Restoration Comedy Or Comedy of Manners

The comedy of Manners is the name given to a specific kind of English comedy written during the Restoration period. Writers of this period were Sir George Etherege, William Wycherley, William Congreve, Sir John Vanbrugh and George Farquhar. Their plays are called the comedy of manners because they truly reflect the manners of the people of the time. This type of comedy of manners began as a reaction against the realistic comedy of humour written by Ben Jonson and others.

The earliest of the writers to practice the comedy of manners was Sir George Etherege. He is remembered for three comedies: “The comical Revenge”, “She would If she could” and “The Man of Mode”. Etherege was the first who realized that comedy in the manner of Moliere could be exploited in English. While he has little of Moliere’s skill and none of his delicacy, his works proved very popular. They are important because they established the comedy of manners which was later to be perfected by Congreve. They paint a true picture of the graceful, heartless, and licentious upper classes of the period. The prose dialogue of these plays is natural and brilliant. Its light and airy grace conceals some deficiency of plot construction.

William Wycherley was the second important writer of comedy in the Restoration Period. His reputation is based upon four plays: “Love In A Wood”, “The Gentleman Dancing-Master”, “The Country Wife” and “The Plain Dealer”. His earliest play is “Love In A Wood”. It deals with contemporary fashionable life. It has its setting in St. James’ Park. “The country Wife” has a stronger plot, even if it is an unpleasant play. “The Plain Dealer” was the last and most effective of Wycherley’s plays. In this play, he shows that he was aware of the criticisms that had been made against the obscenities of “The Country Wife”. In all his comedies Wycherley is affected by the native influence of Jonson. He is also influenced by the comedies of Moliere.

William Congreve is the greatest among the writers of Restoration comedy. In his work, the comedy of manner reaches perfection. His first comedy was “The Old Bachelor”. This was followed by “The Double Dealer”, “Love For Love”, and “The Way of The World”. He is the most brilliant and artistically gifted exponent of the comedy of manners. His prose is lucid, concise and pointed. His plays are a faithful reflection of the upper-class life of his day. His distinguishing Quality is his wit.

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Later comedy of manners was broadened and humarized by George Farquhar and Sir John Vanbrugh Farquhar wrote seven plays in all. The best of his plays are “The Recruiting Officer” and “The Beaux’ Stratagem”. Farquhar comes late among the Restoration dramatists. By his time the cynical immorality of the age seems to have worn thin. His temper is genial and his wit is decorous. His dialogues lack the polish and sustained wit of Congreve. Yet it is nearer the level of normal conversation. In his rapidly developing humanity, and growing respect for moral standards, Farquhar looks forward to the drama of Stede and the succeeding age. His plays deal with the folk rather than with the upper class people. His plots are well-constructed.

Sir John Vanbrugh is a remarkable personality whose range of achievement cannot easily be estimated. He wrote a number of comedies of which the soundest is probably “The Provok’d wife”. His next work, “The Confederacy” is the most immoral. The main plot of “The Provok’d Wife” deals with the matrimonial cruelty of Sir John Brute, and his wife’s cynical attitude to virtue and faithfulness. The main movement of the play arises from the same world as manners comedy. But here there is also a far more liberal use of farcical elements. The wit of Congreve is absent. But there is some compensation, in the satirical attitude. It is found particularly in the portrait of Sir John Brute.



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