The ending, although conventional in that everything gets resolved and everyone is brought together, clearly depicts how the characters do not care who they marry. Lucy, the stock character of a clever servant, fixes everything and everyone merely pretends that everything is alright, and returns to the status quo. Pinchwife tells himself “Cuckolds like lovers should themselves deceive”, hence believing what has been said although beneath it all he knows it is not true, illustrating how the marriages in the play are purely based on lies and deceit.
Not only this, but some who go through (or say they will) with marriage purely do it to preserve their honour and virtue, and make petty excuses like “The writings are drawn, sir, settlements made; ‘tis too late, sir, and past all revocation.” Without any mention of romantic love, Alithea here gives her reasons for continuing her arranged marriage with Sparkish, the fool; her obligatory language lending to make the matrimony sound like a bleak, loveless business arrangement.
Alithea does not love him and stays with Sparkish even though he treats her as an animal and a possession saying he will “get me a wife”, “a wife of mine”, and uses her as something he can show off to his friends: “do you approve my choice?” Here, Wycherley attacks the idea of women’s ‘entrapment’ in marriage. The audience recognises the writer’s view because Sparkish has been created as the stock character of a fool, and at the end of the play he is punished (he loses Alithea to Harcourt), whereas Alithea has been depicted as one of the more honourable and moral characters, and she is rewarded with a husband at the end.
Arguably, the implied marriage at the end of the play, between Alithea and Harcourt, does indeed provide some comic resolution – and more importantly implies love and marriage as triumphant. The sincerity of their relationship is manifest; we see Harcourt as the noble courtly lover who will go to any extent to gain her love, by the comic means of deception and disguise. Harcourt betrays Sparkish, in an attempt to steal his wife, when he disguises himself as a “parson”, and demands “nobody else shall marry you” in a double entendre.
What makes his character more honourable though, and makes the potential marriage more meaningful, is the fact that he is the only character on stage at the end to believe and proclaim Alithea’s innocence, despite all evidence being against her: “I will not only believe your innocence myself, but make all the world believe it.”
This absolute trust and his desire to fight to preserve her name, reflect attributes vital to any married relationship, and he also states “’tis possible for me to love too, without being jealous”. Harcourt is therefore presented as an ideal husband, especially in contrast to the other men who are mistrustful and consumed by the prospect that their wives will cuckold them if not “in our closets under lock and key.”
Surprisingly, Horner, the stock character of a rake, offers a contrasting and less superficial opinion of women; perhaps proposing that women in a married relationship offer more than just sex and wealth (central motifs in the comedy). Valuing intellect and personality in a woman, he states “me thinks wit is more necessary than beauty, and I think no young woman ugly that has it, and no handsome woman agreeable without it”, his speech providing a more encouraging exemplar of a man’s authenticity in love.
Nevertheless, the play opens amid an informal conversation regarding the spread of a rumour of “damned malady”, devised only so the protagonist, Horner, can sleep with other men’s wives. It is here when the writer begins to censure the corruption of matrimony in Restoration society, and despite Horner offering some positive views of women, it is this rumour that totally encapsulates the entire play, and thus discloses Wycherley’s attack against the sadly typical marriages of the Restoration period.
Through his comedy, Wycherley persistently confronts the lack of “matrimonial love”, and the affectation and hypocrisy that is present throughout Restoration marriages and their corrupt urban lifestyle. Satirising the pretence of the society, Wycherley employs the caricatures of Pinchwife and Sir Jasper Fidget to paint a representative picture of the paranoid and ignorant male personas that ironically lead their wives into the hands of rakes; the large majority of female heroines conform to the stock character of the adulterous wife.
Conclusively, it can be taken that although there are subtle hints at hopes of real love entwined throughout the comedy, Wycherley has undeniably crafted a play that carefully attacks the artificiality of marriages in Restoration society.