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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

V. The Restoration Drama

§ 17. Molière and Restoration Comedy

It was in 1653 that Molière, after his long apprenticeship in the provinces, brought out his L’Étourdi in Paris; and, from that date onward to his death, just twenty years later, he remained the master and the example of the most brilliant comedy of modern times. Molière’s earlier work thus corresponds, in point of time, with the latest years of exile, when many Englishmen of rank were amusing themselves in Paris, and peculiarly open to lighter impressions from the idleness of their lives. No one foreign author has been so plundered by English playwrights as Molière; and his humane spirit, his naturalness, adaptability and dramatic aptitude stood the borrowers in good stead, in recalling them from the intricacies of Spanish intrigue and the wearisome repetition at second hand of the “humours” of Ben Jonson. That the finer qualities of Molière, his verve, his buoyancy, ease and success of plot, and sure characterisation, escaped his English imitators is not to be denied; for, apart from the circumstance that few of them were men of more than mediocre parts, the genius of Molière towers above the imitation of any age. A list of the borrowings of restoration comedy from the drama of Molière and his contemporaries would unduly burden this page. D’Avenant, Dryden, Sedley, Wycherley, Vanbrugh, Crowne and Shadwell all owe debts of plot, character, design and dialogue to French comedy; and, even where the debt may not be specifically ascertainable, the tone of the play, the method of its conduct and the conception of its personages declare the dominant influence of France. To mention only some examples, Molière supplied scenes, personages or suggestions to D’Avenant’s Playhouse to be Let, Dryden’s An Evening’s Love, Amphitryon and Sir Martin Mar-All, to Sedley’s Mulberry Garden, Wycherley’s Country Wife, The Plain Dealer, Shadwell’s Sullen Lovers and The Miser and Crowne’s The Country Wit and The English Frier; while Corneille, Racine, Quinault were levied on by the playwrights just named and by others besides.