Apes and Echoes of Men": Gentlemanly Ideals and the Restoration
( England: 1660-1710)
Moira E. Casey
The character of the fool surfaces in the Restoration comedy of manners as the fop, an aristocratic gentleman who comically and overzealously attempts to exemplify the height of wit and fashion.1 One character, Sparkish, from William Wycherley's The Country Wife ( 1675), refers (in a typically self-reflexive moment by Wycherley) to the transformation of the fool from the serving-class buffoons of earlier drama into the gentlemanly fop:
Damn the poets . . . they make a wise and witty man in the world, a fool upon the stage. . . . Their predecessors were contented to make serving-men only their stagefools: but these rogues must have gentlemen, with a pox to 'em, nay, knights; and indeed, you shall hardly see a fool upon the stage, but he's a knight. (94-95)
Sparkish's frustration is appropriate; most fops hold titles -- Sir Fopling Flutter, Lord Plausible, Sir Novelty Fashion -- and the ones without titles are still considered to be gentlemen. Sparkish does not, however, tell why the playwrights turn the gentleman into the clown of the Restoration.
When Charles II was restored to the throne and the theaters were reopened in 1660, theatergoing became primarily a privilege of the upper class and was especially enjoyed by courtiers. The licentious Restoration court heavily influenced the theater, more than the Puritanical citizenry, and so the comedy of manners became a representation of as well as a commentary on the values of the court. Restoration comedy, then, takes as its clown the fop, an aristocratic