The Funeral Essay - Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

Richard Steele

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

THE FUNERAL opens on a scene with all the hallmarks of high Restoration comedy: two gentlemen discourse with an undertaker on the economics of grief, while the playwright applies numerous satirical needles to the balloons of hypocrisy and social pretension. But the courtier audience of the reign of Charles II would not have been satisfied for long with Steele’s wit or his dramatic concerns. This is post-Jeremy Collier drama; written only twenty-five years after Etherege’s MAN OF MODE, it seems closer in spirit to the good-natured comedy of Goldsmith, well over half a century later.

To be sure, many features of the older comedy remain. As Steele points out in his preface, his purpose is to level ridicule “at a set of people who live in impatient hopes to see us out of the world.” There is considerable witty exposure of the topsy-turvy values of wives, undertakers, and lawyers, whose fortunes and happiness are made by the deaths of their spouses or clients. Some of the Restoration types strut pompously across the stage, such as the female fop, Mademoiselle Epingle, who affects a French accent to make herself more genteel; and the battle of the sexes continues with the women, as usual, winning through their wiles and “affections” over the “brutal power” of the men.

But the future co-founder (with Joseph Addison) of the TATLER and the SPECTATOR has new concerns; he has already begun his attempt...

(The entire section is 557 words.)