Comedy of manners: A satiric form of comedy, most often associated with Restoration-Age drama, that satirizes the conduct and codes of a social group or class, usually sophisticated high society. The comedy of manners generally takes love, especially amorous intrigues, as its subject and frequently satirizes both societal affectations and stock characters who fail to conform to societal conventions. The subgenre is noted for witty repartee and a certain cynicism with regard to affairs of the heart. The perceived moral shortcomings of these plays eventually caused a backlash and a consequent upsurge in the number of sentimental comedies — relatively upbeat works that were deemed more wholesome. The form was revived later in the Neoclassical Period, toward the end of the eighteenth century, and subsequently influenced nineteenth-century novels such as Jane Austen’s Emma (1815), itself a comedy of manners, and James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers (1823).

FURTHER EXAMPLES: George Etherege’s The Man of Mode, or, Sir Fopling Flutter (1676), William Congreve’s The Way of the World (1700), and Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal (1777) are early examples. Later comedies of manners include plays such as Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), Noël Coward’s Private Lives (1930), and P. G. Wodehouse’s “Jeeves” series of short stories and novels (1915—74).

Modern comedies of manners include Whit Stillman’s film Metropolitan (1990); Amy Heckerling’s Clueless (1995), a film version of Emma set in Beverly Hills; and the television sitcoms Seinfeld (1990—98) and Absolutely Fabulous (1992—2012).