Top Restoration Comedy Plays

'Comedy of Manners' Plays Marked the Restoration Genre

Restoration comedies are English plays written and performed between 1660 and 1710, the "Restoration" period. Also known as "comedy of manners" plays, these works are known for their risque, explicit depictions of sex and extramarital affairs. Restoration followed a nearly two-decade ban on stage performances by Puritans, which may explain why the plays of the period were so bawdy. 

The Restoration gave rise to the first female playwright of the English stage, Aphra Behn. It also marked the first instances of actresses appearing on stage in female (and sometimes male) roles. 

William Wycherley, George Etherege, William Congreve, George Farquhar, and Aphra Behn created bawdy works of Restoration comedy with The Country Wife, The Man of Mode, The Way of the World, and The Rover.

The Country Wife, by William Wycherley, was first performed in 1675. It depicts Horner, a man pretending to be impotent in order to have affairs with married women unbeknownst to their husbands, and Margery Pinchwife, a young, innocent "country wife" who is inexperienced in the ways of London. The Country Wife is based on several plays by the French playwright Moliere, but Wycherly wrote in a contemporary prose style, whereas Moliere's plays were written in verse. From 1753 and 1924, The Country Wife was considered too explicit for stage performance but is now regarded as a classic work of the stage.

The Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter by George Etherege, first appeared on the stage in 1676. It tells the story of Dorimant, a man about town who tries to woo Harriet, a young heiress. The only catch: Dorimont is already involved in separate affairs with Mrs. Loveit, and her friend Bellinda. ​The Man of Mode was Etherege's final play, and his most popular, in part because audiences believed the characters were based on real public figures of the age.

The Way of the World, by William Congreve, was one of the later Restoration comedies, with its first performance in 1700. It tells the convoluted tale of Mirabell and Millamant and their attempts to secure Millamant's inheritance from her mean aunt Lady Wishfort. Their plans to deceive Lady Wishfort with the help of some friends and servants form the basis of the plot.

The Rover or The Banish'd Cavaliers (1677, 1681) is Aphra Behn's most famous play, written in two parts. It's based on the 1664 play Thomaso, or The Wanderer, written by Thomas Killigrew. Its intricate plot centers on a group of English attending Carnival in Naples. The main character is the rake Willmore, who falls in love with the convent-bound Hellena. The prostitute Angellica Bianca complicates things when she falls in love with Willmore.

Behn was the first professional female playwright of the English stage, who had turned to professional writing for income after her career as a spy for King Charles II proved unprofitable.