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comedy of manners

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A kind of comedy representing the complex and sophisticated code of behaviour current in fashionable circles of society, where appearances count for more than true moral character. Its plot usually revolves around intrigues of lust and greed, the self-interested cynicism of the characters being masked by decorous pretence. Unlike satire, the comedy of manners tends to reward its cleverly unscrupulous characters rather than punish their immorality. Its humour relies chiefly upon elegant verbal wit and repartee. In England, the comedy of manners flourished as the dominant form of Restoration comedy in the works of Sir George Etherege, William Wycherley (notably The Country Wife, 1675), and William Congreve; it was revived in a more subdued form in the 1770s by Goldsmith and Sheridan, and later by Oscar Wilde. Modern examples of the comedy of manners include Noël Coward's Design for Living (1932) and Joe Orton's Loot (1965). For a fuller account, consult David L. Hirst, Comedy of Manners (1979).

Subjects: Literature

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