Restoration drama and Comedy of Manners
During the Puritan Age the theatres had been shut down. With the Restoration of the Monarchy and the reaction against Puritan morals, in 1660 theatres were made legal again and characterized by innovations. For example, actresses were playing female roles and together with the actors they were employed by the theatre no more through cooperative sharing bonds but by contract so that they became professionals. The theatres were roofed, the light was artificially provided by candles and there were footlights, the stage was characterized by a drop curtain and movable scenery. Differently from the Elizabethan Age, the audience did not belong to all classes, but to the nobility and going to the theatre became an occasion to meeting people and feeling fashionable.
The Restoration drama found its best expression in the “Comedy of Manners” which purpose was to strike laughter by making fun of the manners and absurdities of society. The new type of male character was the “fop” who was elegant and witty but also cynical and was opposed to the “gallant” or “fortunate lover”. The characters belonged to the upper classes and this type of drama was addressed to a learned audience who could appreciate its formal and intellectual language. This kind of drama also offered a realistic picture of life; the sceneries were made so as to give the impression of small and familiar contemporary situations, the recurrent situations of the pursuit of sex and money and the use of disguise and of prose dialogues were giving the main realistic elements of the comedy. All these characteristics make evident the contrast of this new type of drama with the previous heroic drama. The “irony” or the art of saying the opposite of what is actually meant was the most important technique of the comedy.
The most important playwrights of this period were George Etherege, William Wycherley, William Congreve and John Dryden. Foreign influences came from the French Molière and the Spanish Calderon.