What are the characteristics of restoration drama?
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Technically and historically, while the Restoration began on Charles II’s return to the English throne in 1660, the “characteristics” of Restoration drama began to appear in the Carolinian dramas before the Interregnum—the “comedy of manners” and “heroic tragedies” pointed toward a changing public sensibility. Two other changes should be noted: increased attention to the commercial, rather than artistic, aspect of making theatre, and the popularization of earlier Elizabethan texts—King Lear, for example, was given a happy ending. Specifically, however, physically, Restoration theatre showed these social changes: theatrical events moved indoors, into horse-shoe shaped theatres with a raked stage, allowing for inclusion of more social classes (servants, for example, were sent to reserve seats for their higher-class employees, but then stayed in the balconies to watch the play); the acting profession allowed female actors (one example of the exiled king’s French influence brought to England). So the theatre experience underwent major changes. With them came dramatic changes—sentiment, farcical treatment of lower-class figures—country bumpkins, aging rakes, the overly thrifty, etc.-- all foreshadowed in late Jacobean and Carolinian drama. Certain subgenres became popular—comedy of manners, in which fops and dandies presided over a heavily structured world of superficial lovers and intrigues—sentimental dramas, in which maudlin scenes tugged at the audience’s heart in superficial ways—heroic tragedies, in which quasi-historic figures came to bad ends in exaggerated ways; the real voice of the age, however, was comedy—the “insider” ridiculing the “outsider.” The secularization and social broadening of the Restoration audience, and drama’s catering commercially to this new mix, brought a scathing condemnation from Colley Cibber in A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698), which ironically now serves scholars as a crisp source of the characteristics of the age. The verse forms and dialogue of Restoration drama also reflected the French theatre’s influence, as did the increased permissiveness and baudiness of the coarser plots.
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