Back at Pinchwife’s house, Margery is depressed because she is not allowed into town. She is envious of Alithea, who goes about freely, and Pinchwife rebukes his sister for setting a bad example. Alithea says that it is Pinchwife himself who has put these ideas into Margery’s head, but Pinchwife insists that his wife was innocent until she met Alithea. He is glad that, the next day, he will be rid of Alithea, who will be married to Sparkish in the morning. He believes that he and Margery should return to the country.
Pinchwife wrongly believes that forbidding people from encountering sin will prevent them from sinning. Alithea wisely knows that forbidding people from partaking in any activity simply makes them more curious to experience it. Pinchwife, in this sense, is a parody of a typical puritanical mindset. Pinchwife views his sister as his possession to be given to Sparkish. This reflects a misogynistic outlook.
Margery grows irritated when Pinchwife mentions their country home and tells him that she has been ill since he told her about the man at the theatre who was in love with her. Pinchwife argues that her illness will make him ill with jealousy, but Margery insists that she does not understand what he means. She begs him to take her to the theatre so that she can see the man who loves her. When Pinchwife tells her that the play is finished for the evening, she says that she wants to see some of the sights of the town.
Margery is “sick” with love; this was a trope commonly used in drama and reflects the tradition of “courtly romance” in which love produces symptoms like a disease. Margery is inexperienced in the ways of city life and does not realize that she is supposed to be faithful to Pinchwife. Even though they are married, she does not love him and does not realize that she is expected to pretend she does for the sake of his reputation.
Pinchwife is reluctant but Margery insists. Pinchwife decides that he will take her, but only if she puts on a disguise so that the young men of the town will not see her. Alithea suggests that she should wear a mask but Pinchwife believes that a mask on a woman makes a man more eager to see her face and he is worried that Horner will recognize her. Instead, he decides to dress Margery in her brother’s clothes and he, Alithea, Margery, and the maid, Lucy, head into town.
Masks were associated with the theatre and with decadent social events, such as masked balls—these kinds of entertainment were looked down upon and censored by the Puritans as activities which encouraged promiscuity. Ironically, although Pinchwife believes he is making Margery less attractive, it was a common Restoration dramatic technique to dress actresses up as men to show off their figures in tight men’s outfits to titillate the audience.