What is comedy of manners?
A comedy of manners, sometimes known as a Restoration comedy, was a dramatic form that satirised period social manners, particularly those of the upper class. Horace’s Satires, written circa 35 BCE, and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, written in 1598, are regarded as early examples of the comedy of manners genre. However, the genre flourished during the English Restoration period, which lasted from approximately 1660 until 1710. The Country Wife by William Wycherley, The Way of the World by William Congreve, and Molière’s The School for Wives, The Misanthrope, and Tartuffe are the most notable examples of that era’s comedy of manners plays.
Comedy of manners is frequently situated in elite upper-class settings, such as stylish residences and private clubs. They feature stereotypes, including the fop (a foolish man obsessed with fashion), elegant young females, and older people striving to recover their youth. These plays are frequently about love and adultery and feature elements such as gossip, eavesdropping, and planning. Often, the conversation is witty and ironic.
A comedy of manners is intended to depict the typical upper-class dynamics while also revealing what lurks under the surface. It makes the “fake” appear real by demonstrating how what appears real is actually phoney. The goal of the comedy of manners is to expose the rich’s superficiality to the general population. It demonstrates how they attempt to portray themselves as the ideal of virtuosity and righteousness in order to, ostensibly, set an example for those who are less fortunate. Meanwhile, havoc reigns behind closed doors, ranging from depravity to immorality, deception, and betrayal.
The writers in the restoration theatre have displayed the ‘manners’ and ‘morals’ of the higher class aristocratic fashionable society’s ways of life, but not those of the lower or middle classes. The Restoration comedy of manners’ themes are love, marriage, adulterous relationships, amours, and legacy conflicts; and the characters often feature would-be wits, jealous spouses, devious rivals, and foppish dandies. It “relies on the wit and sparkle of the dialogue—often in the form of repartee, a witty conversational give-and-take which constitutes a kind of verbal fencing match” for hilarious impact.
Characteristics of Comedy of Manners
✒️ Scenes in gathering places for the upper classes (such as fine homes and exclusive clubs).
✒️ The appeal of the comedy of manners is to the intelligence of the audience/reader and not the emotion.
✒️ Stock characters such as fops, country bumpkins, elegant young ladies, and older persons attempting to recapture their youth.
✒️ The presence of at least one pair of very intelligent young lovers.
✒️ Gossips and Romantic intrigues.
✒️ Schemers hatching plots against their enemies.
✒️ Eavesdropping (A character in a closet, behind a curtain, or in another room overhears information that could embarrass or incriminate someone.)
✒️ Scandal or the threat of scandal.
✒️ Witty dialogues and conversations. But the wit is often contrived and artificial.
✒️ The women in these plays were very emancipated and bold and intelligent, unlike the heroines of the Sentimental dramas.
✒️ The institution of marriage was always held to ridicule. Both husband and wife openly expressed their dissatisfaction with their spouses.
✒️ These plays were meant the refined and elegant audience of London and hence the characters belong to upper-class London society.
✒️ These plays portrayed the lifestyle of the rich London society realistically in a mildly satirical way.