Restoration comedy: the comedy of mannersThe abolition of Puritan inspired laws lead to a more decadent artistic and cultural climate for the upper classes. Theatres were reopened in 1660 and there began a new type of theatre which was much lighter in tone than much of the drama of the Renaissance .The emphasis moved from tragedy to sophisticated social comedy ,or the comedy of Manners, as it became known as it was characterised by exaggerations of the manners, modes and moral of upper-class society.
Among the most important European influences were the French comedies of Molière (1622-73) whose "Les Precieuses Ridicules"(1659), a satire upon an excessively fashionable and sophisticated circle in Paris,is considered the beginning of the Comedy of Manners tradition. Restoration comedies were also influenced by Italian "Commedia dell’arte" ,a type of popular comedy featuring absurd characters which developed in Italy in the 16th century, and by the Spanish playwright "Calderon de la barca"(1600-81).
A remarkable difference to Reinassance drama was the type of audience the comedy of manners was addressed to. While Shakespeare’s plays in particular were intended to please people from all social classes and education, Restoration plays were generally restricted to people of fashion and refinement from the upper classes. With emphasis on wit or quick humour and elegance of speech, Restoration comedy was inevitably more superficial, although the finest examples of the genre are able to show the human situation under the mask of sophistication.
In general, the aesthetic values of the Restoration were in marked contrast to the austerity of Puritanism. Both men and women began to cultivate their appearance and took to wearing elaborate wigs and clothes. Those who had the means lived a life of luxury and leisure. Pastimes included casual adultery, gambling and fighting duels. All of this was reflected in the tone and subject matter of the plays produced at this time. Another difference to Renaissance theatre regarded the numerous changes in stage design and in the acting profession itself. After 1660 the original Elizabethan theatre disappeared and was replaced by a style which moved progressively in the direction of theatre design as we know it today. Theatre now were roofed ,had painted sets and began to develop more sophisticated ways of stage lighting. More over, woman actors were employed, replacing the boys who used to take women’s roles during shakespeare’s time.