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If the Renaissance was the Golden Age of English comedy, the Restoration was the Silver. These comedies are full of tricksters attempting to gain estates, the emblem and the reality of power in late feudal England. The tricksters appear in a number of guises, such as heroines landing their men, younger brothers seeking estates, or Cavaliers threatened with dispossession. The hybrid nature of these plays has long posed problems for critics, and few studies have attempted to deal with their diversity in a comprehensive way. Now one of the leading scholars of Restoration drama offers a cultural history of the period’s comedy that puts the plays in perspective and reveals the ideological function they performed in England during the latter half of the seventeenth century.
To explain this function, J. Douglas Canfield groups the plays into three categories: social comedy, which underwrites Stuart ideology; subversive comedy, which undercuts it; and comical satire, which challenges it as fundamentally immoral or amoral. Through play-by-play analysis, he demonstrates how most of the comedies support the ideology of the Stuart monarchs and the aristocracy, upholding what they regarded as their natural right to rule because of an innate superiority over all other classes. A significant minority of comedies, however, reveal cracks in class solidarity, portray witty heroines who inhabit the margins of society, or give voice to folk tricksters who embody a democratic force nearly capable of overwhelming class hierarchy. A smaller yet but still significant minority end in no resolution, no restoration, but, at their most radical, playfully portray Stuart ideology as empty rhetoric.
Tricksters and Estates is a truly comprehensive work, offering serious critical readings of many plays that have never before received close attention and fresh insights into more familiar works. By juxtaposing the comedies of such lesser-known playwrights as Orrery, Lacy, and Rawlins with those of more familiar figures like Behn, Wycherley, and Dryden, the author invites a greater appreciation than has previously been possible of the meaning and function of Restoration comedy. This intelligent and wide-ranging study promises is a standard work in its field.
J. Douglas Canfield, Regents' Professor of English at the University of Arizona, is the author of Word as Bond in English Literature from the Middle Ages to the Restoration and coeditor of Cultural Readings of Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Theater.
"Canfield’s use of genre, admirably, never seems like pigeonholing. He shows that these plays perform different sorts of cultural work, and his study uses the work each play does to locate it generically."—1650-1850
"This ambitious book explores the relationship between Restoration comedy and concepts of power and cultural hegemony in late seventeenth-century England."—Albion
"A book which displays an incisive grasp of what is really at state in Restoration comic plots and which soundly seeks to overturn the negligence of much of what was popularly performed during the Stuart reign."—British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies
"By not relying on generic and formalist perspectives, Canfield enriches understanding of social, economic, political, and religious currents and countercurrents of cultural history and their presence in drama. A model of interdisciplinary interpretation."—Choice
"Canfield has produced an important and impressive book, both in depth and in coverage."—Kritikon Litterarum
"Sharpens the focus with which we view the official comedies."—Modern Philology
"An excellent survey of the comedy of the period and serves a useful role in reminding us to keep our eyes not only on the money but on who gets the land."—Seventeenth-Century News
A Choice Outstanding Academic Book
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
Restoration comedy, English comedy, Tricksters, Inheritance in literature
Literature in English, British Isles
Canfield, J. Douglas, "Tricksters and Estates: On the Ideology of Restoration Comedy" (1997). Literature in English, British Isles. 68.