By John T. Harwood
Granting that literature delights, Harwood addresses the moral questions that have been hotly debated by critics for the 300years since Restoration comedy flourished: "In what way does literature teach? How do beliefs about its effects on audiences shape critics' responses to and judgment of literature?"
Harwood begins with a survey of the "major rhetorical strategies by which many critics transform themselves, at least momentarily and perhaps unconsciously, into moralists when they deal with restoration comedy."
Then he places various moral responses in a broader critical context by analyzing ways in which critics have traditionally handled aesthetic problems, which inevitably entail an ethical assessment of literature.
Third, he analyzes the moral dimensions of four controversial Restoration comedies: William Wycherley's Country Wife; Edward Ravenscroft's London Cuckolds;Thomas Otway's Souldiers Fortune;and Thomas Shadwell's Squire of Alsatia.
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