Under the Puritan era, the English theater underwent an extremely challenging time. After Charles I’s overthrow in 1642, the theater, which had experienced tremendous popularity throughout Elizabeth’s reign, was officially shut down by an ordinance of Parliament. Drama was inactive and no public acting was permitted. Charles II ascended to the throne once more in 1660. Drama was also formally welcomed back to England with his comeback. The comedy, a social study and a replica of the pervasive sickness of the artificial, aristocratic English society of the period, is seen to be the main attraction of the Restoration theater. Congreve, Etherege, Wycherley, Farquhar, and Vanbrugh are the major creators of this new genre of comedic plays.
The Literary inspiration
Undoubtedly, literary inspiration played a role in the development of the Restoration comedy. It was mostly inspired by two sources. First and foremost, the Restoration playwrights were really inspired by the abundance of wit and humor in the Jonsonian world. These playwrights actually acquired and gained a great deal of information from Elizabethan dramatists such Ben Jonson, Beaumont, and Fletcher. However, it was foreign influence—specifically, the influence of French comedy—that actually gave the Restoration playwrights their final dramatic basis. The French playwright Moliere had the biggest impact on Restoration humor. Moliere’s positive attitude, innate wit and humor, dramatic grandeur, smart plotting, and brilliant dialogue provided the Restoration playwrights with a powerful impetus.
Read More: The Way of the World as a comedy of manners
The narrative, characters, dramatic style, and dialogue of the Restoration comedies were heavily influenced by Moliere. Wycherley, Etherege, and Congreve, three of the era’s most prominent dramatists, followed Molière and transformed his talents into something fresh through their own original works of art by redefining the English comedy of manners.
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Of course, Dryden occupies the center of the Restoration comedy. However, he is not as effective in comedic plays as in tragic or heroic ones. Despite having a poor plot and implausible characters, one of his comedies, “The Wild Gallant”, is somewhat popular as a drama of humor and intrigue. “The Spanish Friar”, “Marriage A-la-Mode”, “An Evening’s Love”, or “The Mock Astrologer”, “Amphitryon”, or “The Two Socia’s”, and “The Assignation”, or “Love in a Nunnery” are among Dryden’s other comedic plays, but none of them exhibits a particularly strong humorous gift or dramatic power.
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Comedy of manners:
But as has previously been shown, comedy of manners holds the Restoration theater‘s primary interest. This new drama is a satirical and humorous replica of the social attitudes of the era, especially those of the upper class of English society. It serves as a form of social portrayal. A group of talented and creative dramatists, including Etherege, Wycherley, Vanbrugh, Farquhar, and Congreve, are credited with creating the comedy of manners. However, they only produce a small number of plays. None of them has more than three or four notable plays to his name.
Characteristics of comedy of manners:
- First and foremost, the comedy of manners depicts social life, which is obviously limited to a small group of people. The social habits that are shown in the comedy of manners belong to the snobby, artificial, well-off society of the Restoration community rather than the general public. In fact, the social milieu portrayed in this genre of comedy is entirely aristocratic but unquestionably fake. The refined, immoral upper class mindset appears to be the playwright’s primary concern.
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- Second, the comedy of manners shines at developing dramatic circumstances and suspenseful scenes. The play’s treatment of love is not based on romanticism or idealism and is instead primarily supported by wit, cynicism, and intrigue.
- The restoration comedy of manners, focuses on intellect and shows little emotion or spontaneity. The Restoration comedy is jam-packed with witty exchanges and the candid exposure of social vice in place of the romantic comedy’s passionate love of youth. This does address love, without a doubt, but it does so from a really intellectual perspective. Here, love is more a question of reason than of emotion, more a matter of thought than of sensations.
- In comedy of manners, marriage frequently becomes more about a legal compact and money than about love. For instance, Millamant and Mirabell negotiate a written agreement before deciding to get married in Congreve’s “The Way of the World“. In another instance, Millamant appears to marry Sir Wilful, her cousin, only to maintain her wealth.
- The comedy of manners is discovered to have a satirical undertone. But that satirical note is sarcastic and pessimistic rather than curative and clinical.
- Without a question, there is some immorality and obscenity in the Restoration comedy of manners. The Restoration comedy of manners definitely contains a lot of speech and statements that go beyond what is acceptable and defensible. Even some scenes smack of impoliteness and obscenity. However, all of this is discovered to be an inescapable result of the strong connection between comedy and society. Because the restoration society was licentious, it makes sense that the drama portraying it would also be licentious.
- The comedy of manners is written in plain prose, and is lighthearted rather than the lofty verses of the Elizabethan play. It is grounded in common sense and social realism. In comedy of manners, adulterous or numerous partnerships were more prevalent in relationships. The protagonists’ foolish belief that they were something they were not is what gives the genre its humor (The ugly imagined themselves to be lovely, while the old believed themselves to be youthful).
A comparison between comedy of manners and comedy of humors:
- The Restoration comedy of manners and Ben Jonson’s comedy of humor are two quite distinct genres. The Jonsonian comedy of humor covers a far wider social spectrum and deals with the odd consequences of the different humors found in humanity as a whole, as opposed to the comedy of manners, which is concerned with the manners of the higher class of society. The Restoration comedy focuses mostly on the duplicity and affectation of the fashionable English society of the 17th century, whereas the Jonsonian comedy deals with human folly rather than criminality. The comedy of manners is characterized by moral failures and immorality, whereas the comedy of humor is built on intellectual weakness.
- Both comedy of humor and comedy of manners differ from one another in terms of style. We don’t come across sharp, penetrating satirical dialogues in comedy of humors. Such comedies tend to have dialogue that is a little bit monotonous. However, the conversation in a comedy of manners is incredibly smart, delicate, crisp, and penetrating.
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