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The comedy of manners is a peculiar product of the Restoration Period (1660-1702). It reflects the very spirit of the age. It depicts faithfully the life and manners of the general society of the day. It depicts a small world which has a distinct territory of its own. The world covers the fashionable parks and coffeehouses of London in the time of Charles-II Hyde park, St. James Park. Mulberry Garden, fashionable clubs, taverns etc.  are the favourite places for the aristocratic people. The pompous houses and drawing-rooms of the rich and leisured classes of the time are used as the setting of the comedy of manners. The Restoration comedy is identical to this form of comedy. The comedy of manners has made the Restoration rich in drama. The skeleton of this type was, however, produced much Earlier . But it finds a handsome flowering in the master hands of Etherege, Wycherley, Congreve, Vanbrugh and Farquhar.
essay on restoration comedy

Comedy of manners is a kind of comedy which portrays the ridiculous behaviour pattern of the individuals of an aristocratic society. It is concerned with the coarseness immorality, faithlessness, jealousy, intrigue etc. of an artificial society It always seeks to give a real picture of one section of contemporary life. It's purpose is to give a criticism of society with skilful satiric touches. It's success depends on the dramatist's capacity to present the unemotional treatment of sex. The comedy of manners is rich with wit and satire. It gives the image of the time. The heroine is more important and interesting than the hero in it. The hero of this type of comedy is well-born, well-dressed and capable of contest of wit. The heroine is also a paradox of virtues and affections. She is as self-possessed and witty as her male opponent. They ae surrounded by a set of fops, wits, half- wits who-carelessly laugh at all social and moral codes. However, "manners" means a quality acquired by a person from free social intercourse with cultivated men and women.

Sir George Etherege is the first and foremost writer of the comedy of manners. He has left three comedies. They are Love In a Tub, She Would if She Could and The Man of Mode. They represent the first true comedy of manners. But we should not forget that Etherege was concerned with morals and not with manners. His plays carry none of the social criticism implicit in the comedy of Moliere. He is important historically as having helped to the mode of Restoration comedy.

Wycherley moulds the comedy of intrigue and the comedy of manners into a refreshing original type. His fame depends on his four comedies. They are Love in a Wood, The Gentleman Dancing Master. The Country Wife and The Plain Dealer. These plays are extremely witty with all their coarseness. Wycherley impresses the readers by sheer vehemence of language and the energy of characterization. He has the first satirical power of Ben Jonson. The atmosphere of The Plain Dealer is that of the Puritan rather than the Restoration comedy of manners.

William Congreve is the most successful playwright of the restoration Period. He takes the comedy of manners to its proper channel. He has composed five comedies. They are The Old Bachelor. The Double-Dealer, Love for Love The Mourning Bride and The Way of the World. Of these The way of the world considered to be the flower of restoration comedy. Its plot is developed skilfully. The love-scenes between Mirabell and Millamant have been treated with tenderness and sensitivity. In this play, Congreve deals with a serious theme of sexual re relationship through a variety of  characters and situations. He shows the affectations, conspiracies and hypocrisies of the age. But there is true love between Millamant and Mirabell. The proviso-scene shows his rational attitude to love and marriage. Here we also find the strength of newly developed English prose.

After Congreve, Vánbrugh and George Farquhar keep alive something of the spirit of Restoration comedy of manners. Vanbrugh has written mainly three comedies. The plays are The Relapse, The Provoked Wife and The Confederacy. They lack the art and elegance of Congreve. But they are full of energy and genial humour. They are admirable in construction, characterization and dialogue.   Actually, Vanbrugh has a sheer genius for farcical situations. On the other hand, Farquhar has composed seven plays. These plays bear upon him the imprint of his good-humoured and happy-go-lucky personality.The  Recruiting Officer and the Beaux Stratagem are the best works of Farquhar. The play has enjoyed a distinctive place in the Restoration drama for its open air atmosphere.

Many critics condemn the Restoration comedies as immoral. In 1698, Jeremy Collier wrote A Short View of the immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage. The book had an immense effect on the literary critics. Charles Lamb in one of his essays says, "The Restoration comedies are a world of themselves almost as much as fairy land". He was anxious reconcile his enjoyment of the plays of Wycherley and Congreve with the moral disapproval of his contemporaries. Macaulay attacked Charles Lamb. He says that unsound morality was always set off every advantage in the Restoration comedy of manners. He also indicates that sound morality was insulted and derided in these plays. Dobree who is an eminent critic says thai the Restoration comedy is concerned with rationalizing sexual relationships. In respect of sexual relations, L.C. Knight say,  The Restoration comedy is entirely dominated by a narrow set of conventions."

In context of our discussion, we can again add that a particular society is mirrored in the comedy of was careless and intent only on pleasure and amorous intrigues.But it was the lover of fine arts in a superficial way. If we condemn the society of the Restoration court, we cannot condemn the dramatists of this period. The comedy of manners gives the picture of the society of-Charles-II court. It has vertebrate, an air of abandon and immorality. Sometimes it oversteps the bounds of decency and good taste.  The brilliant wit, the bright dialogues and hilarious laughter are the most important and interesting elements in this comedy. They leave an enduring and lasting interest to all lovers of literature. Moreover, the Restoration comedies have to be studied in the spirit of the age in which they were written.They have drawn a true picture of gallants and belles of the then society. In this respect, we can mention The Way o the World which is the Queen of the comedy of manners.


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