The book contains texts of the following plays:
THE COUNTRY WIFE
THE MAN OF MODE
THE WAY OF THE WORLD
THE CONSCIOUS LOVERS
THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
and background and criticism.
The five plays in this volume are, as the editor writes, "comedies about men and women who live in London, care for sex and money, and make fools of one another if not of themselves". They are also the most distinguished comedies written during an especially exciting and innovative period in the London theatre and English society: William Wycherley’s The Country Wife; Sir George Etherege’s The Man of Mode; William Congreve’s The Way of the World; Sir Richard Steele’s The Conscious Lovers; and Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal. This Norton Critical Edition offers an authoritative text for each play and a unique collection of documents and critical essays for a deeper understanding of them.
In illustration of the fact that, as the editor says, "this period presents the first example in England of a transaction between the theatre and an articulate body of social criticism," he has provided contemporary discussions of wit, humour, and laughter, and documentations of the Collier controversy, which began with Jeremy Collier’s Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage, and of the literary feud between Sir Richard Steele and John Dennis. In another background section, materials are provided for the study of the stages, the actors, and the audience.
The critical essays range from Charles Lamb to the present. Each is provocative in its own right, and reveals important and diverse opinions on these significant plays.
The plays are fully annotated for the modern reader and are accompanied by six illustrations. The close relationship between theater and society during the period continues to be the focus of "Contexts." The editor offers contemporary discussions of the following topics: "On Wit, Humour, and Laughter: 1660-1775," "The Collier Controversy: 1698," "Steele and Dennis: On The Man of Mode and The Conscious Lovers," and "Stages, Actors, and Audiences." "Criticism" has been revised to reflect approaches in scholarly interpretations. Two seminal essays from the First Edition have been retained-Charles Lamb’s appreciation of the period’s comedy and L. C. Knights’s condemnation of it. New essays by Jocelyn Powell, Harriet Hawkins, Elin Diamond, Martin Price, and Laura Brown have been added.