The Comedy of Manners had its origin in Ben Jonson's Comedy of Humours. Jonson was the follower of the classical ideal of comedy using laughter as a corrective. His characters had a dominant humour of their own and were mostly named after it. This comedy represented not the qualities of an age but of humanity. The Restoration dramatists revived this comedy, representing the qualities of their immediate field. It differed from the earlier species in its lighter treatment of various issues, disregard of morality and realistic portrayal of a particular age. It was called the Comedy of Manners because it did not aim at presenting the human nature but the manners of the particular society. It depicted the manners of the contemporary aristocracy, with their elegance, fashion and vices, pomp and show, polished behaviour, ingenuous intrigues, gallantry, cultivation of wit and brilliant conversation.
Sheridan appeared on the literary horizon at a time when the sentimental comedy had gained ground. The writers of sentimental comedy exhibited tears in place of laughter, distressing situations in place of intrigue and pathetic heroines and serious lovers in place of rogues, gallants and damsels. These dramatists were great moralists and their main purpose was to instruct the theatre-goers instead of entertaining them. That is why their characters were "man as he ought to be, not as they are", with the result that realism was driven out of the comedy. It was against this misnomer of comedy that Goldsmith and Sheridan raised their voice. But Goldsmith was only "an elder, not a better soldier than Sheridan”. Sheridan successfully avoided the "goddess of the woeful countenance" and rehabilitated wit, fun laughter and mild satire to their respectable place in his comedies.
Sheridan presented the fashionable upper class society of Bath in The Rivals. The characters of the play are entangled in amorous intrigues and have nothing more important to do than to...
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