The Designs of Carolean Comedy

The Designs of Carolean Comedy

The Designs of Carolean Comedy

The Designs of Carolean Comedy

Synopsis

The Tempest, Marriage A-la-Mode, The Spanish Fryar, and other plays are examined as consumer products offering a variety of potentially satisfying images of the world at a time when social and personal values were confused, precarious, and heterogeneous. Many of the comedies permit the viewer to enjoy forbidden, glamorous behavior without feeling guilty.

Excerpt

Since Good King Charles' gilt-edged days, the major comedies written for his loyal servants the actors have stirred more attacks and defenses than any other literature in English. Some critics have insisted that they are good, airy (if not clean) fun. Some have found them orthodox underneath a bold front: lively sheep--even lambs of God--dressed in wolf's clothing. and some have agreed with the persona of God's Revenge against Punning (1716), who found them an "Abomination" that might incite "Even Infants [to] disfigure the Walls of holy Temples with exhorbitant Representations of the Members of Generation" (269-70). More sophisticated readers, who have seen that many of the plays do not gel into something "unified," have elaborated dualistic but unitary schemes, based on satire, by which to salvage the comedies from being mere, "all in fun" entertainment. These schemes may focus on ideology, for example, describing morality and fashionable pragmatism at loggerheads in plays that mediate "libertine ideology and traditional social values" (Brown, English 47); or the schemes may be representational, like that of "a double-faced mirror that reflects simultaneously upward and downward," ideality and experiential facts (Zimbardo 76-77). We find all these views useful, though to different degrees. We also find them all misleading.

These critics have in common an assumption that we wish to challenge. It is that good, "serious" plays would ideally cohere in the (re)presentation of belief or attitude (an attenuated form of belief). Here belief relies upon some kind of advocacy, at times quite complex, whether skeptical or Christian or ethical (one can take one's pick). and to help instill belief, the plays manipulate the audience's desires for wish fulfillment, for vicarious participation into the action, for a splash of romance to brighten their drab lives. (We are evoking "belief" and "desire" as common philosophical categories that comprise worlddirected mental acts and states: the field of cognition, the field of volition.) Most assignments of literary value exalt belief over desire, of course. Academic brows furrow over "poetic truth" and "exploration of ideas and motifs" and "ethical profundity," whereas wish fulfillment is somehow disreputable, a criterion that would demote Art to the level of entertainment. "The artistic character of a work," insists Hans Robert Jauss, "is to be measured by the aesthetic distance with which it opposes the expectations of its first audience"; those works that cater to audiences come close to "'culinary' or entertain-

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