Talk:Comedy of manners

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Drawing-room comedy redirects to this page - but no reference here to that phrase. Not my area of expertise, can anyone help?

Article Drawing room play (note varying hyphenation) recognises its subclass Drawing-room comedy as also inheriting from Comedy of manners.

See also article and talk page at Drawing room where they appear to be struggling to include stuff that should be here.

Shannock9 (talk) 13:49, 16 October 2010 (UTC)

Major Rewrite Needed[edit]

This article needs a major rewrite by someone expert in the field.

Major flaws include:

The material before the "Notes:" marker and that after it are repetitive in part and should be merged to make a coherent whole.

The material needs proofreading for a few typographical errors.

The material needs proofreading and extension for many sentences which end abruptly without completing the thought they seem to be attempting to convey.

The material needs to be rearranged into coherent paragraphs, rather than be displayed as huge unbroken blocks of text, in the pursuit of both readability and comprehensibility.

Many well known examples of comedies of manners, for example the novels of Jane Austin and Charlotte Bronte, completely escape notice, as if, falsely, women had played no part in the enterprise of creating Comedies of Manners.

Xanthian (talk) 17:54, 21 September 2011 (UTC)

Long chunk after 'notes' moved to talk[edit]

This section was positioned after the notes and was displaying as one long block (the paragraph breaks were invisible because it was misformatted, I converted it when I mvoed it to talk) RJFJR (talk) 19:46, 11 October 2011 (UTC) This was all added at once by an anon in this diff RJFJR (talk) 19:48, 11 October 2011 (UTC)


The comedy of manners was first developed in the new comedy of the ancient Greek play write Menander. His style, elaborate plots, and stock characters were imitated by the Roman playwrights Plautus and Terence, whose comedies were widely known and copied during the Renaissance. The best-known comedies of manners, however, may well be those of the French playwright Molière, who satirized the hypocrisy and pretension of ancient régime in such plays as L'École des femmes (The School for Wives, 1662) and Le Misanthrope (The Misanthrope, 1666).

In England, William Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing might be considered the first comedy of manners, but the genre really flourished during the Restoration period. Restoration comedy, which was influenced by Ben Jonson's comedy of humour, made fun of affected wit and acquired follies of the time. The masterpieces of the genre were the plays of William Wycherley The Country Wife (1675); and William Congreve, The Way of the World (1700). In the late 18th century Oliver Goldsmith, ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ (1773); and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, The Rivals (1775; ‘The School for Scandal’, 1777) revived the form.

The tradition of elaborate, artificial plotting and epigrammatic dialogue was carried on by the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde in ‘Lady Windermere's Fan’ (1892) and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ (1895). In the 20th century, the comedy of manners reappeared in the plays of the British dramatists Noel Coward (Hay Fever, 1925) and Somerset Maugham and the novels of P.G. Wodehouse, as well as various British sitcoms. The Carry On films are a direct descendant of the comedy of manners style. Bonamy Dobree points out that in the history of dramatic literature there are some periods which are predominantly comic and some which are definitely tragic. Tragedy generally flourishes when religious, moral, and social values are more or less fixed and positive; and comedy, when they are uncertain and fluid. The ages of Aeschylus, Shakespeare, and Corneille were the periods of the dominance of tragedy, and those of Aristophanes, Jonson, and Moliere that of comedy.

The Restoration comedy of manners was shaped both by native French influences. It drew its main inspiration from the native tradition which had flourished before the closing of the theatres in 1642. In particular it was indebted to Beaumont and Fletcher and to Ben Jonson. It was indebted to continental writers, and especially by Moliere and the Spaiard, Calderon. It reflected closely the dissolute court life of the period, and, between that and the court life of France, there was a community of spirit which led naturally to an interest in French comedy. Moliere gave English dramatists the brilliant ideas of plots and some fine examples of comic characterization. Spanish drama served to strengthen that love of intrigue and incident already firmly established in English comedy.

