comedy of manners



  • A form of sophisticated comedy, usually set among the fashionableupper classes, in which the characters' machinations are veiled bytheir elegant manners and elaborate repartee. The genre can be tracedback to the Greek New Comedy but in its modern form was essentiallycreated by Molière in such plays as Les Précieusesridicules (1658) and Le Médecin malgré lui(1666).

    In England the genre flowered after the Restoration, followingthe success of George Etherege's The Comical Revenge; or, Lovein a Tub (1664). English examples include Wycherley's TheGentleman Dancing-Master (1671), Vanbrugh's The Provok'dWife (1697), Congreve's The Way of the World (1700),Farquhar's The Beaux' Stratagem (1707), Goldsmith's SheStoops to Conquer (1773), and Sheridan's The School for Scandal(1777). In the last, Lady Teazle berates her husband for denying her"little elegant expenses":

    LADY TEAZLE For my part, I should think you wouldlike to have your wife thought a woman of taste.
    SIR PETER Aye - there again - taste! Zounds! madam,you had no taste when you married me!
    LADY TEAZLE That's very true, indeed, Sir Peter...

    The elegant wit of the comedy of manners was revived in thelate 19th century by Oscar Wilde in such plays as Lady Windermere'sFan (1892) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).In the 20th century some of the plays of Noël Coward, such asPrivate Lives (1930), belong to this genre.