Restoration Theater Audiences, Restoration Costume, and Dueling
Congreve's audience probably was small, no more than a few thousand very well-connected people, and it was not socially heterogeneous, like Shakespeare's at The Globe. The Restoration theater appealed to a tiny fraction of the London and court elite. The men's dress offers a clue about the ways in which ancient British modes of thought lingered on amid the emerging new culture. For example, 42 years after Congreve's Way of the World opened, Handel's oratorio, Messiah, premiered on April 13 in Dublin. Because the theater seated only 600 and Handel sold tickets for 700, ladies were asked to leave their skirt hoops at home, and gentlemen were asked not to wear their swords. The prevalence of dueling among the court elite and their imitators among the city men routinely led to scandal in the papers, as well as the deaths of many young men. You can see a later (1743-45) illustration of aristocratic young men's side-arms in Hogarth's illustrations published as Marriage A-la-Mode (esp. #2  and #5 ). Swift refers to the lightly provoked street violence of these young "beaux" in a mock-heroic passage of "Description of City Shower" (ll. 43-52). Also see Sir Richard Steele's 1709 essay, "On Dueling," from The Tatler. How does this affect your understanding of the characters' "modern" sensibilities, especially the relationship between the men's "honor" and the women's behavior?