The origin of this kind of play can be traced back to the Greek playwright Menander and to the Latin adaptations of his plays by the Roman playwrights Plautus and Terence. Their comedies generally had complicated love stories, cases of mistaken identity and scenes when true identities were revealed. They also presented the customs of the upper classes of the time. These Greek and Latin plays influenced English drama of the Restoration period. At that time Charles II reopened the theatres of England following their closure by Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans for moral reasons.
In 1660 Charles comes back after a period of time in France bringing with him all the had seen in France, the place of superficiality. He bring also fashion, all the atmosphere of Paris in London. Drama become the expression of a new feeling of freedom. Also the structure of the theatre change and with it, the relationship between the actors and the audience. The theatre gowers were mainly from the elite. In a society based on image, going to the theatre become an elegance.
In this comedy of manners nobody was no more interested in histories, but the content was taken from society: marriage was the main concern. There is a fusion between the concept of life and theatre. The play is showed as real life.
Usually there were stereotyped characters to express a special kind of behavior. They usually had names that rappresent their situation in society, like Mirabell and Millamant. The most important were rappresented as the witty couple which was at the centre. To be wit means to have an attitude toward life in a sinical way and it is related to the use of language: only the true wits had a detachment from their emotions and the could control all th situations. On the other and the witlesses were people who could only be submitted, used like accessories and the wit woulds, people who wanted to be wit but couldn't.
In The importance of being Earnest, Wilde very skilfully combines high comedy with farce, and creates the perfect example of the comedy of manners. He ridicules the Puritan ideas of earnestness and sincerity. He laughs at the manners, morals and social hypocrisy of the Victorian Age.