The Heyday of Restoration Comedy:
Aphra Behn's The Feign'd Curtezans;
or, A Night's Intrigue
IN 1678 TITUS OATES'S INSTIGATION AND FALSE ACCUSATIONS RAISED the famous controversial issue known as the Popish Plot, which “was doubtless the result of renewed anxiety about the dangers of Catholic tyranny in England” and ended by the midway solution of the Exclusion Act. Although political complications altered the cultural life of the nation, and Robert D. Hume suggests that “Carolean boom was brought to a quick and untimely end by the uproar of the Popish Plot,” Restoration comedy had just reached its heyday.1 The greatest playwrights were producing their best comedies, full houses were a common practice, and the number of new plays presented in both theaters was up to then the largest in the history of the English stage. The best comedies of the top authors were Dryden's Marriage a la Mode (1672), Wycherley's The Country Wife (1675), Etherege's The Man of Mode (1676), and Aphra Behn's The Feign'd Curtezans (1679).
As commented on the introduction, a decade earlier Dryden had thought rhyme was an important element of drama distinguishing “betwixt what is nearest to the nature of Comedy, which is the imitation of common persons and ordinary speaking, and what is nearest the nature of a serious play … 'tis Nature wrought up to a higher pitch.” In the late 1670s, Dryden changed his mind, producing only tragedies, discarding comedies, and disposing of rhymed verse. In Aureng-Zebe, he publicly proclaims that rhymed heroic couplets have become outdated, for it is partly in prose. His last tragedy, All for Love (1677), is written in blank verse—“being properly but measured prose.”2 Blank verse is his furthest deviation from Calderón's rhymed verse but nearest to Calderonean dialectic patterned designs.