British Dramatists from Dryden to Sheridan

By George Henry Nettleton; Arthur Eillicot Case | Go to book overview

COMEDY OF MANNERS

THE term 'Restoration comedy' is somewhat loosely applied to English comedy written during the period which began with the return of Charles II in 1660 and which closed at an indeterminate date half a century or so later. Another more significant term for the same school of writing is 'the seventeenth-century comedy of manners.' This phrase serves to distinguish the genre from the comedy of humors, or character, which had flourished before the Commonwealth, and which had for its chief exponent Ben Jonson. The two schools had several things in common. Both of them relied upon ridicule of human failings; both of them assumed, but avoided stating, an ideal mode of life, with which they expected their audiences to agree; both (at their best) eschewed romance and sentiment. But the comedy of humors had greater depth, the comedy of manners greater polish. This was inevitably true, since Jonson and his contemporaries were more critical of lapses from wise living, and the Restoration writers were more concerned with breaches of the sophisticated code of manners which their times had erected. This code was principally the creation of the courtiers of Charles II who, during their exile in France, had observed the elegance and charm of life in the court of Louis XIV, and who endeavored to transplant that life in England, with some modifications. The ideal gentleman, according to the comic dramatists from Etherege to Farquhar, must fulfill certain, definite requirements. He must be well born; he must dress well, but not ostentatiously; he must be poised and witty, so that he is never out of countenance; he must be skilled in making love, whether to women of the town, to married women, or to young ladies of his own rank, and he may conduct several love-affairs simultaneously, provided his head is always master of his heart. He must not boast of his amours, however, and he must be discreet: it is unpardonable to betray the confidence of any woman of his own class. If he is so weak as to entertain a serious passion he must conceal the fact by an affectation of indifference or by over-acted and conventional protestations of devotion. If he is married he must not show any jealousy of his wife, nor may he let it be seen that he is in love with her. The fashionable lady is his counterpart, except that she has somewhat less freedom in love. Ideally she should be perfectly familiar with the world of intrigue without allowing herself to become involved in it; if she is a widow, or is married to an uncongenial husband, she may indulge in illicit love, provided she is not found out. In any case she will not expect complete constancy in her husband.

Deviations from this code provide much of the laughter of the comedy of manners. Persons who do not attempt to conform to the code are laughable as a matter of course, whether they be merchants, country squires, members of the clergy, or men of learning. But those who profess the code and fall short of its requirements in some way are still dearer to the dramatist. The fop who is too careful of his dress and manner, the wit who strains too hard to gain a reputation, the coquette who publishes her triumphs too openly, are all fair game. It is a cardinal rule of Restoration society that the highest art lies in concealing art. A favorite situation is that in which the hero and the heroine, who have permitted themselves to fall unfashionably in love with each other, engage in a battle of wits in which each tries to force the other to make the first admission of affection.

All of this might have made for excellent high comedy, but for two things. The Restoration comic dramatists could not hope to persuade the world for very long that their fine ladies and gentlemen were really admirable. The laughter which they directed at those whom they regarded as ridiculous was sophisticated, rather than wise, and the public was bound, sooner or later, to enquire whether the laughers were in fact so superior to those by whom they were amused. The emptiness of the 'ideal life' of fashion is admirably, though perhaps not intentionally displayed in

