The Gentleman Dancing-Master Essay - Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

William Wycherley

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

To the modern reader Restoration comedies sometimes seem like snowflakes: each one is different, but viewed from a distance, they are difficult to tell apart. There are a limited and recurring number of types to act their parts (the witty heroine, the dashing hero, the Frenchified fop, and the obstinate parent), and a limited and recurring number of dramatic jobs to be done (expose affectation and folly, distinguish true love from lust or powerplays, and restore the natural order of things). The trick is to devise and expertly complicate fresh situations through which these conventional elements are driven to their inevitable conclusion. In the fiercely competitive world of Restoration theater, wit and novelty are the chief qualities which distinguish the efforts of a master craftsman like Wycherley from those of his competitors.

THE GENTLEMAN DANCING MASTER is not one of Wycherley’s best plays, but it has sufficient wit and novelty to be worth reading today. Its strength lies not in its strained plot, at once hectic and thin, but in Wycherley’s sharp characterizations, especially of the ludicrously affected Monsieur de Paris, and the sprightly and resourceful Hippolita who, despite her mask of innocence and simplicity, knows exactly what she wants and how she intends to get it. Paris and Don Diego (James Formal) form a perfect dramatic opposition: the precious pseudo-Frenchman and the stiff, gullible pseudo-Spaniard; and the scene in which...

(The entire section is 581 words.)