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Comedy of Manners, also known as Restoration Comedy, is a genre of English comedic plays that emerged during the Restoration period (1660-1710) after the end of the Puritan ban on theatre. This genre is celebrated for its witty dialogue, social satire, and exploration of love, marriage, and class in a cynical and sometimes bawdy light.

Comedy of Manners often holds a mirror to society, critiquing the aristocracy while entertaining audiences with its nuanced portrayal of the mores and intricacies of upper-class behaviour. This genre uses satire to expose the social elite’s pretensions, insincerity, and vanity. The Comedy of Manners pokes fun at the importance placed upon wit, reputation, and social standing in high society through exaggerated characters and convoluted romantic entanglements.

The Restoration of Charles II in 1660 marked the end of the strict Puritan Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell and a resurgence of the arts and theatre. The reopening of theatres after the ban fuelled a desire for lighthearted entertainment and social commentary, and new plays were eagerly commissioned and performed. This period saw a flourishing of literature and the arts, influenced by the libertine and hedonistic court of Charles II. The king’s patronage and the influence of French theatre, particularly the comedies of Molière, played a significant role in shaping the Comedy of Manners.


Comedy of Manners is characterised by its witty dialogue, clever repartee, and satirical depiction of the manners and conventions of the upper class. The humour often arises from the clash between social pretensions and underlying truths and the absurdity of social rituals and customs.


Common themes in Comedy of Manners include love, marriage, infidelity, social climbing, and pursuing wealth and status. Plots typically revolve around romantic entanglements, mistaken identities, and social intrigues, often leading to comedic misunderstandings and absurd situations.


Characters in Comedy of Manners are often archetypes of the social elite, such as aristocrats, socialites, and dandies. They are depicted as witty, sophisticated, and well-educated, with a penchant for wordplay and repartee. Despite their outward polish, they are often revealed to be morally flawed or emotionally shallow. The plots revolve around their romantic escapades and the elaborate rules governing social interaction.

Witty and Clever Dialogue

Sharp, clever, witty, fast-paced dialogue is a hallmark of the Comedy of Manners. The wit is mainly aimed at satirising the superficialities and vanities of the upper class. Playwrights employ clever wordplay, double entendres, and irony to convey humour and satire. The dialogue is often characterised by wit, sophistication, and sharp social commentary.


The exchange of verbal barbs and the use of double entendres are standard features.

Satirical Portrayal of Society

These comedies often satirise the manners, fashions, and vices of the aristocratic society of the Restoration period. Playwrights use exaggerated characters and situations to lampoon the vices and follies of the upper class, highlighting the hypocrisy, vanity, and superficiality of social elites. The plays often target the behaviours, customs, and moral shortcomings of the society’s elite, making fun of their pretensions and hypocrisy.

Romantic Intrigues and Sexual Politics

The plots of these comedies often revolve around romantic intrigues, seduction, and the battle of the sexes. Characters engage in flirtation, deception, and schemes to pursue their romantic interests or to outwit their rivals. Sexual politics and the power dynamics between men and women are central themes in these plays. The plotlines frequently revolve around courtship and seduction.

Happy Endings and the Triumph of Wit

Comedy of Manners typically concludes with a happy ending, often featuring the union of the prominent couples and the resolution of the various romantic entanglements. The characters who demonstrate the greatest wit, cleverness, and social adeptness are usually rewarded, while those who are foolish or morally corrupt are exposed and humiliated.

Breaking of the Fourth Wall

Some comedies break the fourth wall, where characters directly address the audience, acknowledging their presence and drawing them into the play’s humour and satirical commentary. This metatheatrical device adds to the playful and self-referential nature of the genre.

Notable Playwrights

Notable playwrights associated with Comedy of Manners include William Congreve, George Etherege, Richard Brinsley Sheridan in England, and Molière in France. 

    • The Way of the World by William Congreve
    • Love for Love by William Congreve
    • The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
    • The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
    • The Man of Mode by George Etherege
    • The Misanthrope by Molière

Comedy of Manners was immensely popular during its time, reflecting the tastes and values of the court and aristocratic society. However, the genre was criticised for its perceived immorality, licentiousness, and frivolity. As social norms and attitudes shifted in the 18th century, the Comedy of Manners gradually fell out of favour, giving way to more sentimental and moralistic forms of theatre. Nonetheless, the wit, satire, and social commentary of Comedy of Manners have left a lasting impact on English literature and continue to be studied and appreciated for their insight into the society and culture of the time.