Comedy of manners

The comedy of manners also called anti sentimental comedy is a form of comedy that satirizes the manners and affectations of contemporary society and questions societal standards. Social class stereotypes are often represented through stock characters such as the miles gloriosus ("boastful soldier") in ancient Greek comedy or the fop and rake of English Restoration comedy, which is sometimes used as a synonym for "comedy of manners".[1] A comedy of manners often sacrifices the plot, which usually centers on some scandal, to witty dialogue and sharp social commentary. Oscar Wilde's play, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), which satirized the Victorian morality of the time, is one of the best-known plays of this genre.

The comedy of manners was first developed in the New Comedy period of ancient Greek comedy and is known today primarily from fragments of writings by the Greek playwright Menander. Menander's style, elaborate plots, and stock characters were imitated by the ancient Roman playwrights, such as Plautus and Terence, whose comedies were in turn widely known and reproduced during the Renaissance. Some of the best-known comedies of manners are those by the 17th-century French playwright Molière, who satirized the hypocrisy and pretension of the ancien régime in plays such as L'École des femmes ([The School for Wives], 1662), Tartuffe ([The Imposter], 1664), and Le Misanthrope ([The Misanthrope], 1666).

Early examples

The comedy of manners has been employed by Roman satirists since as early as the first century BC. Horace's Satire 1.9 is a prominent example, in which the persona is unable to express his wish for his companion to leave, but instead subtly implies so through wit.

William Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing might be considered the first comedy of manners In England, but the genre really flourished during the Restoration period. Restoration comedy, which was influenced by Ben Jonson's comedy of humours, made fun of affected wit and acquired follies of the time. The masterpieces of the genre were the plays of William Wycherley (The Country Wife, 1675) and William Congreve (The Way of the World, 1700). In the late 18th century Oliver Goldsmith (She Stoops to Conquer, 1773) and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (The Rivals, 1775; The School for Scandal, 1777) revived the form.

More recent examples

The tradition of elaborate, artificial plotting, and epigrammatic dialogue was carried on by the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde in Lady Windermere's Fan (1892) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). In the 20th century, the comedy of manners reappeared in the plays of the British dramatists Noël Coward (Hay Fever, 1925) and Somerset Maugham. Other early twentieth-century examples of comedies of manners include George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion (later adapted into the musical My Fair Lady), E. M. Forster's A Room with a View, and the Jeeves and Wooster stories of P. G. Wodehouse.

The term comedy of menace, which British drama critic Irving Wardle based on the subtitle of The Lunatic View: A Comedy of Menace (1958), by David Campton, is a jocular play-on-words derived from the "comedy of manners" (menace being manners pronounced with a somewhat Judeo-English accent).[2] Pinter's play The Homecoming has been described as a mid-twentieth-century "comedy of manners".[2]

Other more recent examples include Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, Barbara Pym's Excellent Women, Douglas Carter Beane's As Bees in Honey Drown, The Country Club, and The Little Dog Laughed. In Boston Marriage (1999), David Mamet chronicles a sexual relationship between two women, one of whom has her eye on yet another young woman (who never appears, but who is the target of a seduction scheme). Periodically, the two women make their serving woman the butt of haughty jokes, serving to point up the satire on class. Though displaying the verbal dexterity one associates with both the playwright and the genre, the patina of wit occasionally erupts into shocking crudity.

Comedies of manners have been a staple of British film and television. The Carry On films are a direct descendant of the comedy of manners style, and elements of the style can be found in The Beatles' films A Hard Day's Night and Help!. Television series by David Croft in collaboration with Jimmy Perry and later with Jeremy Lloyd are also notable examples of the genre. These notably include You Rang, M'Lord?, Dad's Army, It Ain't Half Hot Mum, and Are You Being Served?. Television series such as George and Mildred, Absolutely Fabulous, The Young Ones, and The League of Gentlemen also contain many elements of the genre. Though less common as a genre in American television, series such as Ugly Betty, Soap, and The Nanny are also comedies of manners.


  1. ^ George Henry Nettleton, Arthur British dramatists from Dryden to Sheridan p.149
  2. ^ a b Susan Hollis Merritt, Pinter in Play: Critical Strategies and the Plays of Harold Pinter (Durham & London, 1990: Duke UP, 1995) 5, 9–10, 225–28, 240.

