The Social Mode of Restoration Comedy

By Kathleen M. Lynch | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
THE PRÉCIEUSE TRADITION, 1642-1664

B ETWEEN the closing of the theaters in 1642 and the performance of Etherege's first comedy in 1664, the dramatic critic, however sedulous his investigation, finds little progress to record in any form of English drama. The popular assumption, however, that the drama was actually without life during this period, or at least during the interregnum, has no foundation of truth. Under the. Commonwealth régime old plays were still acted, at great hazards, and earlier dramatic traditions were not allowed to fade into oblivion. It is of little consequence that few new plays were written. The précieuse impulse, which had directed court tastes in the reign of Charles I, denied a favorable expression in dramatic literature, was diffused through other channels. At the Restoration in 1660 familiar dramatic conventions were revived. A few years of transitional experiment were, of course, inevitable. Yet even before 1664 the dominance of the précieuse mode was already pledged in both heroic drama and comedy. Only by examining this obscure historical background can we perceive what The Comical Revenge really signified to Etherege's contemporaries.

Our knowledge of dramatic performances during the interregnum will perhaps never be as extensive as we might well desire to have it. We are just beginning to realize that plays were acted much more frequently in the Commonwealth period than the meagre evidence ordinarily presented would lead us to suppose. For a good many years critics were obliged to rely heavily, for their guarded assertions, on the brief account of stage conditions during these years furnished by James Wright in his

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