“The comedy of manner andRestoration comedy can redefine literature’s personal and cultural meanings byfocusing attention on how information is created and transmitted, thefundamental dynamic of our current moment of change” (Curtis, 93). Comedythroughout history has been a way for people to come together and laugh at thestupidity of human nature. Laughter and comedy have always been a way to bringpeople together. Even though time changes, laughter does not. This paper will lookat multiple aspects of the restoration area paying specific attention to thatof comedy of manners. Looking at how William Wycherley’s The Country Wiferelates to today’s comedy, while also comparing the relations and changes ofthe stage itself, and lastly how the culture of Restoration England relates tothat of today’s society. Comedy of manners is a “form of comic drama that became popular in thelatter half of the seventeenth century in France and among English playwrightsduring the Restoration.
It emphasizes a cultivated or sophisticated atmosphere,witty dialogue, and characters who concern with social polish is charming,ridiculous or both” (Wilson, Goldfarb, 510). Comedy of manners alsoconcentrates on the conventions of the upper class, relating to aspects of”gossip, adultery, and sexual escapades” (Wilson, Goldfarb, 236). Comedy ofmanners was used to make fun of high society rather than the normal fools thatother playwrights were commonly using. Most of the playwrights at the time wereactually part of this high society which makes it super interesting. Eventhough Wycherley mad fun of these people he was still in fact “a member of thatsociety, participating fully in all the vices and follies that he ridiculed asa dramatist” (Wilson, 236). Unlike earlier playwrights who made fun of theupper class without truly understanding them, Wycherley was actually a part ofthis group bringing a better understanding and truth to these people. This typeof knowledge on a subject can bring more depth and humor to the comedy. SinceWycherley understood this society so well he truly understood the wrongs andflaws that were involved, allowing his comedy to be truly hilarious and real.
This understanding seems to be more successful than just poking fun without anunderstanding. After some in-depth thinking and researching of comedy, thereseem to be many ideas of where comedy started and why it started but an articlewas found with a super intriguing idea that relates to The Country Wife andcomedy today. This article talks about some of the ideas of why the genre of comedyhas been such a success from generation to generation. But the article from TheAtlantic states “You can’t make a joke without inserting a wicked twist, andyou can’t be a comedian without holding a small amount of power, for even ashort period of time, over the audience” also including the famous Mark Twainquote “The secret source of humor itself is not joy, but sorrow. There is nohumor in heaven” (Khazan). Both of these quotes just show that there needs tobe an aspect of darkness to truly allow the comedy and lightness show through.
Wycherley showed the wrongs in his society by poking fun traits of humans thatare not truly laughable or enjoyable. This relates to today’s comedy in thatthere is always some form of darkness involved. For example, in the play StupidFucking Bird by Aaron Posner there are many jokes surrounding politics, sex,racism, xenophobia, and other awful human traits. The character of Conspecifically states “Have you seen the world lately? I mean actually, actuallyseen it? Rampant stupidity. Inconceivable greed. Legitimized fear-mongering andxenophobia” (Posner, 27). But by putting a lighter quality on these subjects itallows the audience to laugh at the joke but be pulled right back to how awfulthese aspects of humans truly are. Wycherley also did this in The Country Wifeand was showing how awful his society was at the time but doing it through thegenre of comedy rather than drama because more people would rather laugh aboutthere issues then truly try to fix them.
The language of The Country Wife isdefinitely a time period piece but the use of comedy is still relatable today. Theatre architecture is often forgotten about when it comes to thetheatre as a whole, many people just go to the theatre to watch plays andmusicals but forget about the stage itself. Throughout theatre history not onlyhave the playwrights and plays gone through changes but space has as well. Therestoration area of theatre was the true start of the inside proscenium archstage, which is normal for most theatre spaces in today’s society. Most peoplethink of a stage space with a proscenium arch but not keen to in the roundstages or the thrust stages. The stage during the restoration seems verysimilar to many theaters to this day. The big difference is in the aspect ofthe raked stage. Which is when the stage is slanted at an angle allowing theaudience to see better.
Most stages and theatre nowadays appear to be more flat(Wilson, 249). What may be found interesting is that it appears that manytheatre companies nowadays are trying to make the theatre space more personaland putting theatre in more unique spaces, allowing the audience to experiencea more intimate event. Studying the The Country Wife can allow the reader to experience andlearn what the people of that time were experiencing. The biggest aspect thatbecame clear was how women were treated. In todays society women have a lotmore independence then back in culture of Restoration England. Women weretreated as prizes and that they were expected to do what the men wanted them todo. In The Country Wife, the character of Margery is controlled by Mr.Pinchwife not being allowed to leave the house or marry who she wants to marry.
What is so interesting about this is Margery does not question her husband shejust goes along with it because that is what is expected of the women of thistime. Bystudying theatre one can learn so much of the culture of that time. How peoplewere viewed and how they viewed others. This paper looked at multiple aspectsof the restoration area paying specific attention to that of comedy of manners.Looking at how William Wycherley’s The Country Wife relates to today’s comedy,while also comparing the relations and changes of the stage itself, and lastlyhow the culture of Restoration England relates to that of today’s society.