Reform within : a study of satire as inquiry in the plays of Sir George Etherege

Toner, Paul (1998) Reform within : a study of satire as inquiry in the plays of Sir George Etherege. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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The strength of the satire of Sir George Etherege lies in the introduction of a complex dramatic realism. In The Man of Mode one encounters the Restoration world, not heroic ideals: taverns and places known by name to the audience, and especially characters with a recognizable smell and sound. In adhering to this level of realism, the play resists conclusion, instead resolving to reflect the complexities of life in an uncertain future. It is a realism that serves the ends of a particular kind of satire: the satire as inquiry. Etherege's earlier works gave birth to his dramatic realism but thwarted it in artificial plot resolutions that denied the full exploration of the characters. -- In the first chapter of this thesis the traditional definitions of satire are explored, for in exclusively valuing certain rigid and narrow elements, these definitions have failed to include the dramatic works of Etherege. The basis for understanding the satire of Etherege, which is seen here as akin to the satire of Horace, is formed from the criticism of Dustin Griffin. The paucity of commentary on Etherege's plays as satirical pieces necessitates the frequent use of indirect sources. Standing on the shoulders of theorists from the 1960s who broke away from the majority, Griffin describes a satire he labels "satire as inquiry." In satire as inquiry, the absence of a fixed norm or standard against which the satiric thesis plays allows an exploration of a value or vice to go ahead without a predetermined end. This thesis proposes an expanded understanding of such satire, dependent on inversion, identification and moral attachment. -- In chapter two The Man of Mode, Etherege's best known play, is studied within the context of satire as inquiry. Etherege is seen to engage the reader through the borrowing of familiar forms and the introduction of a powerful dramatic realism. The reader's false understandings are blasted, his expectations disrupted, and his position in the text displaced. Left without a satiric antithesis, the reader is encouraged to look inside himself, and this self-examination leads to what this thesis will term "reform within." The greatest inversion is seen in the coupling of Dorimant and Mrs. Loveit as positive and negative characters respectively. The reader's values are targeted. The satiric intent is blurred by the absence of a narrative voice, by the multiple characters, and by Etherege's masterful use of "play and display." The aims of the satire as inquiry are completely realized when The Man of Mode reaches play's end without a conventional conclusion. An examination of Etherege's own life lends support to the claims of identification and moral attachment made in this chapter. While the emphasis is placed on the reader's response to the text, evidence is also brought forward to establish the Restoration theatregoer's response to the play. -- In the third chapter, the beginnings of Etherege's dramatic realism and penchant for inconclusiveness are traced back to his poems and his first two plays. In these earlier works we confront some problems: we find that the real nature of certain characters is sacrificed for contrived endings, the threat of female dominance is artificially thwarted to preserve male power, and Etherege's literary grace is shown to be underdeveloped because of the substitution of physical and farcical comedy for polished dialogue.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Item ID: 9828
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 117-125.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 1998
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Satire, English--History and criticism

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