The Country Wife

China Symbol Icon

China is used to symbolize sex throughout the play and Horner and his lovers use it as a code word. When Horner takes Margery aside in Covent Garden, stealing her away under Pinchwife’s nose, he gives her some “China oranges” which she proudly takes back and presents to her husband. Although Horner does not actually have sex with Margery in this scene, Pinchwife correctly interprets his intention towards her as sexual and takes the gift of a “China orange” as an insult. He believes that Horner has “squeezed his orange and given it back to him,” which suggests that Horner has made use of something which belongs to Pinchwife; in this case, his wife. The significance of the term “china” as a sexual innuendo comes again later in the play when Horner and Lady Fidget pretend to fight over Horner’s china collection, when they are really having sex, while Sir Jasper, Lady Fidget’s husband, waits innocently outside the door. Horner indicates that “china” is an agreed upon “cue” between him and the ladies and he knows to follow Lady Fidget into the room when she says that she wants some of his china. This innuendo effectively deceives Sir Jasper because china shopping is considered to be a dainty, innocent, and feminine hobby and this supports the general façade of purity and sexual aversion that the “honorable” ladies (Lady Fidget, Mrs. Dainty Fidget, and Mrs. Squeamish) maintain throughout the play. The use of the term china furthers the impression that the “honorable” ladies and Horner mask their promiscuity and deviance behind a veneer of sexual innocence and a disdain for sex, while, in fact, the opposite is true.

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China Symbol Timeline in The Country Wife

The timeline below shows where the symbol China appears in The Country Wife. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 4, Scene 2
Love, Marriage, and Misogyny  Theme Icon
Theatre, Puritanism, and Forbidden Desire  Theme Icon
Town vs. Country Theme Icon
...impatiently tells Pinchwife that Horner took her up to his house and gave her a “China orange.” She then mentions that he kissed her several times (kisses to convey to her... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 3
Love, Marriage, and Misogyny  Theme Icon
Theatre, Puritanism, and Forbidden Desire  Theme Icon
...angry with Horner because he would not come shopping with her to get some new china. She adds that Horner owns some “very fine china” himself and that she means to... (full context)
Theatre, Puritanism, and Forbidden Desire  Theme Icon
Lady Fidget reappears, holding a piece of china, and Horner follows, complaining that she has taken his best piece. Mrs. Squeamish then re-enters... (full context)