Restoration Comedy

What are the characteristics of ‘Restoration Comedy’ or ‘ Comedy of manners’

Write a note on the characteristics of  ‘Restoration Comedy’.
                           Or
Write a note on the characteristics of ‘Comedy of Manners’ with special reference to ‘ The Way of the World’.

Introduction:Restoration comedy‘  or ‘Comedy of Mannersis directly linked to Charles II’s return to England, after nine years of exile in France, and restoring monarchy in England. Charles II who was for so long – time in France, was greatly influenced by the French way of life. 

He brought French courts’ fashionable way of life and courtier culture to England.  The courtiers and upper classes of England also imitated these fashionable manners and this proved one of the main causes of the development of ‘Restoration Comedy’. The Comedy writers of Restoration age were also affected by all these happenings and wrote Comedies about upper classes which were known as ‘Restoration Comedy‘.

Characteristics of Restoration Comedy

Wit and Humour are the prominent qualities of the ‘Comedy of Manners‘. Since in these plays wit is always intellectual, therefore, it (wit) provides these plays with a cerebral touch, doing away with vulgarity, cheapness, and indecency.

Though so many playwrights had introduced wit in their plays no other dramatist had got success in using it so skillfully, smoothly and effectively as William Congreve (1670 – 1729) in his masterpiece ‘The way of The world‘ (1700).Restoration Comedy

Many Restoration plays including ‘The way of the World’ are rich in witty, blunt and sexual dialogues which give these comedies the air of indecency. The aristocratic society is focused on in ‘The way of the world’ and its follies and affectations are ridiculed by the use of wit.

         Satirical use of humour in the Comedy of Manners can be easily observed in the treatment of those characters who tried to deceive others or were befooled by others. We once again take the example from ‘The Way of The World’ of that of  Lady Wishfort.

She was a foolish woman who often provided the chances to laugh at her.  She was in her old age, she still wanted the enjoyment of youth. Lady Wishfort without any suspicion and hesitation believed that a young man like Mirabel can fall in love with her.

The study of the play reveals that Mirabell loved Millament who (Millament) was the niece of Lady Wishfort. Millament’s all wealth was in the control of Lady Wishfort. She would hand over the fortune only if Millament married the man whom she  (Lady Wishfort) approved of.

That is why Mirabell tried a trick so that Mrs Wishfort may provide approval of his marriage with her niece Millament. He sends his servant whose name was Whitwell as his wealthy uncle Rowland pretending to love her (Whitwell in the disguise of Rowland pretending to love Lady Wishfort) and makes a marriage proposal to her (Lady Wishfort) and she not only believes Whitwell as Mirabel’s uncle Rowling but thinks his marriage proposal true as well.

It is only through the other characters of the play that Mirabel’s plot is revealed. The follies of the restoration age is ridiculed through the character of Lady Wishfort.’ The old men with young wives, the pretenders at wit, the fop and old persons trying to look young’ are some other sources of humour in Comedy of Manners.

Love, marriage and sex

Comedy of Manners is devoid of true and passionate love.  True love is rarely seen in these comedies. The constancy of love was supposed to be dull and boring. In their married life there was no intimacy in the relation of husband and wife.

They were busy in their own affairs outside the marriage and, in this way, we’re not loyal to each other. It is also notable that marriages were based on money.  The characters of Restoration comedies were appealed and attracted by sex very much that is why (as has been mentioned just now) they never thought about loyalty and true love.

Mirabell in ‘The Way of the World’ not only flirted with Mrs Fainall but he was in an illicit relationship with her, consequently, she became pregnant. Then he helped Mrs Fainall to Marry Fainall so that the child could not be called illegitimate.

After these all, it happened that Mirabell started loving Millament. In the same way, though, Fainall married Mrs Fainall, the daughter of Lady Wishfort, both of them hated each other. Finally married her not for the sake of love but for her fortune. He was in love with someone else. Mrs Marwood, the friend of Lady Wishfort was Fainall’s mistress.

Conspiracy/intrigue is also an important component of ‘Comedy of Manners‘. Finally, the son in law of Lady Wishfort in ‘The Way of the World’ was intriguing to her mother in law to give him his wife’s wealth and half of Millament’s wealth as well.

Fainall wished that Millament had married Mirabell without permission of Lady Wishfort so that he could get success in securing the fortune of Millament. Another example of intrigue is seen when Mirabell designed a plot against Lady Wishfort with the only purpose of getting the hand of Millament in marriage with her (Lady Wishfort) consent.

Some other characteristics:

  • Comedy of Manners’  is famous for its sparkling portrayal of fashionable city life around the clubs, coffee houses and parks etc. Country life was given no importance, and, in fact, was thought boring and countrymen foolish.  They (countrymen)were always disparaged by the city people. ‘The Way of the World’ is fully devoted to the life of London. The outsiders assumed the rustics. Sir Wilful who was a countryman never felt comfortable or adjusted in the fashionable and high spirited society of London. 
  • Every Comedy contained a prologue and an epilogue which were welcomed by the audience.

Conclusion

In this article, various characteristics of Comedy of Manners are discussed briefly. Since most of the students of English Literature are familiar with William Congreve’s masterpiece  ‘The Way of the World’, so all examples are provided from this Comedy to clarify the characteristics of Restoration Comedy.

Restoration Comedy F.A.Q

'The Old Bachelor ' (1693) is William Congreve's first Comedy of Manners.
Foible is the maid of Lady Wishfort in William Congreve's Comedy of Manners ' The Way of the World.'
George Etherege's Restoration Comedy 'The Man' of Mode' is subtitled as 'Sir Fopling Flutter'
'The Country Wife' (1675) is a Comedy of Manners written by William Wycherly.
Mrs Margery Pinchwife is the major female character in 'The Country Wife'.

 

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