The Recruiting Officer is classified as a Restoration comedy, but that is something of a misnomer for several reasons. Restoration literature is usually understood to be British literature written between 1660 (the time of Charles II’s ascent to the British throne, which had been vacant since the execution of his father, Charles I, in 1649) and 1700. It is convenient to classify works written in the last forty years of the seventeenth century with the word “Restoration,” but additionally there is something distinctly different about much of the work of that period, particularly in drama. The recognizable characteristics of Restoration literature tend to slip over into the literature of the early eighteenth century. George Farquhar wrote The Recruiting Officer in 1705. He had, however, written plays as early as 1698, so there is some justification in calling him a Restoration playwright.
The play is best understood in comparison with more perfectly exemplary Restoration comedy. A Restoration comedy has a happy ending, usually one in which young men and women come together in matrimony or sincere pledges of marriage. It begins with males and females meeting, circling warily, engaging in the pleasures and pains of courtship (often harassed by concerned parents or social conventions), falling into short-lived quarrels, and finally coming together in mutual love. The Restoration comedy is, in short, something like life.
Restoration comedy also has its own conventions. These conventions arose from the expectations of the Restoration audience, which included the court of Charles II, who had lived in France and developed a taste for the sophisticated, risqué comedies of that country. He and his courtiers were the first patrons, financial supporters, and audience for the revived theater. They liked characters dressed as they were dressed, living in London, and living idealized, happy, upper-class lives. Male actors and, in a great development in English theater, female actors were expected to talk much in the manner of the court and with smart-set arrogance and high wit. Restoration audiences not only wanted the best-looking man to win the prettiest woman but also expected him to be the cleverest man on the stage, since intelligence and...
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