-151-

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British Dramatists from Dryden to Sheridan
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Preface iii
  • Contents v
  • Restoration Drama 1
  • Heroic Drama 3
  • Reference Works 6
  • Prologue to the First Part 9
  • Act I 11
  • [scene I] 11
  • Act II 15
  • [scene I] 15
  • Act III 18
  • [scene I] 18
  • Act IV 24
  • [scene I] 24
  • [scene Ii] 25
  • Act V 31
  • [scene I] 31
  • [scene Ii] 32
  • [scene Iii] 33
  • Epilogue 38
  • The Rehearsal 39
  • Prologue 41
  • Act I 43
  • Scene I 43
  • [scene Ii] 44
  • Act II 48
  • Scene I 48
  • Scene II 49
  • Scene III 50
  • Scene IV 50
  • Scene V 52
  • Act III 52
  • Scene I 52
  • Scene II 54
  • Scene III 54
  • Scene IV 55
  • Scene V 55
  • Act IV 57
  • Scene I 57
  • Scene II 61
  • Act I 62
  • Scene I 62
  • Epilogue 67
  • Blank-Verse Tragedy (1677-1700) 69
  • Reference Works 72
  • Preface 75
  • Prologue 81
  • Act I 83
  • Scene [i] 83
  • Act II 88
  • [scene I] 88
  • Act III 94
  • [scene I] 94
  • Act IV 100
  • [scene I] 100
  • Act V 107
  • [scene I] 107
  • Epilogue 114
  • Prologue 117
  • Act I 119
  • Scene I 119
  • Act II 123
  • [scene I] 123
  • Scene [ii] 124
  • [scene Iii] 125
  • Act III 128
  • [scene I] 128
  • Scene II 130
  • Act IV 136
  • [scene I] 136
  • Scene [ii] 137
  • Act V 143
  • [scene I] 143
  • [scene Ii] 145
  • [scene Iii] 147
  • [scene Iv] 149
  • Epilogue 150
  • Comedy of Errors 151
  • Reference Works 154
  • Prologue 157
  • Act I 159
  • Scene I 159
  • Act II 165
  • [scene I] 165
  • Scene II 167
  • Act III 170
  • [scene I] 170
  • Scene II 172
  • Scene III 176
  • Act IV 180
  • [scene I] 180
  • Scene II 185
  • Scene III 187
  • Act V 188
  • [scene I] 188
  • Scene II 191
  • Epilogue 197
  • Dedication 201
  • Prologue. Spoken by the Plain Dealer. 205
  • Act I 207
  • Scene I 207
  • Act II 214
  • Scene I 214
  • Act III 226
  • Scene I 226
  • Act IV 236
  • Scene I 236
  • [scene Ii] 241
  • Act V 246
  • Scene I 246
  • [scene Ii] 248
  • [scene Iii] 254
  • Epilogue 257
  • The Preface 261
  • Prologue 263
  • Act I 265
  • Scene I 265
  • [scene Ii] 266
  • [scene Iii] 268
  • Act II 271
  • Scene I 271
  • Act III 279
  • [scene I] 279
  • [scene Ii] 281
  • [scene Iii] 284
  • [scene Iv] 285
  • [scene V] 286
  • Act IV 286
  • [scene I] 286
  • [scene Ii] 288
  • [scene Iii] 290
  • [scene Iv] 291
  • [scene V] 292
  • Act V 295
  • [scene I] 295
  • [scene Ii] 297
  • [scene Iii] 299
  • [scene Iv] 301
  • [scene V] 303
  • Epilogue 307
  • Dedication to the Right Honorable Ralph, Earl of Mountague, &c. 311
  • Act I 313
  • Scene I 313
  • Act II 318
  • Scene I 318
  • Act III 324
  • Scene I 324
  • Act IV 332
  • Scene I 332
  • Act V 340
  • Scene I 340
  • Epilogue 347
  • Prologue 351
  • Act I 353
  • Scene I 353
  • [scene Ii] 359
  • Act III 362
  • [scene I 362
  • [scene Ii] 363
  • [scene Iii] 365
  • Act IV 370
  • Scene I 370
  • [scene Ii] 376
  • [scene Iii] 381
  • [scene Iv] 383
  • An Epilogue Designed to Be Spoke in 'the Beaux' Stratagem.' 386
