Further Critical Evaluation of the Work
Otway is best known as the author of VENICE PRESERVED, a steamy tragedy of romance and politics that, despite its defects, stands head-and-shoulders above the mediocre tragic output of the Restoration period (Dryden’s work excepted). As a writer of comedy, however, Otway is considerably outclassed by such contemporaries as Etherege, Wycherley, and Congreve. Lacking their elegance, subtleties of tone, and rapier wit, Otway takes refuge in broad and often coarse effects. His talent is for low comedy, comedy of situation, not comedy of manners or of character. He focuses on the underside of life, rather than on its falsely glittering surface. Unfortunately, such comedy is difficult to appreciate on the printed page; the success of a farcical work like THE SOLDIER’S FORTUNE depends largely on the skill of the principal comic actors, those playing Sir Jolly Jumble and Sir Davy Dunce.
This is not to say that Otway’s comedy is entirely lacking in wit: there is, for example, the long dialogue between Courtine and Sylvia who discuss their future marriage entirely in agricultural imagery with such statements as: “you shall promise to keep the estate well-fenced, and enclosed, lest sometime or other your neighbor’s cattle break in and spoil the crop on the ground. . . .” But most of the time, the knaves and fools claim center stage. Even Courtine, suspended by a rope under his mistress’ balcony, and then trussed up in a drunken...
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