What is Comedy of Manners | The Way of the World as a Comedy of Manners.

The Way of the World as a Comedy of Manners

Comedy of Manners

Restoration Comedy mainly deals with the upper classes of society. There are some specific places where the scenes are planted. Such places are: St. James’s Park, Hyde Park, Westminster’s Hall etc. where people discuss fashions and manners prevalent in high and sophisticated society. The main theme of the comedies of this age was love (illicit or genuine), marriage and money. These matters were not condemned, instead they served as a pastime and source of entertainment for the people. The plots of Restoration Comedy were very intricate and complicated, and baffled its readers. Wit and humour always played an important role and maintained the interest of readers.

Lack of Morals in Characters

Characters in the comedies of the Restoration age were much criticised for their immorality. Jeremy Colliere condemned these plays on the basis of their lack of moral and human values. This immorality was in fact a reaction to the puritan world view which prescribed all kinds of entertainment, and prescribed a disciplined, religious life. So, after the Restoration, libertinism and licentiousness became the order of the day as a consequence of the sudden freedom from all restraints.

Weakness of Plot

As far as the plots of Restoration comedy is concerned, it has been neglected by the playwrights. Plot, as a whole, was not so important. Scenes and events in the Comedy of Manners were much more vital and delightful than the entire plot. Plot were so bewildering and intricate that readers of these comedies often found themselves in a maze. In this context, we can take the example of Congreve’s The Way of the World in which plot is so complex that until Act-IV, readers are not able to understand the situation. Although, ultimately, everybody feels satisfied because we see that the play ends in a happy note, with callous people failing in their evil designs and the good people triumphant over the bad.

Wit, as a Dominant Factor

Almost all the characters in Restoration Comedy display wit in their conversation. The dramatists of this age gave a lot of importance to wit and humour.. It was the backbone of the characters of Restoration Comedies. Because of this quality the comedies of this age were more lively than that of Elizabethan period. Although it is true that these witty dialogues lack depth of feeling and emotions, it cannot be denied that they help sustain the reader’s interest. But truly speaking, these witty elements sometimes produce the harsh reality of the time. In Proviso scene, we notice that Mirabell has satirised the vices and follies, prevalent among the women of Restoration Age. But behind that light-hearted banter, there is also a note of seriousness. We are made aware of the gravity of the situation, especially when little follies and foibles, and affectations are stretched too far–as in when a pregnant woman wears tight dresses to show her good figure, without any care for the child who is inside her womb. Witwould has been portrayed as a false wit and fop but in the course of the play we see that he presents himself as an intelligent person on the basis of his sensible and logical statements. In Act-III, while talking to Millamant he says, “how an illiterate man dares to make love”. Further while telling Millamant about his friendship with Petulant he says that although occasionally they contradict each other but in fact they are good friends.

Serious Aspect of Restoration Comedy

Critics are of different opinion about the serious aspect of Restoration Comedy. Some of them think that these comedies are only a satirical description of its age. We notice that Congreve, in The Way of the World, ridicules the follies prevalent in his contemporary society. But besides this, it also appears that he may have some serious purpose behind it. He has exposed the unconventional and immoral practices which were prevalent among men and women of that society. Particularly, in the Proviso scene, Mirabell ridicules the fashionable trend of women in Restoration Society.

According to some other critics like. Bateson, and L.C. Knight, the writers of Comedy of Manners have a rational attitude towards love and sex. These writers have satirised the conventional attitude in order to create a comic effect.

In this context, we can cite the example of the Proviso scene between Millamant and Mirabell in which sex has been treated in an intelligent manner.

