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17 and 18 Century British Literature

17 and 18 Century British Literature

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Published by: italia69 on Dec 08, 2010
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The drama of sensibility – with sentimental comedy as its
dominant type – emerged as a reaction to the Restoration comedy. It
lacked the latter’s liveliness and brilliance, but it appealed to a wide
middle class public, who demanded models of virtue and decency.
The most representative works of this kind belong to Richard
(The Conscious Lovers, 1722), Oliver Goldsmith (The Good-
Natured Man, 1768; She Stoops to Conquer, or The Mistakes of a
Night, 1773), Richard Cumberland (The Brothers, 1769), and
Richard Brinsely Sheridan (The Rivals, 1775; The School for
Scandal, 1777).

The feeling that some dramatic forms were out of their time and
were maintained artificially led to the emergence of a burlesque* kind
of comedy, which ridiculed them through exaggerated imitation. In
The Rehearsal (1671), for instance, George Villiers, Duke of
Buckingham, satirises heroic tragedy and so does Henry Fielding in
his successful parody The Tragedy of Tragedies; or The Life and
Death of Tom Thumb the Great (1731). John Gay, too, in his satirical
play The Beggar’s Opera (1728), mocks at certain theatrical
conventions. This parodic spirit was not confined to drama: the mock-
heroic style* was also used in poetry (e.g. Alexander Pope) and in
the novel (e.g. Henry Fielding).

Heroic drama

The comedy of

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: intellectual and literary background


Proiectul pentru Învăţământul Rural


What are the main varieties of comedy during the 17th

and 18th
centuries? Mention at least five of them in the space below, together
with their most outstanding representatives.

Compare your answer with the one provided in the section
Solutions and suggestions for SAQs, at the end of the unit. If
there should be major differences between them, revise subchapters
1.4.2. to 1.4.4.

Two moments in the evolution of English drama will be further
detailed in this course: in Unit 2, we shall focus on William
Shakespeare’s later plays, and in Unit 4 you will be acquainted with
more features of Restoration comedy.

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: intellectual and literary background

Proiectul pentru Învăţământul Rural


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