The new comedy or the Restoration comedy is conspicuous for intellectual and refined tone. It is full of vitality, and moves with great pace. It is devoid of the Romantic exuberance of the romantic comedy. It replaces emotion by wit, and poetry by a clear, concise prose which adds much point and gives a fine precision to the dialogue. We can see fashionable and aristocratic life, with its sophisticated pursuit of sensuous pleasure, provided material in plenty of the authors who came from a variety of backgrounds. The single aim of this comedy is to show the manners of the upper ranks of the contemporary society. They are shown with unemotional candour. The typical comedy of manners satirically presents the typical London society

In the restoration comedy sex is treated with utter frankness and candidness. It’s chief subject is the intimate relations between men and women. It deals somewhat coldly with human love and lust, something cavalierly with the marriage tie. The dramatists of the Restoration period took for the subject the relations between the sexes not only because it lends itself so easily to jest but because at that time it was one of the great importance. Jeremy Collier in his pamphlet, ‘A short view of the immorality and Profaneness of the English stage’ (1698) attacked the dramatists of the Restoration period including Dryden, Wycherley and Congreve, in an uncompromising manner. He condemned the Restoration comedy for immorality. He ignores the very basis of art and endeavors to find out conscious moral meaning in dramatic art.

The characters in Restoration comedies are largely types, whose depositions are sufficiently indicated by a study of their names .Congreve was the first great dramatists of this period to subtilized the “humour” into a person. The restoration dramatists were far realistic. They drew their characters and copied their situation from life that they saw around them, they were much less abstract. They were concerned to bring things to earth, to test them by immediate actuality; they had none of the metaphysical background of the Elizabethans. Their comedies, therefore, is lighter, racier, more spinning, the action is brisker, the working sharper and more epigrammatic.

The restoration dramatists were interested in wit and portrayal of manners, rather than in the movement and the progression of events, and employed a “spatial” rather than a “temporal”. Conflict and intrigues occupy an important place in the plot of the Restoration comedy of manners. Conflicts between the youth and age, between parents and children distinguish these comedies.

Chiefly the Restoration age is associated with the rise and development of what is called "the comedy of manners. "This kind of comedy was indeed a true mirror of the temper and outlook of the society-rather a section of the society-of the age. But it will be a gross error to suppose that the comedy of manners was the only kind of comedy written and appreciated in this age.

The chief practitioners of the comedy of manners were Sir George Etherege (1635-1691) is considered as the first true practitioner of the comedy of manners .His important works include Love in a Tub, She Would lf She Coicd, and The Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter. Etherege himself was a courtier and naturally adept at revealing the manners of courtiers. “His laughter”, says Dobree, "is always that of delight at being very much alive, and is only corrective here and there by accident". His plays established the comedy of manners and paved the way for Congreve. He paints the true picture of the graceful, heartless and licentious upper classes of the period. The prose dialogue is natural and brilliant, and its light, airy grace conceals some deficiency in plot and construction.

Wycherley’s (1640-1715) reputation is based on four plays: Love in a Wood (1671), The Gentleman Dancing-Master (1672), The Country Wife (1675), and The Plain Dealer (1676). The first three of them are after the mould of Etherege. They deal with fops and gallants and seem to revel in their contemptible intrigues. The Country Wife is the most indecent of all.

Sir John Vanbrugh (1661 - 1726) had a varied career, being in turn soldier, herald and architect. His best three of his best Comedies are “The Relapse” (1696), ‘The Provoked Wife (1697) and ‘Confederacy’ (1701).

William Congreve (1670-1729) is the best and the finest writer of the comedy of manners. He wrote all his comedies before he was thirty. Congreve's most important comedies are The Old Bachelor, The Double Dealer, Love for Love, and The Way of the World. In his comedies he creates a world of his own.

