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Restoration Period and Drama in England Report (Assessment)

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Introduction

The period of restoration in England not only marked the beginning of the shift in the life of the kingdom in a social and political context, but it also established the beginning of a cultural period that is identically titled. The theatre life in that timeline mostly refer to a series of comedies that were written and performed on stage after they have been reopened in that period. The restored theatres in some substantial features differed from the ones closed by puritans, in which Shakespeare had been staged for the first time. There were other typical innovations, such as the mixture of the audience, as both aristocrats and middle-class were allowed to come and watch the plays, where the popular “scripts were written with up-to-the-minute topical” aim.1 The comedy of the Restoration period was a genuine mirror of the public life of aristocratic England of that time. This comedy set its goals in portraying the life, probably more close to reality. It cannot be said that the types of plays in such satirical works developed from the theatre of the previous time, but rather than in particular way replacing it. In that sense, this comedy marks “rather a revolution than a development in English comedy and that its indebtedness to earlier English comedy is of very slight importance.” 2 The plays were not filled with much dramatic marks, where showing petty vanity and the unbridled lust formed mostly the main content. Cynical frankness of comedies of Restoration was closely connected with their Anti-puritan orientation. The hypocrisy seemed as a unique crime in the eyes of many play writers of Restoration; any defect in their eyes was justified, if it not dressed in a virtuous mask. Derision of the bourgeois family virtues, which were giving up their positions under the pressure of aristocratic libertinism, makes it, especially at the beginning, one of favorite themes of such writers. Nevertheless, despite of the criticism, “the respectability for the restoration comedy appeared in recent years”3, which demanded a review of the comedy of Restoration marking its distinguished features.

Argumentation

Based on Holland (1979), “Restoration comedy emphasized its close connection with its audience – and hence its claim, through its vraisemblance in acting and locale, to comment on its audience’s morals- by placing the action principally on the forestage”4 The issue of morals was a point of discord in studying the comedy of Restoration. For instance the strong persuasion that the Restoration drama is highly influenced by Moliere works, and accordingly following Moliere’s dramaturgic receptions, play writers of Restoration released themselves from any moral obligations, and thus, many critiques denied that the plays had serious content and never approached moral problems. However, “most literary works are committed morally, for good or for evil, because they are inextricably bound up with human decisions and actions – though that is not to say that they must be committed to Christian morality.” 5

Initiators of the drama of that time, also known as “Comedy of manners”, were Etherege, Wycherley, Congreve and Vanbrugh. The term manners itself when interpreted and analyzed was also an issue of discourse, where some might argue that manners is a term that is now differently interpreted than it was in the seventeenth century. For instance, Fujimura argues that “the whole conception of ‘manners’ comedy must be regarded as a modern interpretation which is sound neither critically nor historically”6 Palmer, a critic of manners comedy, stated that the comedy of manners is an artificial comedy of two stereotypes-people of true wit and perfect fashion, and people who “merely ape the smartness of the time”, where as stated by Lynch, “In opposition of these two types the most striking effects in the comedy of Etherege, Wycherley, and Congreve are attained”7 In representing the comedy as artificial, argues Fujimura, is attempted by “neglecting entirely such elements as the malice of the raillery passages, the sexual wit, the skepticism, and the coarsely realistic scenes involving people like Gripe, Dufoy, and the Widow Blackacre.” 8 In describing the works of Etherege, the aforementioned Palmer asserted that his comedies were products of age for which life was taken uncritically for granted.9 However, the works of Etherege and their importance in expressing the Restoration ‘comic spirit’ are now generally recognized. The period of producing the master pieces of Etherege and Wycherley is the twelve years from 1664 to 1676, however, despite the vagueness in chronology of comedies of manners, Etherege could be considered as the founder of such comedy. His comedies such as “She would if She could” and “The Man of Mode”, shine with such brilliant dialogues which was later perfected by other writers. As an example, the play “She would if She could”, Etherege, as suggested by Holland, used the identical set in most of the stage scenes to show the similarity of his characters.10

Wycherley differed from his predecessors in that they uncovered the characters, their behaviour and defects with an indulgent smile. In their bright, naturalistic comedies there was no satirical note. Wycherley represented the modern life with same cynical frankness, as well as others, but in his portrayal, the satire sometimes was clearly heard.

Congreve, on the other hand, was perfectly able to observe the life and unlike Etherege and Wycherley did not obediently follow the facts, but placed them under his creative will. Therefore, his comedies did not suffer to such extent from naturalism, as Restoration comedies. Congreve’s comedies were written skillfully. Intrigues, situations, dialogue – all of which were brilliant. The action is developed naturally and convincingly, cheerfully and easy. But the main difference of Congreve’s comedies from the comedies of his predecessors is that he draws a life realistically and his characters are live people. Names of some of them remain till now nominal, an example of which could be considered Mrs. Millament and her admirer Mirabelle in the play “The way of the Life”, where they were examples of Truwits.11 Congreve not only sees through the characters and concerns them satirically; he was already building the plays so that the reader and the spectator perceive them as comedies of manners dictated by certain outlooks on life.

