true love. He may just as easily move promiscuously from one woman to the next. At the end of the play, we have a wit still cuckolding husbands and having gotten away with it, now more invisible than ever, and another giving up the life of a rake for true love. The life of a rake and cuckold-maker is not necessary to the life of a wit. Harcourt will still be a prominent wit, married or not, as will Horner. For all their talk of women and wenching, the wits do not think less of Horner for being impotent, nor do they think less of Harcourt for wanting to give up the life of a rake for Alithea. Neither the life of a eunuch nor the life of a married man precludes the life of a wit. Being a wit requires certain intellectual faculties of fancy and judgment in proper proportions, not any particular relationship to women; it is an identity predicated on a certain intellectual subjectivity and not masculinity or sexual subjectivity.
This argument has attempted to challenge common sense: understanding wit subjectivity requires that we pay attention to more wits than just Horner and that we try to account for the ways in which wits differ. The methodology laid out above and the newly defined wit subjectivity are useful not only in The Country Wife but in other plays, as well. Robert Hume and J. Douglas Canfield remind us that Wycherley, Etherege, and Congreve, although they may be our favorites, are not the only dramatists of the period. Restoration comedies are products of intense competition between two playhouses in London. As a result, they, like modern entertainments, are full of stock characters and plots that produced commercial success for other playwrights. Our understandings of these plays take this borrowing among playwrights into account. Operating in such a way would allow us to say that because The Country Wife was such a commercial success in its time and in times subsequent that it was likely influential to other playwrights seeking to achieve the same success; that, say, the kind(s) of wit subjectivity on display in The Country Wife could be found influencing subsequent characterizations of wits by other playwrights. But that is work for a fuller study.
 Thomas H. Fujimura, The Restoration Comedy of Wit (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1952).
 Norman Holland, The First Modern Comedies: The Significance of Etherege, Wycherley, and Congreve (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1959) 84.
 For a review of critical response to Harcourt and Horner, see Judith Milhous and Robert Hume, Producible Interpretation: Eight English Plays, 1675-1707 (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois UP, 1985) 91.
 Robert Hume, The Development of English Drama in the Late Seventeenth Century (Oxford: Claredon Press, 1976) 100; William Freedman, “Impotence and Self-Destruction in The Country Wife” English Studies 53 (1972): 422.
 Alithea coins “the society of the wits” (II.i.156), which I use to refer to Harcourt, Horner, and Dorilant.
 Some attention will be paid to Dorilant, but he will remain largely unexplored here.
 My definition of “rake” comes from Harold Weber, The The Restoration Rake-Hero: Transformations in Sexual Understanding in Seventeenth-Century England (Madison, Wis.: U of Wisconsin P, 1986) 3, 53.
 R. Edgley gives an example of a critic struggling to account for both Harcourt and Horner: “In The Country Wife […] Horner’s chief friend is Frank Harcourt, a kind of English honnęte homme. To Wain this is a muddle, and shows that the play is incoherent. The Country Wife, he says, ‘is…tangled. Horner is meant to be admired for his clever trick, but Harcourt equally so for his persistent attempt to marry Alithea honourably’.” R. Edgley, “The Object of Literary Criticism” Essays in Criticism 14 (1964): 233.
 Milhouse and Hume suggest stage time by counting pages in the Friedman edition: “Horner is on stage 67 pages [...] Harcourt 44.” Milhous 93, n. 44.
 For both sides of the debate, see Fujimura, The Restoration Comedy of Wit, 140; W. R. Chadwick, The Four Plays of William Wycherley: A Study in the Development of a Dramatist (The Hague: Mouton, 1975) 117; James Thompson, Language in Wycherley’s Plays (University: U of Alabama P, 1984) 88; Weber 66; J. Douglas Canfield, Tricksters & Estates: On the Ideology of Restoration Comedy (Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1997) 129; and John A. Vance, William Wycherley and the Comedy of Fear (Newark: U of Delaware P, 2000) 126.
 The table emphasizes the amount of time spent with Sparkish out of the other wit’s presence, rather than total time spent, to illustrate which character the audience or reader most likely compares Sparkish to. While both wits are on stage, there is a choice of wits, and then the actual lines of the scene must be taken into account.
 All citations are from Thomas H. Fujimura’s edition of William Wycherley’s The Country Wife. Periods reflect times when Harcourt, Horner, and Sparkish are on stage together, not necessarily speaking, in various combinations.
 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia UP, 1985) 51.
 Sedgwick calls Harcourt Sparkish’s “beau ideal.” Sedgwick 52.
 See note 8.
 David M. Vieth, “Wycherley’s The Country Wife: An Anatomy of Masculinity” Papers on Language and Literature 2 (1966): 342.
 Vieth, quoting Holland, calls Harcourt “bumbling and ineffective.” Vieth 344.
 Milhous 93.
 Vieth 344.
 Holland calls Harcourt’s disguise as a parson “only accidentally useful in the plot.” Holland 82.
 Hume 101.
 James Ogden, ed., The Country Wife (New York: W. W. Norton, 1991) xxiv.
 Chadwick 128; Thomas Fujimura, ed., The Country Wife (Lincoln, Neb.: U of Nebraska P, 1965) xi.
 Sedgwick 56.
 Part of Harcourt’s protection from being found out is Sparkish’s stupidity and his insistence on ignoring Alithea’s warnings. I assume that Harcourt relies on this stupidity and is thus confident and in control.
 Vieth 343.
 As Ogden points out, “His [Horner’s] most serious mistake is to suppose Margery Pinchwife will share his uncomplicated view of sex.” Ogden xxiv.
 See note 8.
 See note 10.
 Pat Gill argues that “Harcourt steps in to redeem Alithea from obloquy, claiming that his name and his word (his sign) will supply any lack she may have. Like Horner’s confident play with language, Harcourt’s deployment of his name to squelch rumors is a power maneuver, an assertion of dominance over the female domain of gossip.” Pat Gill, Interpreting Ladies: Women, Wit, and Morality in the Restoration Comedy of Manners (Athens: U of Georgia P, 1994) 69.
 Hume 14-5.
 Canfield 254.
 Hume 15-23.