  • Jeremy Collier's Attack on the Stage 387
  • Reference Works 388
  • Eighteenth-Century Drama 395
  • Sentimental Comedy 397
  • Reference Works 398
  • The Prologue 401
  • Act I 403
  • Scene I 403
  • Act II 408
  • Scene I 408
  • [scene Ii] 410
  • Act III 413
  • Scene I 413
  • Act IV 420
  • Scene I 420
  • Act V 426
  • Scene I 426
  • [scene Ii] 427
  • [scene Iii] 428
  • [scene Iv] 429
  • [scene V] 429
  • [scene Vi] 430
  • [scene Vii] 432
  • The Epilogue 436
  • The Preface 439
  • Prologue 441
  • Act I 443
  • Scene I 443
  • Scene II 447
  • Act II 450
  • Scene I 450
  • [scene Ii] 451
  • Act III 455
  • Scene I 455
  • Act IV 460
  • Scene I 460
  • Scene [ii] 463
  • Scene [iii] 465
  • Act V 466
  • Scene I 466
  • Scene [ii] 467
  • Scene [iii] 468
  • Epilogue 472
  • Blank-Verse Tragedy 473
  • Reference Works 475
  • Prologue 479
  • Act I 481
  • Scene I 481
  • Scene II 482
  • Scene III 483
  • Scene IV 483
  • [scene V] 485
  • [scene Vi] 485
  • Act II 486
  • Scene I 486
  • [scene Ii] 487
  • [scene Iii] 488
  • [scene Iv] 489
  • [scene V] 489
  • [scene Vi] 491
  • Act III 492
  • Scene I 492
  • [scene Ii] 492
  • [scene Iii] 494
  • [scene Iv] 494
  • [scene V] 494
  • [scene Vi] 495
  • [scene Vii] 495
  • Act IV 496
  • Scene I 496
  • [scene Ii] 496
  • [scene Iii] 497
  • [scene Iv] 498
  • Act V 500
  • Scene I 500
  • [scene Ii] 500
  • [scene Iii] 501
  • [scene Iv] 501
  • Epilogue 503
  • Prologue 507
  • Act I 509
  • Scene I 509
  • Scene II 510
  • Act II 512
  • Scene I 512
  • Act III 516
  • Scene I 516
  • Act IV 519
  • [scene I] 519
  • Act V 524
  • Scene I 524
  • Epilogue 530
  • Ballad Opera 531
  • Reference Works 532
  • Introduction 534
  • Act I 537
  • Scene I 537
  • Scene II 537
  • Scene III 538
  • Scene IV 538
  • Scene V 540
  • Scene VI 540
  • Scene VII 540
  • Scene VIII 541
  • Scene IX 543
  • Scene X 543
  • Scene XI 544
  • Scene XII 545
  • Scene XIII 545
  • Scene XIII 546
  • Scene II 546
  • Scene II 550
  • Scene VI 551
  • Scene VII 551
  • Scene VIII 551
  • Scene IX 552
  • Scene X 553
  • Scene XI 554
  • Scene XII 554
  • Scene XIII 555
  • Scene XIV 556
  • Scene XIV 557
  • Scene II 557
  • Scene II 559
  • Scene III 559
  • Scene IV 559
  • Scene V 560
  • Scene VI 561
  • Scene VII 562
  • Scene VIII 563
  • Scene IX 564
  • Scene X 564
  • Scene XI 564
  • Scene XII 566
  • Scene XIII 566
  • Scene XIV 567
  • Scene XV 568
  • Scene XVI 568
  • Scene XVII 568
  • Mid-Eighteenth-Century Drama (1730-1770) 571
  • Reference Works 573
  • H. Scriblerus Secundus His Preface 577
  • Act I 581
  • Scene I 581
  • Scene II 582
  • Scene III 583
  • Scene IV 585
  • Scene V 585
  • Scene VI 586
  • Act II 586
  • Scene I 586
  • Scene II 586
  • Scene III 587
  • Scene IV 588
  • Scene V 588
  • Scene VI 589
  • Scene VII 590
  • Scene VIII 590
  • Act II 593
  • Scene I 593
  • Scene II 593
  • Scene III 594
  • Scene IV 594
  • Scene V 595
  • Scene VI 595
  • Scene VII 595
  • Scene VIII 596
  • Scene IX 596
  • [dedication] 601
  • Prologue 603
  • Act I 605
  • Scene I 605
  • Scene II 606
  • Act II 609