Analysis

Analyzing the two famous satirical dramas of the Restoration time, “The Country Wife” and “The Plain Dealer”, it could be assumed that they are true reflections of the Restoration time as they mock the society through the witty content. As for the Country Wife by William Wycherley, it was written in 1675, reflecting the anti-puritan, aristocratic ideology of the time and is believed to belong to the tolerant period of the Restoration time. The Plain Dealer, as well as The Country Wife was based on Moliere’s work12, where the first one was based on “Le Misanthrope”13, and was performed in 1676 being put on the same rate along with the latter. In The Country Wife there were three plots involved, but the main presented set was of the young man who pretended to be impotent, in order to tempt the wives of the gawks who had believed him. The play represents forms of wit comedy, where the Horner-Lady Fidget story being the wittiest and at the same time considered difficult to understand because of “Horner’s pretense of being impotent”.14 The Pinchwife story is another plot which expresses, in a satirical way, the views that should form the marriage, such as equality and being free of jealousy. It could be sensed that throughout the play the social messages, were veiled with the kind of satire to deliver Wycherley’s witty ideas where the unpleasant features of society were ridiculed and the pleasant praised. Horner as character is representing Wycherley’s naturalistic views, and the play is a statement of the characteristics of Truwit’s attitude toward life.15

In Plain Dealer, which could be considered as the best comedy in Wycherley’s works, despite being based on “Le Misanthrope”, the inspiration was limited to the external frame of the play. The severe Moliere’s protest against the modern society had disappeared to make a room for the cynical image of deliberately rough customs and traditions in the society. The characters in The Plain Dealer were lacking the delicacy and sensuality of the French original and at the same time distanced from the wit ideals presented in Etherege’s works.16 The play although filled with obscenities is bearing an idea which in delivered through the character of Manly as a satire of the mankind. As a contrast to The Country Wife, Manly unlike Horner is deficient in wit, and thus becomes the object of ridicule. However, at the end the message of Wycherley becomes apparent as the object of ridicule is his extreme misanthropy, proving that “he is not beyond redemption as a Truwit”17

Comparing the two plays from the satirical wit point of view, in The Country Wife, there are many examples of irony and a biting kind of wit. Examples are shown in Horner playing with Jasper about his wife carrying him home a “pair of horns” and Horner’s retort to Pinchwife – “Why, wert thou not well cured of thy clap?”18 Wycherley even makes cynical remarks of wit in the character of the witty-wannabe – Sparkish.19 The Plain Dealer, in that sense, is more distinguished by “satirical vigor and forceful characterization” and as Palmer regarded it “a furious satire on mankind”20 However, in terms of comic wit, The Plain Dealer is lackluster, where even Manly, one of the play’s protagonists, is more sarcastic than witty.

In terms of humor, Wycherley’s works in general were characterized as showing greater extremes of folly and stupidity, although showing greater diversity in characters, comparing to Etherege’s works. In that sense, Wycherley’s satire can be regarded as unorthodox. That puts Wycherley, somewhere in the middle, between fierce satire and pure Puritanism.21

Despite, the humor and irony presented in both plays, they nevertheless approach social themes by criticizing them. In The Country Wife, the faithfulness of Alithea when she has fallen in love with Harcourt, but nevertheless refused to betray Sparkish is at the same time a satire of stubbornness and an outline of the marriage without love dilemma.22 Horner himself, despite his wittiness, showing his criticism of “preciseness” and hypocrisy, can reveal signs of decency, such as shielding Margery when his friends suddenly arrived.23 The Plain Dealer is likewise speaks out “against hypocrisy and the false honor of ‘precise’ ladies”24, from which it can be assumed that Wycherley had a great disgust of this social phenomena and at the same time was criticized for “repetitiousness and his constant harping on a few themes”25.

Conclusion

The objectivity of literary criticism can be put in doubt when the works are measured through modern standards, rather than through a thorough consideration of an epoch as a whole. In that sense, the works related to Restoration drama and specifically Wycherley’s, were judged through two different perspectives. To that matter, Wycherley’s works should be analyzed as the concept of manners which has different interpretations through different times. Taking in consideration the fact that the theatres were reopened to different social classes, the means of ridiculing, exaggerating, cynically satirizing could be considered as certain forms of social expression that should be interpreted within its specific timeline. Finally, as it was previously noted, the presence of morality and amorality cannot be measured base on certain scales of religious nature, but rather measured based on the way it should be dealt with.

References

  1. Brown, J. R., & Harris, B. (Eds.). (1965). Restoration theatre. New York: Stratford-upon-Avon studies 6
  2. Fujimura, T. H. (1952). The Restoration comedy of wit. Princeton,: Princeton University Press.
  3. Holland, P. (1979). The ornament of action : text and performance in Restoration comedy. Cambridge [Eng.] ; New York: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Lynch, K. M. (1926). The social mode of Restoration comedy. New York, London,: The Macmillan Company; Macmillan & Company, limited.
  5. Miner, E. R. (1966). Restoration Dramatists: A Collection of Critical Essays: Prentice-Hall.

Footnotes

  1. (Miner, 1966, p. 24)
  2. Lynch, 1926, p. 1)
  3. (Fujimura, 1952, p. 3)
  4. (Holland, 1979, p. 29)
  5. (Fujimura, 1952, p. 4)
  6. (Fujimura, 1952, p. 7)
  7. (Lynch, 1926, p. 6)
  8. (Fujimura, 1952, p. 8)
  9. (Lynch, 1926, p. 6)
  10. (Holland, 1979, p. 52)
  11. (Fujimura, 1952, p. 9)
  12. (Lynch, 1926, p. 167)
  13. (Brown & Harris, 1965, p. 81)
  14. (Brown & Harris, 1965, p. 139)
  15. (Brown & Harris, 1965, p. 145)
  16. (Brown & Harris, 1965, p. 81)
  17. (Brown & Harris, 1965, pp. 148-149)
  18. (Brown & Harris, 1965, p. 142)
  19. (Brown & Harris, 1965, p. 142)
  20. (Brown & Harris, 1965, p. 146)
  21. (Brown & Harris, 1965, p. 155)
  22. (Brown & Harris, 1965, pp. 77-78)
  23. (Brown & Harris, 1965, p. 140)
  24. (Brown & Harris, 1965, p. 147)
  25. (Brown & Harris, 1965, p. 153)
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