True Meaning of Marriage and Love

The most salient feature of Restoration Comedies is its treatment of marriage and sexual behaviour. When we go through the Bargaining scene between Millamant and Mirabell it becomes clear to all of us that woman is not a slave after her marriage. She is as strong as her husband. A man cannot dominate in his married life on the basis of his masculinity. Congreve, through his characters, has shown that women inevitably emerge as the loser in a marriage. Through Mirabell and Millamant, he puts forth his definition of an ideal marriage, which is of the kind in which neither of the partner will exert disproportionate and undue claims over the other. Congreve maintains that marriage is a kind of compromise between men and women. Both of them are expected to play an important role and they must have a feeling of respect for each other. Entertaining Aspect of Restoration Comedy

Restoration Comedies, are primarily, known for their entertaining qualities. If we are ready to forget moral and human values for a shortwhile, Restoration Comedies can be quite entertaining. For example in The Way of the World, we see that Lady Wishfort is a great source of entertainment for the readers when she exhibits her eccentric nature. She wants to depict herself like. a teenaged girl when she prepares herself to receive Sir Rowland. She is not satisfied with her make-up and tries to appear very young, although she is about fifty-five. This situation is very amusing for readers because they know the reality of Sir Rowland, who is actually the servant of Mirabell. Similarly, conversations between Witwoud and Petulant contain sufficient materials for amusement. Commenting on the purpose of Restoration Comedy, Dryden has maintained that writers of this age have displayed splendid quality of wit; the prime purpose being to entertain the readers. And the Restoration Comedy is successful in its purpose.

In fact, Comedy of Manners received both praise and condemnation alike. As mentioned earlier critics are divided on this issue Some of them have praised it but there are a number of critics who have condemned it because of its immoral attitude Those critics who were orthodox in their approach, criticized it bitterly but critics with liberal temperament treated it in a different way. These kinds of comedies have been criticised by the critics, because of their lack of depth and emotions. Love has been presented in a cheap manner. The elements of selfishness and licentiousness in love has been widely highlighted in such comedies.

The characters in such sort of comedies have been portrayed brilliantly. Restoration Comedies are devoid of emotion but it is very sophisticated in its presentation. Wit and humour are the special features of these comedies.

Restoration Comedy mainly, contains an urban and high polished social atmosphere. Actually, such kind of comedies present a society in its whole. These are not concerned with any individual.

As far as the differences between Comedy of Manners and the Comedy of Humour is concerned, it is mainly in its stagecraft. Prima facie, both these comedies are similar in nature but Comedy of Manner doesn’t give much attention to moral value. Another difference between these two comedies is related to its subject matter. Comedy of Manners portrays the superficial aspect of a man or woman but Comedy of Humour deals with the inner traits of an individual.

The most remarkable characteristic of Restoration Comedy is its dialogues. In Restoration Comedy, dialogues appear to be highly satirical and critical, and expose the follies of the people.

Archer, a critic of Restoration Comedy has criticised it on the ground of its exclusiveness. He is of the view that such comedies are very much confined in its approach.

The most interesting criticism of Restoration Comedy has been done by Leight Hunt. He very interestingly comments that in Restoration Comedies, we could see an assembling of stone-hearted and selfish ladies and gentlemen of high society, who are moving here and there, exchanging witty dialogues and fabricating conspira cies against one another.” But, in fact, Restoration Comedy can be regarded as a reflection of its contemporary society; which was full of immoral practices.

because we notice that it is a direct reflection of the age in which To conclude it can easily be maintained that Restoration Comedy is valuable work of art from the historical point of view; it has been written.

As far as William Congreve is concerned, he is undoubtedly, Superb. His style of writing Comedy of Manners is exclusive and that is why Dryden has many things to say in his praise. His comic characters appear real and make us thoughtful. Particularly, Congreve is excellent in his portrayal of his women characters in The Way of the World. His women characters are lively and bold; and typical women of the Restoration Age. Although Etherege and Wycherley are other writers who are considered to be noteworthy names in writers of Restoration comedy; but Congreve stands out as the greatest master of the art of Comedy of Manners. Congreve is simply unparalleled in the Portrayal of Restoration Society.

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