External links

AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs

Part of the AFI 100 Years… series, AFI's 100 Years…100 Laughs is a list of the top 100 funniest movies in American cinema. A wide variety of comedies were nominated for the distinction that included slapstick comedy, action comedy, screwball comedy, romantic comedy, satire, black comedy, musical comedy, comedy of manners, and comedy of errors. The list was unveiled by the American Film Institute on June 13, 2000.

Cary Grant has the most appearances on the list, with eight films.

Business is business

Business is business (French: Les affaires sont les affaires) is a French comedy in three acts, by the novelist and playwright Octave Mirbeau, performed in April 1903 on the stage of Comédie-Française, in Paris, and worldwide acclaimed, especially in Russia, Germany and United States.An English-language adaption by Sydney Grundy was produced in London in 1905. An English translation, by Richard Hands, has been published by Intellect Books : Two Plays: "Business is Business" and "Charity", January 2012, 147 pages (ISBN 9781841504865).

Canaries Sometimes Sing

Canaries Sometimes Sing is a 1931 British romantic comedy film, directed by Tom Walls. The film is a four-hander, starring Walls, Cathleen Nesbitt, Athole Stewart and Yvonne Arnaud. It is a screen version of the witty and sophisticated comedy of manners play of the same title by Frederick Lonsdale, which had been a big critical and popular success when premiered at London's Globe Theatre in 1929, with Stewart and Arnaud cast in the roles which they would recreate in the film. A surviving review of the film notes favourably: "Glittering, superficial, but very skilful...superbly played."

Comedy (drama)

A comedy is entertainment consisting of jokes intended to make an audience laugh. For ancient Greeks and Romans a comedy was a stage-play with a happy ending. In the Middle Ages, the term expanded to include narrative poems with happy endings and a lighter tone. In this sense Dante used the term in the title of his poem, the Divine Comedy (Italian: Divina Commedia).

The phenomena connected with laughter and that which provokes it has been carefully investigated by psychologists and agreed upon the predominating characteristics are incongruity or contrast in the object, and shock or emotional seizure on the part of the subject. It has also been held that the feeling of superiority is an essential factor: thus Thomas Hobbes speaks of laughter as a "sudden glory." Modern investigators have paid much attention to the origin both of laughter and of smiling, as well as the development of the "play instinct" and its emotional expression.

Much comedy contains variations on the elements of surprise, incongruity, conflict, repetitiveness, and the effect of opposite expectations, but there are many recognized genres of comedy. Satire and political satire use ironic comedy used to portray persons or social institutions as ridiculous or corrupt, thus alienating their audience from the object of humor.Parody borrows the form of some popular genre, artwork, or text but uses certain ironic changes to critique that form from within (though not necessarily in a condemning way). Screwball comedy derives its humor largely from bizarre, surprising (and improbable) situations or characters. Black comedy is defined by dark humor that makes light of so-called dark or evil elements in human nature. Similarly scatological humor, sexual humor, and race humor create comedy by violating social conventions or taboos in comedic ways.

A comedy of manners typically takes as its subject a particular part of society (usually upper class society) and uses humor to parody or satirize the behavior and mannerisms of its members. Romantic comedy is a popular genre that depicts burgeoning romance in humorous terms, and focuses on the foibles of those who are falling in love.

Fantasy of manners

The fantasy of manners is a subgenre of fantasy literature that also partakes of the nature of a comedy of manners (though it is not necessarily humorous). Such works generally take place in an urban setting and within the confines of a fairly elaborate, and almost always hierarchical, social structure. The term was first used in print by science fiction critic Donald G. Keller in an article, The Manner of Fantasy, in the April, 1991 issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction; author Ellen Kushner has said that she suggested the term to Keller. The subgenre, or a close relative to it, has also been called mannerpunk, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction.

Foxy Festival

Foxy Festival (Hangul: 페스티발; RR: Peseutibal; "Festival") is a 2010 South Korean film with an all-star ensemble cast. It is a character-driven comedy of manners about the discreet sexual lives of a group of interconnected people in an upper-middle class district of Seoul.

França Júnior

Joaquim José da França Júnior (March 18, 1838 – November 27, 1890) was a Brazilian playwright, journalist and, initially, a painter. Alongside Martins Pena, he is one of the most famous adepts of the "comedy of manners" genre.

He is patron of the 12th chair of the Brazilian Academy of Letters.

