After an adult life devoted largely to the drama, I’ve never seriously considered Aristotle’s “purgation.” It never occurred to me what comedy might be purging.
As I see it, the necessary purgation here is of emotions which impede action. Our dramatic arts seem to have failed, and the question is why? Was it deliberate or accidental?
There was also this:
It was the opinion of the marquis of Dufferin and Ava, Sheridan’s one Victorian descendant to be ennobled, that apart from his poverty the greatest handicap under which Sheridan labored throughout his life was his Irish origin. The verdict was no doubt correct. At the back of the minds of the English aristocrats with whom he associated, he was always something of an Irish adventurer, as Burke was too. In the hindsight of history a different conclusion is possible. By his mother, a Chamberlaine, Sheridan was Anglo-Irish rather than Irish. The now almost extinct product of the Protestant ascendancy, was a racial hybrid. It has been characterized above all by wit, charm, gaiety, and an enormous self-confidence. And it has given the English theatre most of its comic masterpieces for two or more centuries. Sheridan followed Goldsmith as Shaw followed Wilde. There are also the lesser figures—Farquhar, Arthur Murphy, O’Hara, Hugh Kelly, O’Keefe in the eighteenth century alone. Even Congreve, Sheridan’s model and master, was to some extent Anglo-Irish. And this national uncertainty has also had its moral implications.