Oliver Goldsmith: The Critical Heritage

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G.S. Rousseau
Routledge, Oct 31, 2013 - Literary Criticism - 412 pages
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Anti – Sentimental Comedy:
Anti-Sentimental comedy is reaction against sentimental comedy. The pioneer of anti-sentimental comedy is Oliver Goldsmith, who criticized the sentimental comedy in his
essay- ‘Essay on the theatre’ or ‘A comparison between Laughing and sentimental comedy’.
Oliver Goldsmith writes that the true function of a comedy was to give a humorous exhibition of the follies and vices of men and women and to rectify them by exciting laughter. Goldsmith opposed sentimental comedy because in place of laughter and humour, it provided tears and distressing situations, pathetic lovers, serious heroines and honest servants.
He argued that sentimental comedy was more like tragedy than a comedy. If comedy was to trespass upon tragedy where humour will have right to express itself. On two occasions and with unequal success, Goldsmith tried to revive sincere laughter on stage.
Richard Sheridan also reacted against sentimental comedy. He ridiculed the sententious moralising of weeping sentimental comedy in his plays ‘The Rivals’ and ‘The Critic’. Anti-sentimental comedy is kind of comedy representing complex and sophisticated code of behaviour current in fashion circles of society where appearance count more than true moral character. Its plot usually revolves around intrigues of lust and greed the self interested cynicism of the character. Being masked by decorous pretence in these two dramatists’ comedies.
As a result of the reaction of Goldsmith and Sheridan, the comedy of sentiment was driven out, gone were the pathos and morality, preaching and meddling sentimentality. Their place was taken by humour and mirth, pleasant dialogues and wit. The writers who brought about the revival of true comedy in 18th century were Henry Fielding, Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Sheridan.
Anti-sentimental comedy takes us from old form of comedy, Comedy of manners, which is also called, generally for anti-sentimental comedy.
Characteristics of Anti-Sentimental Comedy:
It is also called comedy of manners. Anti-sentimental comedy is going to old forms. It is a low farce, situational humour. It is high polished in Restoration comedy.
Generally, it deals with the relations and intrigues of men and women living in sophisticated upper class society. So, it is called comedy of manners. There is also violation of social standards and decorum immortality of situation.
Comedy of humours or anti-sentimental comedy is a pure comedy which generate laughter and not tragic with our emotions. Verbal and situational irony is also characteristic of anti-sentimental comedy.
Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ is one of the best examples of anti-sentimental comedy, and follows all the characteristics of anti-sentimental comedy.
‘She Stoops to Conquer’ as an Anti – Sentimental Comedy:
We very well know that Goldsmith is pioneer of anti-sentimental comedy. ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ is second play of Goldsmith, produced in 1771. It is also known under the title ‘The Mistakes of a Night’. The play practically introduces the reign of humour in comedy.
The entire play with its fun and humour, its intrigues and sparkling dialogues, its mischievous tricks and roguish attempts by Tony Lumpkin is a direct blow on the sentimental comedy. A piquant observation, elements of ingenious and new realism, a welling forth of pleasantry that never dries up, and baths even the rare moments when emotion could rise – all go to make this charming comedy an unalloyed source of amusement.
The principal characters of this comedy are Hardcastle, who loves ‘everything that is old’; old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine, Mrs. Hardcastle and Miss. Hardcastle, Their daughter, Mrs. Hardcastle’s son by former marriage, Tony Lumpkin, young Marlow are the chief characters.
Tony Lumpkin, a frequenter of the ‘Three Jolly Pigeons’ is idle and ignorant, but cunning and mischievous, and doted on by his mother; and young Marlow, is


The Traveller or a Prospect of Society December 1764
The Vicar of Wakefield 27 March 1766
The Good Natured Man 29 January 1768
The Deserted Village 26 May 1770
She Stoops to Conquer March 1773
Retaliation I9 April 1774 posthumously published
History of the Earth and Animated Nature 1 July 1774 posthumously published
On Goldsmiths Life and Works
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