John Dryden said, “The author of The plain dealer, whom I am proud to call my friend, has obliged all honest and virtuous men by one of the most bold, most general, and most useful satires, which has ever been presented on the English theatre”. Unfortunately, we are not able to truly appreciate Dryden’s meaning because the allegorical interpretation of this play has somehow been lost. As a consequence, Dryden’s statement has been misunderstood. Once we begin to view “The Plain Dealer” as a christian allegory (a genre that was common during the 16th and 17th centuries), then can we begin to appreciate not only the meaning of Dryden’s statement but also, and more importantly, the play itself as it was meant to be understood- as a satire against ALL mankind (this includes you and me!). What I offer here is no scholarly paper, but only a rough summary of a christian allegorical interpretation of this play. It is my hope that someone who is more specialized in this area than I might take it upon him/herself to further this project. It would be a very worthy project. Imagine helping to bring to light an important christian, and even theological allegory(ies) (man’s relationship with himself, sin, the Law and Christ).  If I am right about this play being a christian allegory, then what of the other three plays written by Wycherley? They, possibly, are also christian allegories. And perhaps these works might become comparable in importance to John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress”! (file to be made available soon).

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3 Responses to “The Plain Dealer by William Wycherley”

  1. Nena Says:

    What an absurd notion! Have you ever even read Wycherley’s The Country Wife? This interpretation seems to be one of those instances of imposing your own meaning on a work without being thoroughly knowledgeable of the work itself. Even if, let’s say, you were to disregard the fact that this was written at the backlash of Puritanical Nuttbaggery, and drew from only the work itself… it still wouldn’t work. Honestly, this is beyond reaching…

  2. estradablog Says:

    Hi Nena,

    Here is a very brief synopsis of my thesis: Manly represents “mankind”, you and I. He does not see himself as “sinful” and thus tries to make it to “West Indies”/heaven on his own (which was a reference to the newly discovered Americas and alluded to by many as “the promised land”, thus being used as an allusion to ‘heaven’ by Wycherley), but has his ship sunk by the “Dutch”, who claim “total depravity” for all mankind and man’s inability to attain ‘heaven’ (the West Indies) on his own merit (therefore they [or this doctrine/truth] stop[s] him from reaching heaven/the West Indies). Finding himself back on humanity’s shores, he tries to renew his relationship with “Olivia”, “Manly’s mistress” (evil connotation). Olivia thus represents “sin”. Now, while Manly was away, he entrusted Olivia (who Manly loves, not realizing who she really is, and who he could not take with him to “the West Indies”/heaven by virtue of what she is = sin) to Vernish, “Manly’s bosom and only friend”, who represents Manly’s heart (the heart is located in the bosom and is “varnished” over to cover up its defects). In the Book of Jeremiah 17:9, we read “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” Ironically, Manly (who thought himself sinless) does not realize that his own heart- Vernish- is having an affair with Olivia (Sin). All the while, Lady Blackacre (who represents “the Law”) is trying to bring Manly to “court” (to judgement) because he is sinful. The Law declares all men (thus including Manly) guilty of sin. Even though the Law does point out man’s sinfulness, it cannot offer salvation (Romans 3:20). Thus the name “Blackacre” (dead land). Fidelia (meaning faithful), who represents Christ, disguises herself as a man (as Jesus became man) and pursues Man/ly all over the world to show him her love. The climax of the play is when Man/ly tells them to bring in “the lights” and discovers that Vernish (his own heart) has betrayed him, and that he is a hypocrite just like the rest of society that he has railed against. This truth being revealed to Manly, as well as Fidelity’s true identity and her self-less love, causes him to give himself to Fidelity (Christ) and thus free himself from Widow Blackacre’s lawsuit (the Law) against him. This is my interpretation in a nutshell. Of course, there is much more that could be said, but will have to wait. Can you see now why Dryden would have called this play “the greatest satire against ALL mankind” ever performed on the English theatre?

  3. estradablog Says:

    From: McCarthy, B. Eugene
    Sent: Tue 3/12/2013 10:22 AM
    To: Estrada, Matthew
    Subject: Re: William Wycherley’s “The Plain Dealer”- a lost Christian Allegorical Interpretation

    Matthew,
    It was a considerable surprise that you contacted me, and that you have been reading the bio of Wycherley; it was quite a while ago I did that book, so it is nice to know it is still useful. I have not been engaged with Restoration drama very much in later years, exploring poetry more often.
    I am a Michigander myself. Born in Grand Haven, lived most of my life in Petoskey, went to U of Detroit, have a sister in Kent City.
    Essentially I believe your thesis on PD is valid, interesting, and illuminating. Certainly with Rochester’s ” Satyr on Mankind,” Bunyan, Pope (W’s friend), as well as Dryden and others, satire and Christian allegory are in the air. So for W to write his final play as an allegory, with Manly, Fidelia, Vernish, Blackacre, etc., as characters, why not? I do not think you need worry about the prior three plays; PD is enough, for now.
    Do not say, here is a good idea…I hope some one else will do it. You do it.
    You will need to supply evidence for your reading of Olivia as sin–name symbolism; the other names are obvious.
    Religious and theological allegory? What is difference you have in mind? Make it clear; establish the nature of prevalence of allegory
    Your brief analysis seems to work, Manly’s travel to paradise (why are West Indies paradisal?), the bad old Protestant Dutch; his misplaced heart with Olivia–interesting to explore how this works, how his misdirected heart is allegorical;. You are good on why the law is insufficient; St Paul makes this clear and so does Milton in Paradise Lost: law only establishes sin (O.T.) , does not repair it (N.T.).
    In an essay I wrote in English Miscellany, l971, called “Wycherley’s Plain Dealer and The Limits of Wit” I note that a recurring term is “world” which has several meanings and Manly has to negotiate his way through the world of law,or misplaced love, the geographical world (West Indies) ], to a clearer world of Christian values.
    I think there are ideas in the bio–Wycherley as moralist–that could assure you that your reading is valid. Keep at it, research these various areas and solidify your reading–that is the fun of research. Your essay could be fairly short or longer and detailed. You could also consider the basic thesis as suitable for a conference paper.
    Good luck–Wycherley deserves and rewards the effort.
    All best,
    Gene


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