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Humour and Madness: Early Restoration Comedies cover art

Humour and Madness: Early Restoration Comedies

Written by: William Wycherley, Aphra Behn, John Dryden, George Etherege, Thomas Otway, Edward Ravenscroft
Narrated by: Derek Jacobi, Prunella Scales, Maggie Smith, Jonathan Pryce, Harriet Walters, Frances Jeater, Denys Hawthorne, Carleton Hobbs, Anna Massey, full cast
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Publisher's Summary

A sparkling collection of nine witty full-cast comedies from the early Restoration era

Raunchy, risqué and rebellious, early Restoration comedies were a breath of fresh air for 17th century theatregoers. With Charles II restored to the throne in 1660, Oliver Cromwell's ban on stage performances was rescinded, and for the first time, women were invited to tread the boards as actresses. Playwrights developed a new style of social comedy, packed with amorous escapades, bawdy humour, wicked wit and sexual innuendo.

This scintillating anthology showcases six leading lights of early Restoration drama, beginning with George Etherege, the creator of the 'comedy of manners': The Man of Mode, an irreverent portrait of the fops and libertines that populated London's beau monde; and She Wou'd If She Cou'd, a racy, fast-paced romp mocking society's double standards for men and women. Among the casts are Derek Jacobi, Anna Massey, Ian Richardson, Prunella Scales and Hattie Jacques.

Also poking fun at hypocrisy and immorality was William Wycherley. However, his comedies were considered far more daring - especially The Country Wife, which was judged too obscene to be staged in its original form for over 200 years. Centred around a notorious rake who resorts to deception to pursue a naïve married woman, this effervescent BBC radio dramatisation stars Jonathan Pryce and Maggie Smith.

Male playwrights were not the only ones penning scandalous dramas during this period. Aphra Behn, Britain's first professional female writer, was a poet, spy and the most prolific playwright of the 1670s and '80s. Her sex comedy The Rover, featured here, revolves around love, lust, intrigue and mistaken identity, and stars Julia Ford, Suzan Sylvester and Juliet Aubrey.

England's first Poet Laureate, John Dryden, dominated Restoration literature to such an extent that it came to be known as the Age of Dryden. His 1677 play All For Love, a powerful reworking of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, is regarded as his finest work. John Turner and Barbara Jefford star in this heroic tragedy.

A rival of Dryden, Edward Ravenscroft was the first British playwright to introduce characters from the 'commedia dell' arte' into his farces. His seminal comedy The London Cuckolds, featuring three ridiculous husbands, three beautiful wives, and one dissolute young cad, was hugely popular, and this BBC adaptation retains all the original's ribald wit. It stars Carleton Hobbs, Norman Shelley and Madi Hedd.

Thomas Otway achieved his greatest success in the last five years of his life. Three of his acclaimed works appear here: his 1683 comedy The Soldier's Fortune and its sequel The Atheist, focussing on disbanded army officers looking for sex and money, and his masterpiece Venice Preserved, a dark political thriller about power, revolution, love and betrayal. The ensemble casts feature Dennis Quilley, John Rowe, Michael Turner and Donald Wolfit.

Content list

The Man of Mode

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 27 Jun 1986

She Wou'd If She Cou'd

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 6 Sep 1968

The Country Wife

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 22 Dec 1985

The Rover

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 22 Jan 1995

All For Love

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 7 Jul 1983

The London Cuckolds

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 30 Dec 1974

The Soldier's Fortune

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 24 May 1981

The Atheist

First broadcast BBC Radio 3, 31 May 1981

Venice Preserved

First broadcast BBC Third Programme, 10 Aug 1960

©2023 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd (P)2023 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd

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