Wednesday, November 19, 2008

English IV--Notes on Comedy as Form

Listed below are some of the basic principles of comedy as a mode or form of literary expression.
1.    The primary formal difference between comedy and tragedy lies in the outcomes of the characters’ journeys. In comedy, the characters reach the ends we as audience have come to desire for them. The good are rewarded, often with marriage, and the fools are either punished or rendered harmless. Part of the audience’s pleasure is watching the comic “villains” receive their come-uppance.

2.    In order for the characters to arrive at the desired ends in ways that afford the audience pleasure, there must be threats and complications with the potential to hinder the desired outcomes. For this reason, plausibility of plot is less inherently a requirement of comic form than in more serious literature. “Unlikely coincidences, improbable disguises, mistaken identities—these are the stuff of which comedy is made; and, as long as they make us langh and, at the same time, help to illuminate human nature and human folly, we need not greatly care” (Lawrence Perrine).

3.    “Comedy delineates human weakness.”  The characters’ vanity, folly, hypocrisy, and absurdity are exposed, and we are invited to laugh at the ridiculousness of their behavior.  Thus the larger purpose of comedy is an intellectually serious one, to inspire, in the words of George Meredith, “thoughtful laughter” about the quirks and foibles of human nature.

4.    Because comedy has as it purpose exposing the basic categories of human folly, comic characterization relies more on types and less on individualization: the fop, the coquette, the prude, the egotist, the misanthrope, the bumpkin, the self-important, the hypocrite, the naif, the chatterbox, the would-be wit, the obsequious fawner, the bumbling incompetent, the snob, the perennial bachelor, the jealous lover, and so on. 

5.    Comic authors create some situations or characters to express the healthy social norms from which the comic characters deviate.