Comedy of Manners

The comedy of manners is an entertainment form which satirizes the manners and affectations of a social class or of multiple classes, often represented by stereotypical stock characters. For example, the miles gloriosus (“boastful soldier”) in ancient times, the fop and the rake during the Restoration, or an old person pretending to be young. Restoration comedy is used as a synonym for “comedy of manners”. The plot of the comedy, often concerned with scandal, is generally less important than its witty dialogue. A great writer of comedies of manners was Oscar Wilde, his most famous play being The Importance of Being Earnest.

The comedy of manners was first developed in the new comedy of the Ancient Greek playwright Menander. His style, elaborate plots, and stock characters were imitated by the Roman playwrights Plautus and Terence, whose comedies were widely known and copied during the Renaissance. The best-known comedies of manners, however, may well be those of the French playwright Molière, who satirized the hypocrisy and pretension of the ancien régime in such plays as L’École des femmes (The School for Wives, 1662), Le Misanthrope (The Misanthrope, 1666), and most famously Tartuffe (1664).

Australian Catholic University Excellent webpage outlining the major characteristics of the Comedy of Manners – character, costume etc.

Cambridge History of English and American Literature Brief entry on William Congreve and the Comedy of Manners.

Dallas Baptist University Useful explanation of Comedy of Manners.

Dramatica Chart displaying various modes of dramatic expression, including Comedy of Manners.

Northern University Excellent FAQ on Restoration Drama and the Comedy of Manners.

OneLook Various dictionary definitions for Comedy of Manners.

The Drama Teacher Overview of Comedy of Manners at Justin Cash’s Drama teacher resource website.

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