Comedy of manners


Comedy of manners

The comedy of manners is a genre of play/television/film which satirizes the manners and affectations of a social class, often represented by stock characters, such as the miles gloriosus in ancient times, the fop and the rake during the Restoration, or an old person pretending to be young. The plot of the comedy, often concerned with scandal, is generally less important than its witty dialogue. A great writer of comedies of manners was Oscar Wilde, his most famous play being The Importance of Being Earnest.

The comedy of manners was first developed in the new comedy of the Ancient Greek playwright Menander. His style, elaborate plots, and stock characters were imitated by the Roman playwrights Plautus and Terence, whose comedies were widely known and copied during the Renaissance. The best-known comedies of manners, however, may well be those of the French playwright Molière, who satirized the hypocrisy and pretension of the ancien régime in such plays as L'École des femmes (The School for Wives, 1662), Le Misanthrope (The Misanthrope, 1666), and most famously Tartuffe (1664).

Modern television sitcoms that use the mockumentary format, such as The Office and Modern Family, use slightly altered forms of the comedy of manners to represent the daily and work lives of average people.

Contents

English drama

In England, William Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing might be considered the first comedy of manners, but the genre really flourished during the Restoration period. Restoration comedy, which was influenced by Ben Jonson's comedy of humours, made fun of affected wit and acquired follies of the time. The masterpieces of the genre were the plays of William Wycherley (The Country Wife, 1675) and William Congreve (The Way of the World, 1700). In the late 18th century Oliver Goldsmith (She Stoops to Conquer, 1773) and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (The Rivals, 1775; The School for Scandal, 1777) revived the form.

The tradition of elaborate, artificial plotting and epigrammatic dialogue was carried on by the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde in Lady Windermere's Fan (1892) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). In the 20th century, the comedy of manners reappeared in the plays of the British dramatists Noel Coward (Hay Fever, 1925) and Somerset Maugham and the novels of P.G. Wodehouse, as well as various British sitcoms. The Carry On films are a direct descendant of the comedy of manners style.

Twentieth-century examples

The term comedy of menace, which British drama critic Irving Wardle based on the subtitle of The Lunatic View: A Comedy of Menace (1958), by David Campton, is a jocular play-on-words derived from the "comedy of manners" (menace being manners pronounced with somewhat of a Judeo-English accent).[1] Pinter's play The Homecoming has been described as a mid-twentieth-century "comedy of manners".[1]

In Boston Marriage (1999), David Mamet chronicles a sexual relationship between two women, one of whom has her eye on yet another young woman (who never appears, but who is the target of a seduction scheme). Periodically, the two women make their serving woman the butt of haughty jokes, serving to point up the satire on class. Though displaying the verbal dexterity one associates with both the playwright and the genre, the patina of wit occasionally erupts into shocking crudity.

Other contemporary examples include Douglas Carter Beane's As Bees in Honey Drown, The Country Club and The Little Dog Laughed.

Notes

  1. ^ a b Susan Hollis Merritt, Pinter in Play: Critical Strategies and the Plays of Harold Pinter (Durham & London, 1990: Duke UP, 1995) 5, 9–10, 225–28, 240.

References


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • comedy of manners — comedy that satirically portrays the manners and fashions of a particular class or set * * * noun, pl comedies of manners [count] : a humorous play, movie, novel, etc., about the way a particular group of people behave * * * ˌcomedy of ˈmanners 7 …   Useful english dictionary

  • comedy of manners — n. a type of comedy depicting and satirizing the manners and customs of fashionable society: see also HIGH COMEDY …   English World dictionary

  • Comedy of Manners —   [ kɔmɪdɪ ɔv mænəz] die, , Komödientyp der englischen Restaurationszeit (17. Jahrhundert), in dem zeitgenössischen Sitten (»manners«) und Anschauungen satirisch überzeichnet dargestellt werden; die C. of M. steht damit in der Tradition des… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • comedy of manners — plural comedies of manners n a play, film, or television programme that shows how silly people s behaviour is or can be …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • comedy of manners — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms comedy of manners : singular comedy of manners plural comedies of manners a play, film, television programme etc that shows the behaviour of people belonging to a particular social class in a humorous way …   English dictionary

  • Comedy of Manners — Co|me|dy of Man|ners [ əv mænəz] die; <aus engl. comedy of manners »Sittenkomödie«> ein beliebter Komödientyp der engl. Restaurationszeit im 17. Jh …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

  • comedy of manners — comedy that ridicules through the use of satire the manners and behaviours of a certain class of society …   English contemporary dictionary

  • comedy of manners — a comedy satirizing the manners and customs of a social class, esp. one dealing with the amorous intrigues of fashionable society. [1815 25] * * * Witty, ironic form of drama that satirizes the manners and fashions of a particular social class or …   Universalium

  • comedy of manners — Date: 1822 comedy that satirically portrays the manners and fashions of a particular class or set …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • comedy of manners — (Roget s IV) n. Syn. light social satire, high comedy, play; see drama 1 , parody . Famous comedies of manners include Goldsmith: She Stoops to Conquer; Sheridan: School for Scandal, The Rivals; Vanbrugh: The Relapse, The Provok d Wife; Farquhar …   English dictionary for students


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