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(17) Eighteenth-Century Drama

Sentimental Comedy

- replaces the Restoration comedy of manners

- deals with high moral sentiments, makes the goodness triumph over vice, and moves the audience to tears rather than laughter

Sir Richard Steele (1672 - 1729)

> The Conscious Lovers (1722):

- features a man who would rather accept dishonour than to fight a duel with a friend

- contributed to the vogue for sentimental comedy throughout the later 18th century

Joseph Addison (1672 - 1719)

> Cato (1713):

- a rather unexceptional and unemotional tragedy dealing with a Roman republican who determines to commit suicide rather than submit to the tyranny of the victorious Caesar

- the presented sentiment assured the popularity of the play with those Whigs who sought historic justification for the Glorious Revolution

Satirical Comedy

- some playwrights resisted the taste for sentimental comedy and turned to writing cynical comedies instead

John Gay (1685 - 1732)

- together with Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and John Arbuthnot founded the Scriblerus Club, a group of mostly Tory writers famous for their literary satires and practical jokes meant to debunk pretensions and false tastes

> The Beggar's Opera (1728):

- a so-called 'Newgate Pastoral', a play which pokes fun at people and events appearing in the news of the time and gives a worldly and cynical message, seasoned with wit, on the state of society

- most obviously targets at the fashionable artificial and costly performances of the Italian opera, turns the music over to beggars, thieves, and whores, and gives them popular British tunes to sing instead of showy foreign arias

- exposes the corrupt legal system which at the time rewarded criminals for informing on less powerful felons

- superimposes the underworld criminals on heads of state, especially the prime minister Robert Walpole

- shows the faithful picture of a society driven by greed, where everything, including justice and love, is for sale

- inspired Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera, which adapts the story to the conditions of Germany in the 1920s

> Polly (1729): a sequel of The Beggar's Opera, banned from the stage by Walpole and appeared only in print

Henry Fielding (1707 - 1754)

- started as a playwright, but his last play, a political satire, provoked Walpole's government into passing a Licensing Act which which introduced official censorship and restricted London performances to two theatres only

- his experience as a playwright is projected also in his novels in their grasp of idiomatic speech and dialogue, their understanding of the patterning of incident, and their feeling for well-establishment denouement

> Love in Several Masques (1728)

> The Author's Farce (1730): a sharp comedy satirically depicting the world of hacks and booksellers

> Rape upon Rape; or, the Justice Caught in his own Trap (1730): a comedy

> Tom Thumb: A Tragedy (1730, revised as The Tragedy of Tragedies, 1731): a burlesque playing with the effects of parody, literary allusion, irregular blank verse, and the mannerism of academic editing

> The Mock Doctor (1732) and The Miser (1733): adaptations from Moliere

> Pasquin (1736) and The Historical Register for 1736 (1737): political satires, banned from the stage

Comedy of Manners

- newly refines the pleasures in the devices, the amatory intrigues, and the exposures of the Restoration comedy

Oliver Goldsmith (c. 1730 - 1774)

- an Irish novelist, poet, and playwright

- author of hearty and mirthful comedies unspoilt by the then fashionable sentimentality of the moment

> "Essay on the Theatre" (1773):

- draws a clear distinction between a 'laughing' and a 'sentimental' comedy, the former being a satirical laughing away of faults, the latter an emotional stimulus to sympathetic tears

- prefers to use the unsentimental 'laughing' comedy in his own plays

> The Good-Natured Man (1768):

- exposes the social shortcomings of a too generous nature possessed by its protagonist

- cures the generously credulous man by the devices of his sensible uncle

> She Stoops to Conquer, or the Mistakes of a Night (1773):

- brings the 'bashful and reserved' protagonist out of himself by the 'stooping' of a resourceful young woman

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751 - 1816)

- an Irish playwright, author of comedies full of action, confusion, and verbal wit

> The Rivals (1775):

- draws on the conventions of the Restoration comedy in featuring a booby squire and a whimsical father who requires absolute obedience

- confronts the authority of an older generation with the success of the stratagems of its young lovers

> St Patrick's Day (1775): a farce

> The Duenna (1775): a comic opera

> The Trip to Scarborough (1777):

- refashions John Vanbrugh's The Relapse (1696), purging its indecorous expression and ambiguous motivation

> A School for Scandal (1777):

- a moral fable about two brothers, a sentimental and hypocritical villain, and a virtuous and generous libertine

- exposes in a witty way the surfaces, affectations, prejudices, and the petty hypocrisies which form the 'scandal'

> The Critic: or, A Tragedy Rehearsed (1779):

- a clever burlesque on the problem of producing a play and a satirical defence of the author's own art against hacks

- includes a satire on the sentimental comedy writer Richard Cumberland (1732 - 1811), here Sir Fretwell Plagiary

Základní údaje

  • Předmět

    Britská literatura 3.
  • Semestr

    Zimní semestr 2008/09.
  • Přednášející

    Ema Jelínková.
  • Status

    Povinná přednáška pro III. blok.


Abrams, M. H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1999.

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.


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