February 23, 2007

The tension between the public and private sphere is revealed in Act IV with Lady Wishfort’s desperate attempt to conceal the drunken demeanour of Sir Wilfull. When she is reunited with her nephew, Wishfort is not concerned with establishing a personal or familial relationship with Wilful. Instead Wishfort is immediately anxious of her nephew’s public appearance and Milliamant’s reaction to his indecent behaviour. When staging this scene, Wishfort would be chasing after her intoxicated nephew frantically attempting to conceal his alcoholic beverage in order to prepare her estate for Sir Rowland’s entrance, while simultaneously persistently adjusting Wilfull’s external appearance to gain Milliamant’s acceptance. After Milliamant’s dissatisfied meeting with Wilfull, Wishfort’s primary concern is to hide her intoxicated nephew from Sir Rowland’s view: “get him away […] I have an affair of moment that invades me with some precipitation”(Act IV, 465-67). Wishfort’s fixation with the social appearance of Wilfull and her estate parallels the scene where she precisely calculates her external expressions and physical movements in preparation for Sir Rowland’s visit; just as she is concerned with the presentation of the room and her nephew, Wishfort is equally anxious of her appearance and physical composure. Although in previous scenes, Wishfort privately reveals her own excessive drinking of “cherry brandy”, she is publicly embarrassed by Wilfull’s intoxicated behaviour (Act III, 20). This scene further demonstrates Wishfort’s obsession with social appearances, and also emphasizes the play’s Capitalistic theme of the sacrifice of love for property and economic gain. Just as Mirabell arranges a martial contract in which Waitwell is married to Foible to secure his plan of gaining Milliamant’s dowry, Wishfort is willing to marry her niece to Wilfull to protect her fortune.

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