Study Guide

Restoration Drama

Restoration Drama Summary

Overview (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The term “restoration” in Restoration drama refers to the return of the monarchy to England after something more than a decade of Puritan rule. Yet the term might with equal justice be applied to the stage itself, for during the Commonwealth interregnum, Puritan authorities repeatedly endeavored, though with limited success, to banish public performances of plays. From September 2, 1642, when Parliament proclaimed that “while these sad causes and set times of humiliation do continue, public stage-plays shall cease, and be forborne,” until August 21, 1660, when King Charles II granted patents to Thomas Killigrew and Sir William Davenant to establish theaters, drama in England led a precarious existence.

Late seventeenth century British drama enjoyed a restoration in more than a political sense. As the political structure of the country returned to an older form, so, too, the drama, at least initially, looked back to pre-Commonwealth days to find its conventions, plots, characters, and themes. Indeed, in 1660 no new plays were available when the theaters reopened. Furthermore, both Davenant and Killigrew were products of the earlier period, having acted and written during the reign of Charles I, and most of the surviving actors—many had been killed fighting for the king in the Civil War—knew only the older dramatic conventions. During the Restoration period, about 175 pre-Commonwealth plays were revived, and among plays acted frequently over the years, about half date from before 1660.

Over the next forty years, however, English drama took on a voice peculiar to the age. The period’s major contributions were the comedy of manners or wit and the heroic tragedy, both of which emerged rather quickly and endured throughout the era. Alongside these predominant forms, other types of comic and serious plays coexisted on the stage. Among the former were burlesques and farces, political satires, and...

(The entire section is 790 words.)