The features of comedy of manners with reference to William Congreve
Question: What is comedy of manners? Discuss comedy of manners.
Or, Discuss Restoration drama with reference to comedy and tragedy.
Or, Discuss the features of comedy of manners with reference to William Congreve.
The comedy of manners is a form of comedy that satirizes the manners and affectations of contemporary society and questions social standards. In other words, plays of this type are typically set in the world of the upper class and ridicule the pretensions of those who consider themselves socially superior. With witty dialogue and clever scenarios, comedy of manners comments on the standards and mores of society and explore the relationships of the sexes.
The features of the comedy of manners
Since the comedy of manners is a special type of farce, it has some salient features which are:
- Marriage is a frequent subject.
- Playwrights use stock characters that stand for the fool; the schemer, the hypocrite, the jealous husband, and interfering old parents or guardians.
- Twisted plot.
- Miscommunications and the scandal.
- Witty dialogue based on satire.
According to the critics, the masters of comedy of manners were:
- George Etherege (1635-1692)
- William Wycherley (1640-1716)
- John Vanbrugh (1664-1726)
- William Congreve (1670-1729)
- George Farquhar (1678-1707)
- Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774)
Inaugurator of the comedy of manners
George Etherege wrote a play that was first performed in 1664, ‘‘The Comical Revenge’’. It is asserted that by this play comedy of manners started its jaunt. As the play exposed the satirical presentation with witty dialogue to comment on contemporary society. Besides, the characters created by the playwright became stock characters. So, Etherege was the first master to flourish English theatre after a long pause with the comedy of manners.
The developer of the comedy of manners
William Congreve is the fabulous name who wrote sundry successful and ever classical comedy of manners. He is considered by many critics to have been the greatest wit of the dramatists. According to the 19th century greatest English critic William Hazlitt, Congreve’s dialogue is brilliant, and his style is perfect.
The most prominent comedies of the master are ‘‘The Old Bachelor’’, ‘‘Love for Love’’, and his last comedy ‘‘The Way of the World’’ (1700). The last one is now considered his masterpiece, but it was not successful upon its prier. The comedies of William Congreve fulfil best all the demanded traits of the comedy of manners. We can analyze in a nutshell ‘The Way of the World’’ to prove this.
The subject matter
The subject matter of the play ‘‘The Way of the World’’ is marriage. Although marriage is at its center, the preoccupation or concern is not passionate love. So, the first and foremost feature of the comedy of manners is verified.
The major characters of the play ‘‘The Way of the World’’ help the readers to understand the comedy of manners very well.
Mr. Fainal is the best example of hypocrisy and scandal because he is a married man but preserves an illicit relationship with his mistress. He also tries to get money from his mother-in-law by blackmailing but finally, he fails to reach his goal. So, Mr. Fainal is a schemer and an immoral person.
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Mr. Mirabell is the protagonist of the play who was once a womanizer, but he is now honesty in love with a beautiful Lady Mrs. Millamant. He removes all the darkness of miscommunication and prevents the conspiracy of Mr. Fainal. So, at the same time, Mirabell is a schemer and protector.
Lady Wishfort is a witty and wealthy Old Lady. She is made a fool by Mirabell and Fainal. However, she is the best instance of a stock character. So, Congreve is the master of the comedy of manners.
The Restoration Tragedy is artificial. Its emotions are unreal and it mainly deals with the conflict between love and honor. John Dryden was the principal writer of heroic tragedy. His plays represent superhuman Power and Ideas. Another playwright was Thomas Otway who wrote some plays such as ‘‘Don Carlos’’ and ‘‘The Orphan’’.
The Restoration period (1660-1700) is named after the restoration of the English monarchy as well as drama. As it is well known to all that the English theatres were closed in 1642 by the puritans and opened by Charles II. This age is famous especially for the comedy of manners since this type of drama minutely represented the chaotic lifestyle of the upper-class people.