The purpose of this research is to examine the intense interrelationships among cruelty, power, and beauty as social values in Wycherley's Country Wife (CW), Steele's Conscious Lovers (CL), and Lillo's London Merchant (LM). The plan of the research will be to set forth the patterns of social values in the plays, and then to discuss the manner in which cruelty, power, and beauty surface as aspects of dramatic action.
Social value attached to cruelty, power, and beauty finds expression in these plays as a consequence of romantic entanglements. CW and LM contain a fairly strong connection between the emotional line and social values, although CW is a cynical adult comedy and LM a melodramatic tragedy of youthful folly. CL makes such a connection, but it is less convincing in that play than in either of the other two.
The action of both CW and LM deals with confused or exploitative romantic entanglements. In CW, the May-December entanglement of the Pinchwifes gets further complicated when they arrive in the city to encounter a society informed and marked by expectations of sophisticated and elegant manners, decorous public behavior, and squalid sexual gymnastics of which the predatory Horner is a master. Mrs. Pinchwife's beauty, chastity, and reputation are at great social risk because Mr. Pinchwife has not equipped her with social skills of any kind. She is credulous, hence powerless, in the face of social and sexual predators. The original dumb blonde, she is unable to dissemble or get the joke, a real knockout but born to be seduced and abandoned.
In CW, this is all played for sometimes bitter but always witty comedy. The sophistication and cruelty of the characters in CW derive chiefly from their preoccupation with power via sexual conquest and bon mot. The power project is the seduction of beautiful people by equally beautiful people, with cruelty a secondary characteristic and any direct acknowledgment of emotion, especia...