George Farquhar (1678-1707), A man of versatile genius, George Farquhar was in turn a clergy man, an actor, and a soldier, and died when he was twenty – nine years old. His plays are love and a Bottle, The Constant Couple, ‘Sir Harry Wildair, ‘The Inconstant’ (1703), The Way to Win him, The Recruiting Officer (1706), and The Beaux’ Stratagem (1707).

From 1700 change began to be discernible in stage productions. It was felt that the appeal of the Restoration comedy of manners was too restricted. The immoral and anti-social influences of these plays were clearly perceived, and the voice of protest was also heard. With the spread of the coffee houses, the more general interest in political and social problems increased and a change in the manners of the court, it became necessary to strike a more human note. Moreover, the novel and the newspaper, potent the rivals of the Drama. Colley Cibber (1671), who wrote about the sixteen plays like The Careless Husband and The Non-Juror, lack in wit and insight, represent the new age.

Late 19th century English man Oliver Goldsmith and Irish play write Richard Brinsley Sheridan revived the form of drama. Oliver Goldsmith in his play “She stoops to Conquer” employs much wit, craft and style in which one mistake feeds on another, and ultimately accumulating in a play of force. “She stoops to Conquer” is after all, a novel of sentimental comedy and also a comedy of manners, which features treatment of social class as one of the main themes. However, not all of the characters play a part in the discrimination or standards of social class.

Sheridan sought to revive the spirit and atmosphere of the comedy of manners, especially those of Congreve. His prose comedy “The Rivals” and his best play “The School For Scandal” are his celebrated comedies. Sheridan’s prose comedies revive the brilliant spirit of the Restoration comedies but without the immorality of the Restoration plays. Sheridan’s two celebrated comedies “The Rivals” (1775) and “The school for Scandal” (1777) are effectively eighteenth century impressions of seventeenth century conduct in short, pastiches. It has been called the best burlesque of the age. They are all style without feeling, in much the same relation to the dramas of the post - Restoration period as the operas of Rossini are to those of Mozart. Sheridan professed to set himself against the sentimentality of late 18th century comedy, and thus his paradise conventional romantic attitudes whilst adopting a style imitative of the drama of the previous century.

After Goldsmith and Sheridan no comedies of any lasting merit were written for the stage until two more dramatists Oscar Wilde and G. B. Shaw revitalized the classic concept of Comedy again in the later part of the 19th century. During the twenties and thirties of the 20th century there was a revival of the comedy of Manners which the Restoration comedy writers like Etherege, Wycherley, Vanbrugh, Farquhar and Congreve had perfected in their times. The 20th century revival of the comedy of the manners is generally free from the taints of obscenity and immorality which had called upon the Restoration comedy the stern voice of condemnation at the hands of writers like Dr. Johnson and Macaulay. The 20th century comedy bears a close relation to the Restoration comedy in its witticism and sparking dialogue.

Among the comedy writers of the 20th century who did yeoman’s service into the revival of comedy, the name of Bernard Shaw is certainly at the top. He was the pioneer in this direction and he sought to invest modern comedy with the same satiric vigour and reformative aim which it had enjoyed at the hands of Ben Jonson during the Elizabethan age. Shaw was considerably influenced by Meredith’s view of the comic spirit, and made his comedies intellectually sharp and witty, aiming all the time at exposure of the evils rampant in our times. Shaw’s comedies inspite of their witticism and humour are serious in tone and are instruments, not much of entertainment, as edification and social reform. Shaw is deadly in earnest in his comedies. He administers sugar coated pills. The readers enjoy the sugar coating lraving the bitter taste of the pills.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was another great comedy writer of our times, and though as witty as Shaw, he did not aim at reform or moral edification through his comedies. He was the main reviver of the comedy of manners, and it was his primary object to provide entertainment and artistic delight to his readers through his comedies. Wilde was an apostle of the theory of Art for art’s sake and was not inspired by Shaw’s crusading enthusiasm to harness art for social regeneration. The main characteristics of Wilde’s comedies are their witticism and sparkling dialogues. Wilde did not care for cogent plots. The plots of his comedies are melodramatic and replete with hackneyed situation. They are banal in their appeal. His characters are also a little more than marionettes. But what makes Wilde’s comedies entertaining and lovable is Wilde’s style; and David Daiches correctly hits the nail when he says that ‘stylization is the very raison deter of Wilde’s plays.’ He brought to the theatre an acute and brilliant wit, while his care for style helped to clear the drama of verbiage and to make its dialogues keen edged and clean cut. Wilde painted the picture of the elegant and refined upper class society in his five famous plays particularly in Lady Windmere’s Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1894), The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) and Salome (1896).

