In English literature, the term comedy of manners (also anti-sentimental comedy) describes a genre of realistic, satirical comedy of the Restoration period (1660–1710) that questions and comments upon the manners and social conventions of a greatly sophisticated, artificial society. The satire of fashion, manners, and outlook on life of the social classes, is realised with stock characters, such as the braggart soldier of Ancient Greek comedy, and the fop and the rake of English Restoration comedy. The clever plot of a comedy of manners (usually a scandal) is secondary to the social commentary thematically presented through the witty dialogue of the characters, e.g. The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), by Oscar Wilde, which satirises the sexual hypocrisies of Victorian morality.
The comedy-of-manners genre originated in the New Comedy period (325–260 BC) of Classical Greece (510–323 BC), and is known from fragments of works by the playwright Menander, whose style of writing, elaborate plots, and stock characters were imitated by Roman playwrights, such as Plautus and Terence, whose comedies were known to and staged during the Renaissance. In the 17th century, the comedy of manners is best realised in the plays of Molière, such as The School for Wives (1662), The Imposter (1664), and The Misanthrope (1666), which satirise the hypocrisies and pretensions of the ancien régime that ruled France from the late 15th century to the 18th century.
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