THE PERIOD OF ETHEREGE
IN THE twelve years from 1664 to 1676 Restoration comedy of manners became well established as a dramatic type. During these years Etherege and Wycherley produced their masterpieces, and a goodly number of other comic dramatists worked, with varying degrees of success, in the same tradition. Etherege's importance as the first dramatist to express the Restoration comic spirit with artistic completeness is now very generally recognized. The relation of his work and that of his immediate contemporaries to earlier English drama, and especially to précieuse drama, remains, however, an unsolved problem, inviting our attention.
When we consider The Comical Revenge, or Love in a Tub ( 1664),1 the first of Etherege's comedies, we find ourselves involved in the famous controversy as to the sources of Etherege's plays. This play, prominent critics assure us, effected a revolution in English comedy. We may agree with Gosse that Molière inspired the new comic program, or with Palmer that a change in English social life produced the miracle; in any event, we must accept Restoration comedy as a revolutionary rebirth of English comedy, if we choose to support a conventional point of view in this matter.
Edmund Gosse, to whom credit is due for having rescued the memory of Sir George Etherege from an oblivion of many years' duration,2 maintains that Etherege was greatly influenced by Molière, during those years when Molière's first comedies were____________________