Comedy of Manners in English literature


This genre refers to English Comedies written and performed in the Restoration Period from 1660 A.D. to 1710 A.D. It is an entertainment form which satirizes the manners and affections of social class or of multiple classes. A manner is a method in which everyday duties are performed.

As compared to the tragedy of the Restoration Age, this genre achieved greater distinction and shame. It was the most characteristic product of Restoration Literature & reflects the spirit of the age more comprehensively than its prose and poetry.

Dryden was the first to write Comedy of Manners with his Wild Gallant, which was a failure. He wrote several other Comedies of Manners also which were more successful.

Comedy of Manners Characteristics

  • It depends upon the dramatists’ capacity to present the unemotional treatment of sex.
  • It is rich with wit and satire and gives the image of the time.
  • The heroine is more important and interesting than the hero in the Comedy of Manners
  • Both hero and heroine are well dressed, self-possessed and witty.
  • Whereas throughout its long career, English Tragedy has always accepted foreign influences, English Comedy has been less influenced by them. But Restoration Comedy of Manners took a good deal of continental spirit.
  • The manners which the Comedy of Manners shows were not the manners of all the classes of Restoration Society; they were rather the manners of the upper class only.
  • This genre is characterized by realism (art), social analysis and satire. These comedies held a mirror to the finer society of their age. These comedies are thus true pictures of the noble society of the age.
  • One feature of the Restoration comedy which has been often criticised and almost as often defended is its immorality.
  • This genre held a mirror to the high society of the Restoration Age. The society was immortal and so was its image represented by the comedy.
  • Most comedy writers liked the presentation of scenes and acts of sexual rudeness.
  • The introduction of the actresses for the first time on the stage lowered the morality level. These actresses were mostly women of easy virtue.
  • The writers of the Comedy of Manners gave much more importance to the wit and polish of their dialogues than to their plot-construction; which, in the views of Aristotle, “is the soul of a tragedy and a comedy too.”
  • The dialogue of the Comedy of Manners is witty, polished and crisp.
  • The Way of the World by William Congreve is an example of Comedy of Manners