Les Précieuses ridicules

Les Précieuses ridicules (French pronunciation: ​[le pʁesjøz ʁidikyl], The Ridiculous Précieuses or The Affected Ladies) is a one-act satire by Molière in prose. It takes aim at the précieuses, the ultra-witty ladies who indulged in lively conversations, word games and, in a word, préciosité (preciousness).

Les Précieuses ridicules is a biting comedy of manners that brought Molière and his company to the attention of Parisians, after they had toured the provinces for years. The play received its Paris premiere on 18 November 1659 at the Théâtre du Petit-Bourbon. It seems not to have been staged before that in the provinces. It was highly successful and attracted the patronage of Louis XIV to Molière and company. Les Précieuses ridicules still plays well today.

Martins Pena

Luís Carlos Martins Pena (November 5, 1815 – December 7, 1848) was a Brazilian playwright, famous for introducing to Brazil the "comedy of manners", winning the epithet of "the Brazilian Molière".

He is patron of the 29th chair of the Brazilian Academy of Letters.

N. P. Chellappan Nair

N. P. Chellappan Nair (1903 - 1972) was a playwright and short story writer from Kerala, India. He concentrated on social comedy of manners. Of his 200 stories, thirty-one have been published in a separate volume. He received the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for Drama in 1961 for the play Iblisukalude Naattil.N. P. lived in Mavelikkara.

She Stoops to Conquer

She Stoops to Conquer is a comedy by the Irish author Oliver Goldsmith, first performed in London in 1773. The play is a favourite for study by English literature and theatre classes in the English-speaking world. It is one of the few plays from the 18th century to have retained its appeal and is regularly performed. The play has been adapted into a film several times, including in 1914 and 1923.

Initially the play was titled Mistakes of a Night and the events within the play take place in one long night. In 1778, John O'Keeffe wrote a loose sequel, Tony Lumpkin in Town.

The Circle (play)

The Circle: a Comedy in Three Acts is a play by W. Somerset Maugham that premiered at Haymarket, London on 3 March 1921, with a cast including Fay Compton, Allan Aynesworth and Ernest Thesiger. It is a comedy of manners that has been described as "a rewrite of Lady Windermere's Fan a quarter of a century later in a post World War I atmosphere."

The Clandestine Marriage

The Clandestine Marriage is a comedy by George Colman the Elder and David Garrick, first performed in 1766 at Drury Lane. It is both a comedy of manners and a comedy of errors.

The Cocktail Hour

The Cocktail Hour is a comedy of manners by A. R. Gurney. It premiered in June 1988 in San Diego, California at the Old Globe Theatre and, on October 20, 1988, in New York City at the Off Broadway Promenade Theatre. Like many of Gurney’s plays, The Cocktail Hour is a comedy exploring the world of upper-class families in the Northeastern United States. A review in The New York Times described it as "an examination of an overprivileged family that fights domestic battles while downing drinks."

The Fox and the Lion

The Fox and the Lion is one of Aesop's Fables and represents a comedy of manners. It is number 10 in the Perry Index.

The Importance of Being Earnest (2002 film)

The Importance of Being Earnest is a 2002 British-American romantic comedy-drama film directed by Oliver Parker, based on Oscar Wilde's classic comedy of manners The Importance of Being Earnest. The original music score is composed by Charlie Mole. The film grossed $8.4 million in North America.

The Rivals

The Rivals is a comedy of manners by Richard Brinsley Sheridan in five acts which was first performed at Covent Garden Theatre on 17 January 1775. The story has been updated in numerous adaptions, including a 1935 musical in London and a 1958 episode of the television series Maverick, with attribution.

The Women (play)

The Women is a 1936 American play, a comedy of manners by Clare Boothe Luce. It is billed as a commentary on the pampered lives and power struggles of various wealthy Manhattan socialites and up-and-comers and the gossip that propels and damages their relationships. While men frequently are the subject of their lively discussions and play an important role in the action on-stage, they are strictly characters mentioned but never seen.

The original Broadway production, directed by Robert B. Sinclair, opened on December 26, 1936, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, where it ran for 657 performances with an all-female cast that included Margalo Gillmore, Ilka Chase, Betty Lawford, Jessie Busley, Phyllis Povah, Marjorie Main, and Arlene Francis.

William Congreve

William Congreve (24 January 1670 – 19 January 1729) was an English playwright and poet of the Restoration period. He is known for his clever, satirical dialogue and influence on the comedy of manners style of that period. He was also a minor political figure in the British Whig Party.

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