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MonkeyNotes-The Way of the World by William Congreve
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By the time the theaters re-opened in 1660, comedy had broken
with the romanticism in which it was steeped in Shakespeare. It
had also broken with the verse tradition and showed its realistic
tendency by the constant use of prose. Restoration comedy
found its models in the native tradition of the satirical plays of
Beaumont and Fletcher and Ben Jonson’s ‘comedy of humors’.
There was also the French influence of Molière, who taught the
Restoration dramatists the art of throwing individual characters
into relief through dialogue and also supplied them with
numerous Themes and plots. The Restoration comedy acquired a
liveliness and zest of its own. It rejected the coarse realism and
‘humors’ of Johnson in favor of wit and a representation of the
‘manners’ of men. It was satirical without being didactic
because it was rarely inspired by the desire to correct; the
aristocratic audience did not wish to be criticized for its follies
and vices. Its sole aim, therefore, was to entertain. Dryden, who
knew the temper of the age well, aptly commented that the
"chief end" of comedy was "divertisement and delight."

The Restoration comedy of manners does not reflect the real life
of the fashionable society but the essence of its spirit. The most
common Themes concern marriage, sex, cuckoldry, and getting
the better of others. Most of the plays represent the attempts of a
male character to acquire a wife. As a result, most of these
comedies are peopled with fops, fools, gallants, a couple of
witty gentlemen and ladies, the antagonistic parent figure, the
hypocrite, the cuckolded husband, the forsaken mistress, the
romantic older woman, country bumpkins, whores, servants,
and scheming maids. While the chief protagonists have true wit,
most of the characters have false or pretentious wit, adding to
the humor.

There has been much critical disagreement over whether this
comedy was artificial or realistic. In fact, it was both. It was
artificial in the sense that it made great use of traditional
theatrical methods, such as caricature and excessive
exaggeration, often resulting in farce. It was realistic at the same
time because it was filled with lively sketches of certain aspects
of contemporary Restoration life.

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MonkeyNotes-The Way of the World by William Congreve

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