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Restoration comedy


Restoration comedy refers to English comedies written and performed in the Restoration period from 1660 to 1710. Comedy of manners is used as a synonym of Restoration comedy. After public stage performances had been banned for 18 years by the Puritan regime, the re-opening of the theatres in 1660 signalled a renaissance of English drama. Restoration comedy is notorious for its sexual explicitness, a quality encouraged by Charles II (1660–1685) personally and by the rakish ethos of his court. The socially diverse audiences included both aristocrats, their servants and hangers-on, and a substantial middle-class segment. These playgoers were attracted to the comedies by up-to-the-minute topical writing, by crowded and bustling plots, by the introduction of the first professional actresses, and by the rise of the first celebrity actors. This period saw the first professional female playwright, Aphra Behn.

Charles II was an active and interested patron of the drama. Soon after his restoration, in 1660, he granted exclusive play-staging rights, so-called Royal patents, to the King's Company and the Duke's Company, led by two middle-aged Caroline playwrights, Thomas Killigrew and William Davenant. The patentees scrambled for performance rights to the previous generation's Jacobean and Caroline plays, which were the first necessity for economic survival before any new plays existed. Their next priority was to build new, splendid patent theatres in Drury Lane and Dorset Gardens, respectively. Striving to outdo each other in magnificence, Killigrew and Davenant ended up with quite similar theatres, both designed by Christopher Wren, both optimally provided for music and dancing, and both fitted with moveable scenery and elaborate machines for thunder, lightning, and waves.



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