Restoration Comedy is the name given to to a particular type of play written during England's Restoration period (from 1660 to 1670). The Restoration Comedy was a reflection of English high society life during the reign of Charles II, and several plays were written with the express purpose of flattering Charles II and his court.
Typically, Restoration Comedy would involve a dashing, witty hero trying to have sex with as many women as possible without getting into trouble, with hilarious consequences. Common Tropes from Restoration Comedy include ribald humour, Wholesome Crossdressers, Recursive Crossdressing, Rakish Heroes, witty dialogue and Fanservice. In deference to the Puritan morality that was still prevalent at the time, most of the cast would usually end up paired off and happily married by the end of the play. Aphra Behn (touted as "the first woman to make a living by her pen") wrote several of these plays, and she still has something of a following today.
Restoration Comedies were helped to thrive because women were allowed to perform on stage for the first time, and the mostly male audiences were attracted by the idea of seeing women acting out steamy seduction scenes and the possibility of seeing a bit of shapely leg on stage (it's amazing how often these plays called upon female characters to dress up in mens' clothes. Clothes that were several sizes too small. Clothes that emphasized every curve of their pert, rounded, luscious bodies. Er...)
It's a mostly Forgotten Trope now, but the Rakish Hero was a popular character type during the Restoration. The Rake was always a witty, elegant, charming man whose (sexual) escapades went far beyond the boundaries of what was acceptable at the time.
The most famous real life Rake was John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. Wilmot was a vivacious courtier and poet who lived a thoroughly debauched and scandalous life and ended up banished from the English court for writing a satire on Charles II criticising the King for his disgraceful behaviour (a real-life example of Hypocritical Humour), being forgiven and then falling out of favour again, writing volumes of excellent (and spectacularly filthy) poetry and a Restoration Comedy (Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery, although it's never been proved that he wrote it), and then died when he was just 32 years old, having embraced Christianity on his deathbed.
Wilmot was the inspiration for several heroes of Restoration Comedy (Dorimant in the Man of Mode and Wilmore in Aphra Behn's The Rover), and in 2004, the story of his life was made into a film, The Libertine, starring Johnny Depp (the casting was quite apt). It could also be argued that Charles II was an example of the Rakish Hero character type.
Films in the vein of the Van Wilder series can be seen as a sort of revival of this trope.
Notable Restoration Comedies include:
- The Country Wife by William Wycherley
- Love for Love by William Congreve
- The Man of Mode, by George Etheredge
- The Rover, by Aphra Behn
- Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery, by John Wilmot (probably)
- The Way of the World, by William Congreve
- The Recruiting Officer, by George Farquhar