She Would If She Could: Comedy of Manners

  • B. A. Kachur
Part of the English Dramatists book series (ENGDRAMA)


The excitement generated by Etherege’s first play, The Comical Revenge (1664), clearly endured the four-year hiatus until the première of his next comedy, for when She Would If She Could opened on 6 February 1668, the Duke of York’s Theatre immediately filled to capacity. Regrettably, for those who attended the opening performance, She Would If She Could did not meet with the same degree of success accorded his first comedy. The inveterate playgoer Samuel Pepys found ‘nothing in the world good in it’, adding that patrons in the pit ‘blame the play as a silly, dull thing, though there was something very roguish and witty; but the design of the play, and end, mighty insipid’.1 Etherege attributed the play’s failure to the actors’ lack of preparation and unfamiliarity with their lines, and his accusations were corroborated a few years later by Thomas Shadwell, who, in his preface to The Humorists (1671) — a play also hampered by poor acting on its première — remarked that ‘imperfect Action, had like to have destroy’d She would if she could’. However, regardless of the reasons for the cool reception at the première, the play’s initial failure did not eclipse its dramatic merits: John Dennis, in his Epistle Dedicatory to The Comical Gallant (1702), said ‘it was esteem’d by the Men of Sense, for the trueness of some of its Characters, and the purity and freeness and easie grace of its dialogue’ — distinctive dramatic qualities that earned it performances at Whitehall and praise in Shadwell’s preface as ‘the best Comedy that has been written since the Restauration of the Stage’.2


Sexual Attraction Double Standard Stylistic Ideal Social Code Natural Instinct 
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  1. 1.
    Henry B. Wheatley (ed.), The Diary of Samuel Pepys (London: Bell, 1893), VII, pp. 307–8.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Laura Brown, English Dramatic Form, 1660–1760 ( New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1981 ), p. 30.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    William Oldys, ‘Sir George Etherege’, Biographia Britannica (rpt. Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms, 1969), III, 1842.Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    Susan Staves, ‘The Secrets of Genteel Identity in The Man of Mode: Comedy of Manners vs. the Courtesy Book’, Studies in Eighteenth Century Culture, 19 (1989): 117.Google Scholar
  5. 14.
    Robert Wess, ‘Utopian Rhetoric in The Man of Mode’, The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, 27, 2 (Spring 1986 ): 147.Google Scholar
  6. 15.
    Charlene Taylor (ed.), She Would If She Could (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971), p. xxv.Google Scholar
  7. 19.
    Edward Burns, Restoration Comedy: Crises of Desire and Identity ( New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987 ), p. 34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© B.A. Kachur 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • B. A. Kachur
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishUniversity of Missouri-St. LouisUSA

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