Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Malinda Snow - Chair

Second Advisor

Tanya Caldwell

Third Advisor

Paul Schmidt


The comedies of John Dryden, Thomas Shadwell, and Aphra Behn were equally well-received by Restoration audiences, yet each dramatist professes divergent dramatic theories and poetic goals. In prefatory material to their plays, Shadwell insists a dramatist’s duty is to depict virtue rewarded and vice punished, Behn rejects the idea that comic drama might influence morals or manners, and Dryden maintains that his only goal is to please the audience, despite his dull conversation and lack of wit. A comparison between the playwrights’ dramatic theory and their most popular comedies of the 1668-77 decade indicates that none of them represent with any accuracy their own (or others’) work. Shadwell abandons his didactic goals in pursuit of approbation and income, while Behn unswervingly attacks social issues prevalent in a patriarchal society. Dryden’s comedies—witty and fast-paced despite his protestations—also address weaknesses in the patriarchal system and condemn the commodification of marriage.