simply, the comedy of manners is a style of comedy that reflects
the life, ideals and manners of upper class society in a way that
is essentially true to its traditions and philosophy. The players
must strive to maintain the mask of social artifice whilst revealing
to the audience what lies behind such manners. In other words it
is to make:
real artificial and the artificial real.
a theatre form, it has transformed over the years.
Restoration period heralded an exciting and boisterous period in
theatre after theatres were closed by the Puritans and Commonwealth
government between 1642 and 1660 (due to Cromwell). Charles 11 was
a fun loving, woman loving and theatre loving king and it was under
his reign that drama flourished once more. Audiences were predominately
from aristocratic backgrounds.
Restoration period was noted for its comedies although more serious
drama was produced by writers such as John Dryden and Thomas Otway.
be witnessed in ancient form in the plays of Menander from the New
Comedy of the Greek theatre in the fourth century BC and then in
the work of Roman writers Plautus and Terence.
English comedy of manners began with Shakespeare's Much Ado About
Nothing and then can be seen at its best in Restoration comedy and
in the work of Wilde, Shaw and Pinero. In more recent times, work
by Coward, Orton and Rattigan encaptured the elements whilst in
more modern day drama, Neil Simon and Edward Albee provide worthwhile
flamboyant display of witty, blunt sexual dialogue
that governed Restoration/Comedy of Manners
in love (especially in marriage) was boring
should be tempting
thrived on variety
sexual feelings had no place on stage
clashed with each other in situations of conflicting love entanglements
life was considered boring
and professional men were treated with indifference or condescension
was in the satiric treatment of those who allowed themselves to
be deceived or who attempted to deceive others
was directed against the fop, the pretender at wit, the old trying
to be young or the old man with a beautiful and youthful wife
and Epilogues were important and plays would often begin or end
with special pieces such as poetry, often delivered in a coarse,
boisterous and hilarious fashion.
Restoration stage was poorly lit due to hooplike chandeliers that
generally obstructed the vision of the audience. Oil lamps and candles
were used until the eighteenth century when Actor-Manager David
Garrick removed the chandeliers and placed them out of sight of
the audience. He also used backlighting to illuminate the stage.
modern day sit-coms some excellent examples of The Comedy of Manners
include the English shows, Keeping up Appearance, Steptoe and Son,
Fawlty Towers (Sybil), Birds of a Feather (Dorian), Men Behaving
Badly, Ab Fab. From the US notable shows include The Odd Couple
Voice and Movement in Restoration Comedy.
was the contemporary dress of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth
centuries where every possible part of the body was adorned - large
brimmed plumed hat, heavy periwig with curls tumbling over the forehead
and down to the shoulders, a square cut coat and a waistcoat hanging
to the knees, wide stiff cuffs and ruffles reaching to the knuckles
and ribbons on every unmarked surface. (Crawford 1976)
wore gowns with bell shaped skirts and sleeves with high mantillas
and veils. Indoors, women were allowed to show their faces, hands,
necks and bosoms, but outside, they wore large hooded cloaks.
time progressed, men showed more of their legs and women's attire
became more clinging and revealing. The men often wore eye patches.
sexes wore excessive make-up, false noses, beards, moustaches, powder,
rouge, pencil, lipstick and beauty patches. Facial expression was
avoided because it tended to crack the facial make-up. (Crawford)
voice was brilliant and brittle, witty in language, often prose
was used, and rapid repartee was the norm. Actors imitated the Parisian
aristocratic style of address with its rich heritage from Moliere.
was used to convey emotional quality to the audience and precise
pronunciation was encouraged. Singing, dancing, posture, gesture
and walking were all taught as special training schools in Britain.
vocal pauses and timing was developed and tempo of delivery was
Restoration comedies were predominately presentational, movement
was focused on entering and exiting through doors. Action took place
mainly downstage on the apron of the stage.
graceful and elegant patterns of movement were encouraged and all
actions should be precise and inventive.
was very important and an entire array of facial grimacing, winking
and smiling was developed.
fop (an effeminate male) was fashionable and also the butt of much
of the sarcastic repartee in the plays. They minced, strutted and
used copious flowing hand gestures and posing. Female actors flirted
over and behind fans, half-masks and handkerchiefs.
and curtsies in the seventeenth century manner were used directed
both at other actors and the audience. When one character passed
another, they would often perform the en passant, a slight bow from
the waist with one foot sweeping in an arc around the other foot
without losing the pace of the walk.
(a mixture of tobacco, herbs and spices and occasionally drugs)
was often used by both men and women on stage.
always kissed a lady's hand when leaving, held their hands away
from their body to emphasise their lace cuffs, handkerchiefs and
waling sticks and canes.
balanced enormous and outlandish hats and carried a muff that was
used not just for warming the hands but also to carry secret objects
such as notes. They walked in a curved, graceful fashion and held
their dresses slightly off the floor.
in Restoration Comedy
often caricatured by their very name and were driven usually by
a single emotional drive such as seduction, lust, greed, lust.
major distinction between characterisation in Restoration comedy
and French Neoclassic comedy is the actor's sense of involvement
with a character. Whereas serious involvement is necessary for playing
most of the major roles in Moliere, in Restoration Comedy, performing
will probably be more successful if a certain level of detached
objectivity is retained. (Crawford, p.234)
the manners of the time were said to be realistically portrayed
on stage, this is not the same meaning as realism on stage as we
now know it. It was indeed, an exaggeration of common traits of
Crawford, J. 1984. Acting in Person and in Style. Dubuque, IA: Wm.
C. Brown Publishers)