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A Level Teacher’s Guide to Restoration Comedy

Victoria Elliott | Monday November 11, 2019

Categories: Archived Resources, KS5 Archive, AQA A Level, AQA A Level Pre-2015 Resources, AQA A Level English Literature A, LITA3, AQA A Level English Literature B, LITB2, EDEXCEL A Level, Edexcel A Level Generic Skills, Edexcel A Level Skills Resources, EDEXCEL A Level English Literature, 6ET02, Hot Entries

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Restoration Comedy is a good choice for a drama text to study alongside Shakespeare; there is a good contrast in attitudes, themes and styles, despite a gap of less than 100 years.

 

Restoration Comedy is a term used to describe the comedies that were staged immediately after the ‘Restoration’ of Charles II to the throne in 1660, until about 1710. The conventions established at this time continued for most of the 18th century, developing in some ways but remaining broadly of the same type, as they developed into the comedies of manners. This guide will cover the historical context, the conventions of the plays, their typical characters and themes, and some examples of the genre, as well as giving teaching ideas throughout.

Contextual Matters

Historical Context

In the period 1648-1660 Britain underwent an ‘Interregnum’ - a period between monarchs. Charles I was executed at the end of the Civil War in 1649 and Oliver Cromwell, followed briefly by his son Richard, reigned as ‘Lord Protector’. The Civil War had been fought on largely religious grounds and the new Parliamentary regime were composed of Puritans – strict Protestants with a serious view of life, sin, and judgement. The theatres were closed throughout the period of the Interregnum and there were no new plays produced in England at that time. Charles II spent this period in exile on the Continent, travelling from royal court to royal court. One of the unusual things he encountered in Europe was theatre with female actresses, unlike the pre Civil War English stages on which female parts had been played by boys whose voices had not yet broken. (Although it seems likely that, in private, women would have acted – and in court masques they certainly did. But this was not the same as exposing themselves to the public on a theatre stage.)

In 1660 Parliament decided to recall Charles to take up the crown, in disappointment as Richard Cromwell proved far...


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