The Commedy of Manners
The way of the world: William Congreve
This comedy is the best and the most representative of the age’s tastes: it reflects the court’s vision of life, lack of ideals and the dissoluteness of the upper classes. Like most restoration comedies it’s centred on the relationship between the two sexes. The real passion isn’t a romantic love but sensual attraction, vanity and social reputation.
The content of the play
The plot is very complicated and it’s speaks about two young people: Millamant a beautiful, intelligent and fashonable lady ( her name means a thousand lovers) and Mirabell who is the perfect rake: cynical a great frequenter of coffee-houses and women.( his name means the adorer of beauty). They fall in love with each other but their union is opposed by Lady Wishfort, millamant’s aunt, who is infatuated with the youn rake. In the end the two lovers manege to marry, thanks to a well-contrived trick.
A perfect marriage contract: focus on the text
In this passage Millamant and Mirabell are discussing the conditions for their future marriage. Their dialogue is an excellent example of restoration wit and elegance. Everything underline the resistence between Mirabell and Millamant because both of them are decided. Their passion is real but neither of them wants to lose his/her rights and freedom. The marriage contract that they draw up serves to define the nature of a love relationship in which neither party totally submits itself to the other.
The writer William Congreve
He born in a well-to-do family and he went to London to study law but soon he began to write for the theatre and he had an immediate success as the most promising young writer of the day. His comedies( such as old bachelor, love for love) are derived from comic tradition that goes back to latin models (plautus). He wrote his masterpiece, the wy of the world, at the end of the restoration. The plot is typical of restoration comedy: marriage as social contract, conflict between sensuality and respectabily, parody and critique of fashonable society. Its central theme is the difficulty of arranging the marriage of two lovers ( millamant e mirabell). This work is a portrait of a society that only believes in self-interest, reputation and money.
The comic, realistic( particularly in the dialogues) and sentimental elements are perfectly combined to underline the complexity and ambiguities of all human relations.
Theatres were closed during Puritan period. When they re-opened, during the restoration, it was with a new type of play and changed conditions of performance. The new indoor theatres were much smaller than the old elizabethan ones; morevoer they didn’t have a platform but there was a picture frame stage, and perspective sceneries usable for different plays. There was also artificial lighting and actors came on stage through side entrance and not through the door at the back of the stage. All these innovation are still used today.
Heroic plays and tragedies
Heroic plays were very popular and everithing about them was heroic. There was no mixing of comic scene with the tragic as in Shakespeare. The classical unities were observed. As in Elizabethan drama, restoration heroic plays and tragedies were written in blank verse. The best representative was sir Dryden who was influenced by contemporary french drama with soft colours, elegant words and polished images as in all european courts. His plays included songs that were set to music by the best composer of the day, sir Purcell.
Restoration comedy was above all a comedy of manners that is a parody and critique of fashonable society. The plays were generally set in London, in aristocratic homes, or coffee-houses, the favourite meeting places of the high society. Their maon theme was le relationship between the two sexes. Love was mainly described ad a sentimental war; marriage was usually seen an a means of making rich social alliances. The best representative was William Congreve whose masterpiece was the way of the world.