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Close Reading IN Practice – 2. How to develop sophisticated analysis. Lady Fidget complains that “to report a man has had a person, when he has not had a person, is the greatest wrong in the whole world, that can be done to a person” (II.i.373-5). Weak:

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close reading in practice 2

Close Reading IN Practice – 2

How to develop sophisticated analysis

slide2

Lady Fidget complains that “to report a man has had a person, when he has not had a person, is the greatest wrong in the whole world, that can be done to a person” (II.i.373-5).

Weak:

Lady Fidget only cares about her reputation. She argues that the worst thing a man can do to a woman is “to report a man has” slept with her, and thinks that even rape and murder are not as bad as a rumor of infidelity.

Better:

Lady Fidget uses surprisingly extreme language to condemn reports of infidelity. She does not merely say that such slander is wrong, or even that it is seriously wrong—instead, it is “the greatest wrong in the whole world.” She uses the superlative, and emphasizes the gravity of the offense by adding that it is the worst wrong “in the whole world.” Lady Fidget’s language clearly indicates that, to her, sexual slander outweighs any other potential wrongs, even rape or murder. Wycherley thus suggests that Lady Fidget’s reputation is more important to her than anything else—even her health and life—which in turn indicates that her priorities are seriously skewed.

slide3

Lady Fidget complains that “to report a man has had a person, when he has not had a person, is the greatest wrong in the whole world, that can be done to a person” (II.i.373-5).

Best:

Lady Fidget uses surprisingly extreme language to condemn reports of infidelity. She does not merely say that such slander is wrong, or even that it is seriously wrong—instead, it is “the greatest wrong in the whole world.” She uses the superlative, and emphasizes the gravity of the offense by adding that it is the worst wrong “in the whole world.” Lady Fidget’s language clearly indicates that, to her, sexual slander outweighs any other potential wrongs, even rape or murder.Yet the vehemence of her words, especially her rather juvenile claim about “the whole world,” also undermine her attitude. The fact that she considers slander far more significant than murder is simply irrational, which suggests to the audience that Lady Fidget’s priorities are seriously skewed. It is also interesting that Lady Fidget considers the “greatest” crime to be slander when that man “has not had a person.” Her phrasing suggests that if this is the worst wrong, then it is somehow less blameworthy for a man to accuse a woman with whom he has had sex! Wycherley’s characterization of Lady Fidget suggests that she considers actual sex to mitigate the harm of the accusation—as if the sex could partially compensate for a bad reputation. In this way, Wycherley both emphasizes Lady Fidget’s obsession with reputation even as he reveals that obsession to be fundamentally empty: Lady Fidget’s is not genuinely concerned adultery, but with the reputation for it. In addition, he has indirectly criticized her attitude by having her offer such an unconvincing justification of her opinion.

slide4

At the Exchange, while Mr. Pinchwife is searching for Horner and Margery, Alethea tells Harcourt that Sparkish “only, not you, since my honor is engaged so far to him, can give me a reason why I should not marry him. But if he be true, and what I think him to me, I must be so to him” (III.ii.495-8).

  • Weak:

Alethea continues to stand by Sparkish, even though she does not love him. Her honor is more important to her than a marriage to Harcourt, so Harcourt is unable to change her mind.

  • Better:

Alethea again stresses the importance of her personal honor; as in Act II, she clearly states that keeping her promise is more important to her than marriage to Harcourt. However, for the first time, Alethea suggests a situation in which breaking the engagement would be acceptable; she will be true to Sparkish, but only as long as he is true to her. This “loophole” anticipates Sparkish’s ultimate betrayal of her trust—when he accuses her of infidelity—and lays the groundwork for her willingness in the final scene to marry Harcourt instead.

slide5

At the Exchange, while Mr. Pinchwife is searching for Horner and Margery, Alethea tells Harcourt that only Sparkish “only, not you, since my honour is engaged so far to him, can give me a reason why I should not marry him. But if he be true, and what I think him to me, I must be so to him” (III.ii.495-8).

  • Best:

For the first time, Alethea offers a more nuanced, reciprocal view of her relationship with Sparkish. She declares that Sparkish is the “only” person who can convince Alethea not to marry him, yet her assertion indirectly acknowledges that Sparkish’s attitude doesmatter, as she says that he “can give me a reason why I should not marry him.” Whereas she has earlier emphasized the importance of her ownhonour and reputation, she now suggests that her fiancé’s behavior matters as well. Alethea thus suggests that honourdoes not flow in only one direction—relationships involve mutualrespect and obligation. Alethea’s willingness to place conditions on her engagement also indicates that she has genuine doubts about Sparkish; she’ll marry him “if he be true” [my emphasis]. In addition, that “if” also modifies “what I think him to me”—in other words, “if” Sparkish is who Alethea thinks he is. She no longer seems certain of his good character—which implies that she has noticed his foolish behavior, and she disapproves. She also holds her betrothed to the same standards as herself.Wycherley, then, does not seem to suggest thatAlethea isexcessively naïve or rigid; instead, she appears sensibly willing to reevaluate her judgments, and in the process demonstrates an intellectual flexibility which the supremely-confident Sparkish and Pinchwife both lack. Wycherley’s characterization of Alethea strengthens the idea that true wit necessitates mental quickness, but also adaptability.