Eighteenth Century London: The Sentimental Comedy

Eighteenth Century London: The Sentimental Comedy

Sentimental Comedy

The Attempt of a Definition:

A dramatic genre of the 18th century, denoting plays in which middle-class protagonists triumphantly overcome a series of moral trials. Such comedy aimed at producing tears rather than laughter. Sentimental comedies reflected contemporary philosophical conceptions of humans as inherently good but capable of being led astray through bad example.

(49 of 284 words) Encyclopaedia Britannica

Important Authors and Plays

  • Colley Cibber:
    • Love's Last Shift (1696)
    • The Careless Husband (1704)
  • Sir Richard Steele:
    • The Conscious Lovers (1722)
  • Edward Moore:
    • The Foundling (1748)
  • William Whitehead:
    • The School for Lovers (1762)

Sir Richard Steele

  • author, founder, editor
  • 'The Tatler' and 'The Spectator'
  • Whig partisan
  • Member of Whig Kit-Kat-Club
  • Member of Parliament of the UK
  • Responsible for Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
  • Most important play: 'The Conscious Lovers'


'But there is one argument in favor of sentimental comedy, which will keep it on the stage, in spite of all that can be said against it. It is, of all others, the most easily written. Those abilities that can hammer out a novel are fully sufficient for the production of a sentimental comedy. It is only sufficient to raise the characters a little; to deck out the hero with a riband, or give the heroine a title; then to put an insipid dialogue, without character or humor, into their mouths, give them mighty good hearts, very fine clothes, furnish a new set of scenes, make a pathetic scene or two, with a sprinkling of tender melancholy conversation through the whole, and there is no doubt but all the ladies will cry and all the gentlemen applaud.'


  • Ellis, Frank H,: Sentimental Comedy: Theory and Practice Cambrige (CUP, 1991).
  • Lessenich, Rolf P.: Aspects of English Preromanticism Cologne (Böhlau-Verlag, 1989).
  • Goring, Paul: Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture (London, 2008).
  • Encyclopaedia Briannica