Sentimental Comedy, its characteristics and Examples

DEFINITION:

Sentimental comedy is an 18th-century dramatic genre that came up as a reaction to the immoral tone of English Restoration plays. It was a reaction to the comedy of manners which was supposed to create laughter or at least amusement, often using satire as a mean to its end.

 In sentimental comedy, laughter and humor were completely driven out and sadness was introduced instead of comedy. It lacked the true spirit of comedy, comparatively. Sentimental comedy is meant to elicit tears and is called “weeping comedy” by Oliver Goldsmith in the 18th century. It tells us about the moral struggles of middle-class people who are inherently good but led off track by bad example.

ORIGIN OF SENTIMENTAL COMEDY:

Sentimental comedy is dramatic genres of 18th century, denoting plays in which middle-class protagonists triumphantly overcome a series of moral trials. Comedies were degenerating and were deteriorating into farce. A new kind of comedy originated known as sentimental comedy in which domestic virtues were presented and its aim was didactic. Sentimental comedy was actually a reaction to comedy of manners.

CHARACTERISTICS OF SENTIMENTAL COMEDY:

  1. Middle class virtuous people were introduced.
  2. It provided moral lectures instead of entertainment.
  3. Humour was replaced by pathos and humorous situations in pathetic situations.
  4. Characters were not real men and women, but the production of minds of playwrights.
  5. The plot is usually centered on the domestic trial of middle-class couples and induced romantic love scenes.
  6. Lovers are often shown separated from each other by socioeconomic factors at the beginning, but brought together in the end by a discovery about identity of the lower class.
  7. Awakened tears instead of laughter.
  8. Drove out genuine comedy from English stage.
  9. It is characterized by emotions of pity and sympathy and lacked wits or humour.
  10. Writers introduced characters from the middle-class life which was characterized by virtue without any gain of vice in them.
  11. The dialogues were neither severe nor sparkling.
  12. It was serious and far away from reality of life.
  13. It remained popular for nearly half a century.

EXAMPLES OF SENTIMENTAL COMEDY:

Some of the famous sentimental comedies are:

  • Love’s Last Shift by Colley Cibber (1696)
  • The Constant Couple by George Farquhar (1699)
  • The Lying Lover by Richard Steele (1703)
  • The Foundling  by Edward Moore (1748)
  • The School for Lovers  by William Whitehead (1762)

The best known of this genre is Richard Steele’s The Conscious Lovers (1722) in which a poor heroine Indiana faces various tests until the discovery that she is heiress which leads to happy ending. Steele wished his plays to bring the audience, “a pleasure too exquisite for laughter”.

Another important writer of the genre was Colley Cibber, who wrote first sentimental comedy, Love’s Last Shift (1696) in order to give himself a role which made him both an actor and a playwright.

As the genre was popular for nearly half century, so neither Steele nor Colley or any other writer made a career of writing sentimental comedies. In fact, all of the authors of sentimental comedy at this time wrote other forms which included restoration comedy and tragedy.

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