George Etherege Analysis

Other Literary Forms

In addition to his drama, Sir George Etherege wrote poetry, collected and published posthumously in Poems (1963). His correspondence is collected in The Letterbook of Sir George Etherege (1928) and Letters of Sir George Etherege (1973).

Achievements

In the amazingly vital and varied drama that developed, flourished, and faded in London within a few decades after the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, the most important type was the so-called comedy of manners. The comedy of manners was characterized by strong contemporary realism, by resolution of the main plot in marriage, and by pairs of characters arranged in a hierarchy of wit, from the most witty down to the most foolish. In the Restoration drama, wit is determined in part by the ability of individuals to get their own way and in part by their social grace, best exemplified in the witty (meaning comic, ingenious, and psychologically astute) verbal duels with which the plays abound. It was Sir George Etherege’s achievement to develop and define this distinctive Restoration form in The Comical Revenge and She Would if She Could and to bring it to full maturity in The Man of Mode.

Other literary forms

Sir George Etherege (EHTH-uh-rihj) is primarily known not for his poetry but for his plays. He wrote three comedies, all typical representatives of the risqué wit of Restoration comedy. His first comedy, The Comical Revenge: Or, Love in a Tub (pr., pb. 1644), however, tended to rely more heavily on farce and burlesque than on wit for its comic effect. His second comedy, She Would if She Could, followed in 1668. The play which firmly established Etherege’s reputation, The Man of Mode: Or, Sir Fopling Flutter, appeared in 1676. The play’s characters, particularly the rake Dorimant, the comic lover Sir Fopling Flutter, and the witty Harriet, are among the most memorable in Restoration comedy.

Achievements

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Sir George Etherege’s reputation as an accomplished dramatist is, without question, secure. In modern times, however, his poetry has been little noticed. This lack of recognition is puzzling in view of the fact that in his own age Etherege’s poetry enjoyed a great deal of popularity. Many of his short lyrics were set to music by the best composers of the time, notably Henry Purcell. James Thorpe, Etherege’s modern editor, points out that his poems can be found in fifty contemporary manuscripts and in 150 printed books. In his own time, Etherege was considered as accomplished a poet as the earls of Dorset and Buckingham and Thomas Sedley, Etherege’s best friend, all of whom are much more frequently anthologized. His “soft lampoons,” as one fellow poet expressed it, were “the best of any man.” He was noted especially for his concise expression and confident control of metaphor, and for these reasons, he clearly deserves the attention of the modern reader.

Critics often speak of a particular writer as “a man of his times,” and this epithet certainly applies to Etherege. His poems can be best understood and appreciated by viewing them as near-perfect reflections of the age in which he was writing. Restoration tastes, recorded so vividly in the drama of the period, emphasized wit, elegance, and sophistication, qualities which characterize Etherege’s poems. If one had to characterize Etherege’s poems in one word, the best choice would be “effortless.” Like so many of his Restoration contemporaries, particularly his friend Sedley, Etherege mastered an art of stylish ease and naturalness. There are no jagged edges to his poetry, no profound explorations of troublesome personal questions. Instead, the reader encounters traditional, familiar themes, graced by a polished elegance.

Bibliography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Boswell, Eleanore. “Sir George Etherege.” The Review of English Studies: A Quarterly Journal of English Literature and the English Language 7 (1931): 207-209. Offers some new information on Etherege’s life, particularly during his diplomatic stay at Ratisbon.

Dobree, Bonamy. “His Excellency Sir George Etherege.” In Essays in Biography, 1680-1726. 1925. Reprint. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1967. In 1685 Etherege went to Ratisbon, in Bavaria, as James II’s envoy, and three years later he left for Paris after the accession of William and Mary. Dobree does not discuss the plays but provides an amusing account of Etherege’s licentious behavior and the eventual diminishment of his powers.

Etherege, George, Sir. The Poems of Sir George Etherege. Edited by James Thorpe. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963. This collection is included in secondary sources because the preface by James Thorpe provides some useful insights into Etherege’s poetry. Notes that in his own time, Etherege was a poet of consequence, his poems being frequently copied. Thorpe remarks that although Etherege chose conventional themes, he nevertheless gave an edge to them in his poems.

Gill, Pat. Interpreting Ladies: Women, Wit, and Morality in the Restoration Comedy of Manners. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995. This study of women in Restoration comedies examines Etherege’s The Man of Mode as well as works by...

(The entire section is 656 words.)