EVEN to the casual reader, the comedy of Etherege and Congreve inevitably suggests questions as to the literary origin of this type of drama. It has been the object of the foregoing chapters to attempt an answer to such questions. Through its representation of a peculiarly specialized society, divided into two distinct groups, which must be evaluated by two distinct comic standards, Restoration comedy of manners may be defined in terms so definite that they may serve as a legitimate test of comparison for the purpose of relating this drama to earlier forms of comedy. The terms of definition are fundamentally opposed, it is clear, to the terms in which Molière's comedy, with its larger world, interpreted by a single standard, is to be defined.
In the comedy of Etherege the fashions of this specialized society are illustrated with a precision which seems to indicate that Etherege was not responsible for their first intrusion into English comedy. It has been our contention that the work of Etherege and his contemporaries may be best explained in terms of earlier English dramatic tradition. We have, therefore, reviewed the various developments in English realistic comedy from the time of Jonson to the time of Etherege and his group, hoping thus to reveal whatever elements had been most vital in the literary inheritance of the Restoration comic dramatists.
We have observed that the comedy of Jonson, which in certain matters of dramatic technique exerted so powerful an influence on later dramatists, maintains a decidedly unsocial point of view, strikingly opposed to the spirit of Restoration comedy. Jonson was primarily interested in the problem of securing an equable balance of mental powers in the individual, not at all in