AD's English Literature : What is comedy? What are the sources of comic pleasure? what is the nature of the comic pleasure?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What is comedy? What are the sources of comic pleasure? what is the nature of the comic pleasure?

Etymologically the word comedy as Aristotle suggested in the poetics might have originated either from komas meaning, ‘revel or merrymaking', or from komae meaning the “Hamlets “where the plays were staged". Aristotle jocularly hinted that the comedians strolled from Hamlet to hamlet, lack of appreciation keeping them out of the city .such facetiousness apart; the Oxford English Dictionary defines comedy as a stage play of a light and amusing character with a happy conclusion to its plot. Many definition stress the sadistic on egoistic element in human beings, asserting that comedies were written chiefly to amuse the audience by appealing.

Comedy gives pleasure, and is certainly a kind of pleasure which is hilarious, unlike that of tragedy .The question remains what the sources of such comic pleasure are .There are two principal “stimulus” theories about the source of comedy .The first paints to our satisfaction in feelings of superiority, a theory developed by Hobbes,Bergson , Meredith and others , This theory emphasizes our delight in seeing ourselves less fortunate than  some human beings. We laugh when we find a man committing blunders we ourselves could easily avoid. Hobbes says that “this passion of laugh some sudden conception of some eminence in ourselves by comparison with the infirmity of others, on with our won formality, It is noteworthy that a sense of superiority is not comical by itself, for when two men run a race, the defeated man is not necessarily comical .To avoid this difficulty, Fielding in the Preface to Joseph Andrews suggests that the essence of comic inferiority lies in affectation.

Meredith ,suggests that the comic spirit ,which is dependent on common sense , preys chiefly on Folly ,which is the daughter of Unreason and sentimentalism .But this view adumbrated in An Essay on Comedy does not always hold true since there are many comic characters who are not fools Falstaff , although a supremely comic character rivals Iago and Hamlet in sheer intellectual ability ,Bergson goes farther when  he declares that Laughter in a social gesture and that difference the object of laughter is its natural environment , Its appeal is to intelligence , pure and simple . He also feels that comedy lies in the unsociability on the part of the man of laughs, and a certain automatism in the situation, The situation is mechanical and repetitious rather than living and flexible .

The other stimulus theory is that of contrast developed by Aristotle ,Kant , Schopenhauer  and others , This theory emphasizes  our delight  in many form of incongruity ,any difference between our ,ideas of thing and the thing themselves ,between what aught to be and what actually is .A comedy  full of eccentric types  ceases to  be a cause of merriment .

Apart from these erudite theories about the nature of comic one may also venture to examine the actual causes on real life situations in the play itself which are the cause of comedy. In the first place, the mere physical appearance of a person may be a source of comedy though this would be the lowest possible kind. In the second the misuse or strange use of language can be the immediate cause for laughter. Mrs. Slip in Fielding’s novel and Mrs. Malaprop in The Rivals took great liberties in the English language some Shakespearean characters like pistol and intrinsically funny . It is thus that our laughter is directed against a hypocrite , a miser ,a snob ,a bore , a braggart or a parasite .The  most notable kind of such comedies of characters are in the comedies of humour ,For example in everyman in his Humour , Kitely the husband is excessively jealous , Knowell ‘s  father is excessively moral and Bobadill the soldier is for too cowardly and boasting.

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert, 
      2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature

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