  • Scene I 609
  • Scene II 611
  • Scene II 613
  • Act III 613
  • Scene I 613
  • Scene II 615
  • Scene III 616
  • Scene IV 617
  • Scene IV 618
  • Act IV 618
  • Scene I 618
  • Scene II 619
  • Act V 622
  • Scene I 622
  • Scene II 623
  • Epilogue 628
  • Act I 633
  • Scene I 633
  • Scene [ii] 635
  • Act II 638
  • [scene I] 638
  • Epilogue 646
  • Prologue 649
  • Prologue 651
  • Act I 653
  • Act II 656
  • Act III 659
  • Act IV 663
  • Act V 668
  • Epilogue 673
  • Prologue 677
  • Act I 679
  • Scene [i] 679
  • Act II 684
  • [scene Ii] Scene Changes to Oakly's. 684
  • [scene Ii] 686
  • Scene [iii] 687
  • Act III 691
  • Scene [i] 691
  • [scene Ii] 695
  • Act IV 698
  • Scene [i] 698
  • [scene Ii] 701
  • Act V 704
  • Scene [i] 704
  • Scene [ii] 705
  • Scene [iii] 706
  • Epilogue 712
  • Later Eighteenth-Century Drama - (1770-1780) 713
  • Sentimental Versus Laughing Comedy 713
  • Reference Works 717
  • Prologue 721
  • Act I 723
  • Scene I 723
  • Scene II 724
  • Scene III 724
  • Scene IV 724
  • Scene V 725
  • Scene VI 726
  • Act II 728
  • Scene I 728
  • Scene II 728
  • Scene III 729
  • Scene IV 730
  • Scene V 730
  • Scene VI 731
  • Scene VII 731
  • Scene VIII 732
  • Scene IX 733
  • Scene X 734
  • Scene XI 735
  • Act III 736
  • Scene I 736
  • Scene II 737
  • Scene III 737
  • Scene IV 739
  • Scene V 739
  • Scene VI 740
  • Scene VII 740
  • Scene VIII 742
  • Scene IX 743
  • Scene X 743
  • Scene IV 743
  • Scene I 743
  • Scene II 743
  • Scene III 744
  • Scene IV 745
  • Scene V 745
  • Scene VI 745
  • Scene VII 746
  • Scene VIII 746
  • Scene IX 747
  • Scene X 748
  • Act V 750
  • Scene I 750
  • Scene II 751
  • Scene III 751
  • Scene IV 751
  • Scene V 752
  • Scene VI 752
  • Scene VII 753
  • Scene VIII 754
  • Epilogue 756
  • Prologue 767
  • Act I 769
  • Scene [i] 769
  • Scene [ii] 771
  • Act II 773
  • Scene [i] 773
  • Act III 781
  • [scene I] 781
  • Act IV 785
  • [scene I] 785
  • Act V 791
  • [scene I] 791
  • [scene Ii] 792
  • [scene Iii] 794
  • Epilogue 797
  • Epilogue 798
  • Prologue 801
  • Prologue 803
  • Act I 805
  • Scene I 805
  • Scene II 806
  • Act II 810
  • Scene I 810
  • Scene II 816
  • Act III 817
  • Scene I 817
  • Scene II 818
  • Scene III 820
  • Scene IV 822
  • Act IV 824
  • Scene I 824
  • Scene II 826
  • Scene III 829
  • Act V 831
  • Scene I 831
  • Scene II 834
  • Scene III 835
  • Epilogue 839
  • A Portrait; Addressed to Mrs. Crewe, with the Comedy of the School for Scandal 843
  • Prologue 847
  • Act I 849
  • Scene I 849
  • Scene II 854
  • Act II 855
  • Scene I 855
  • Scene II 857
  • Scene III 860
  • Act III 861
  • Scene I 861
  • Scene II 864
  • Scene III 865
  • Act IV 868
  • Scene I 868
  • Scene II 870
  • Scene III 871
  • Act IV 876
  • Scene I 876
  • Scene II 878
  • Scene III 881
  • Epilogue 885
  • [dedication] 889
  • Prologue 891
  • Act I 893
  • Scene I 893
  • Scene II 898
  • Act II 902
  • Scene I 902
  • Scene II 902
  • Act III 908
  • Scene I 908
  • Textual Notes 913
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