These comedies are comedies of manners in the Sheridan tradition, aristocratic in their outlook, gay and flippant in their and tone, and sparkling and vivacious in their style. Beautiful words and phrases flow out from Wilde’s pen and we hardly bother about the plot or the progress of the story. “Indeed” says Marriot, “in all Wilde’s pen and we hardly bother about the plot or the progress of the story. “Indeed” says Marriot, “in all Wilde’s plays the dialogue frequently puts the story out of mind. We don’t care what happens only if the characters will keep talking.” The comedies of Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham, James Bridie, Fredrick Londadale, Ervine, J. B. Fagan, H. M. Harwood, A. A. Milne are quite delightful. All these dramatists have made notable contribution to the revival of comedy in our times.

Later in the mid 20th century there appeared Comedy Of Menace. “Comedy of menace” is a term used to describe the plays of David Campton, Nigel Dennis, N. F. Simpson, and Harold Pinter by drama critic Irving Wardle, borrowed from the subtitle of Campton's play The Lunatic View: A Comedy of Menace, in reviewing Pinter's and Campton's plays Encore in 1958. Campton's subtitle Comedy of Menace is a jocular play-on-words derived from comedy of manners - menace being manners pronounced with somewhat of a Judeo-English accent.

A comedy menace is a play in which the laughter of the audience in some or all situation is accompanied, or immediately followed, by a feeling of some impending disaster. Throughout such a play, the audience in some threat, explicit or implicit, to the principal character and to the audience itself. In other words, the audience is made aware, in the midst of its laughter, of some menace. The menace proceeds from potential or actual violence in the play or from the underlying sense of violence throughout the play. Or, the menace may proceed from a feeling of uncertainty and insecurity. The audience may be made to feel that the security of the principal character, and even the audience’s own security, is threatened by some danger. The label “a comedy of menace” thus implies the uneasy laughter which comes from nervousness, the laughter by which the audience tries to demonstrate that there is a safe distance between itself and what it seem or hears in the play. Menace feeds on peoples acceptance, no matter how reluctant, of the possibilities of the danger which lurks round the corner, hidden as yet and therefore all the more unnerving. The connection between the characters’ predicament and the audience’s private anxieties must be established strongly, or there will be no menace felt, and no reason for the defensive laughter.

In certain plays like those by Campton & Harold Pinter, for example we can find that it is quite possible for a playwright to create both humor and menace in the same play and even at the same time in the play for instance, a character might joke about a bad situation he finds himself in, while he prepares a gun to deal with his situation – that is an example from one of the comedies of menace. The playwright’s objective in mixing comedy & the threat of menace is to produce certain effects like set up dramatic tension or make the audience think a character is a weasel because they are acting nice or funny, but planning to do something evil or to convey certain social or political ideas for ex., don’t trust lawyers or politicians to the audience. After Wardle’s retraction of comedy of menace as he had applied it to Pinter’s writing, Pinter himself also occasionally disavowed it and questioned its relevance to his work. For example, in December 1971, in his interview with Pinter about Old Times, Mel Gussow recalled that “After The Homecoming Pinter said that he ‘couldn’t any longer stay in the room with this bunch of people who opened doors and came in and went out. Thus as the name indicate we can find terror and humour in the plays. The comedy of menace makes the audience laughter followed by its threats. We can find things like sexual morality came to be examined, and new conclusions, mostly tentative, came to be expressed.