THE transition from the Restoration comedy of manners to moralized and sentimental comedy was so gradual that it is impossible to set any date at which one style decayed and the other gained the ascendency. A glance at the dates of the examples chosen to illustrate the two styles in this anthology shows that the periods overlap each other, and in fact the overlapping was even greater than these dates suggest. Moralized comedy is generally said to have begun with Colley Cibber's Love's Last Shift ( 1696): on the other hand, Mrs. Centlivre, who certainly belongs to the Restoration school, flourished between 1700 and 1722. One might go still farther and point out that Gay's Beggar's Opera ( 1728), although it is usually assigned to a separate category because of its musical character, was really an offshoot of the older comedy, as was his earlier play, Three Hours after Marriage, written in 1717 in conjunction with Pope and Arbuthnot. But it may safely be said that the trend, after the publication of Collier's Short View, was definitely in the direction of moralized and sentimental comedy.
COLLEY CIBBER ( 1671-1757) was not only an author, but an actor and a theatrical manager as well. During a turbulent career he had a hand in many enterprises, and attempted (without much success) to write both lyrical verse and biography. His appointment as poet-laureate, in 1730, brought a storm of abuse from contemporary writers: in 1742, after years of bickering with Pope, he was made the hero of the fourth book of the Dunciad, and subsequently of the entire poem. He wrote some thirty plays, mostly comedies, among which Love's Last Shift and The Careless Husband ( 1704), both classed as sentimental, are the best known. His move toward a less licentious mode of writing was experimental, and some of his later comedies are closer to the Restoration mode. Love's Last Shift did not altogether break with the older way of writing: some of its scenes, especially those connected with the sub-plots, would have pleased the public of Etherege. But the main business of the play is to tell the story of an errant husband who, after a ten years' absence, is recaptured by a faithful wife through a device that is reminiscent of Helena's in All's Well that Ends Well. The sympathetic treatment of the wife's misfortunes gives the sentimental tone, but the absence of any severe reprehension of the husband's conduct undoubtedly displeased the moralists. Much the same thing might be said of The Careless Husband, in which the faithful wife's strategy consists of a steadfast refusal to upbraid her husband for his infidelities, although she manages to let him know, in an indirect manner, that she is aware of them. Here, though the repentant husband, Sir Charles Easy, confesses his faults more in extenso than did his counterpart in the earlier play, one cannot help feeling that his reform is due less to a sense of guilt than to admiration for his wife's behavior, and that Lady Easy's gratitude is a little too fulsome.
Sir RICHARD STEELE ( 1672-1729) carried sentimental comedy a step farther by emphasizing the moral purpose of his plays. Of his four comedies, three ( The Funeral, 1701; The Lying Lover, 1703; The Tender Husband, 1705) belong to his earlier career, and one ( The Conscious Lovers, 1722) to his later: between the two periods of dramatic composition fell the most important part of his literary work, the periodical essays, of which the most famous appeared in the Tatler ( 1709-1710) and the Spectator ( 1711-1712). The Funeral is in many ways Steele's best comedy. It is evident that its author subscribed to the theory that the business of comedy is to attack the lesser faults of humanity with the weapon of ridicule. That Steele was on the side of the reformers of the drama was evidenced not by moralizing, but by the almost complete absence of indecency from both the