The comedy of manners is a genre of comedy that flourished on the English stage during the Restoration period. Plays of this type are typically set in the world of the upper class and ridicule the pretensions of those who consider themselves socially superior deflating them with satire. With witty dialogues and cleverly constructed scenarios, comedies of manners comment on the standards and mores of society and explore the relationships of the genders. Marriage is a frequent subject. Typically, there is little depth of characterization; instead of that ,playwrights used stock character types—the fool, the schemer, the hypocrite, the jealous husband, the interfering old parents—and constructed plots with rapid twists in events, often precipitated by miscommunications among the group. The roots of the comedy of manners can be traced back to Molière’s seventeenth-century French comedies and to the “humours” comedy of Ben Jonson; indeed, certain characteristics can be found as far back in time as ancient Greek plays.Critics nod that the masters of the comedy of manners were George Etherege (1635-1692), William Wycherley (1640-1716), John Vanbrugh (1664-1726), William Congreve (1670-1729), and George Farquhar (1678-1707). Etherege’s The Comical Revenge; or, Love in a Tub (1664) and She Wou’d If She Cou’d (1668) are often seen as inaugurating the genre of the comedy of manners, and his characters, including Sir Frederick Frollick and Sir Fopling Flutter, were favorites with audiences and became standard character types.Wycherly’s comedies are pointed and relatively harsh. The Country Wife (1674) deals with the jealousy experienced by an old man, Bud Pinchwife, married to a young woman, Margery. Margery’s affair with another man, and her concealment of it, is accepted as proper and understandable in light of Bud’s abusiveness. (He threatens repeatedly to stab his wife.) Wycherley’s masterpiece, The Plain Dealer (1676), is based on Molière’s Le Misanthrope and follows the relationship problems of a sea-captain, Manly.
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