Comedy
Thalia, muse of comedy, holding a comic mask - detail of “Muses Sarcophagus”, the nine Muses and their attributes; marble, early second century AD, Via Ostiense - Louvre
Nepalese woman finding something delightful.

Comedy (from the Greek: κωμῳδία, kōmōidía), as a popular meaning, is any humorous discourse or work generally intended to amuse by creating laughter, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy. This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in Ancient Greece. In the Athenian democracy, the public opinion of voters was remarkably influenced by the political satire performed by the comic poets at the theaters.[1] The theatrical genre can be simply described as a dramatic performance which pits two societies against each other in an amusing agon or conflict. Northrop Frye famously depicted these two opposing sides as a "Society of Youth" and a "Society of the Old",[2] but this dichotomy is seldom described as an entirely satisfactory explanation. A later view characterizes the essential agon of comedy as a struggle between a relatively powerless youth and the societal conventions that pose obstacles to his hopes; in this sense, the youth is understood to be constrained by his lack of social authority, and is left with little choice but to take recourse to ruses which engender very dramatic irony which provokes laughter.[3] Much comedy contains variations on the elements of surprise, incongruity, conflict, repetitiveness, and the effect of opposite expectations, but there are many recognized genres of comedy.

Satire and political satire use ironic comedy to portray persons or social institutions as ridiculous or corrupt, thus alienating their audience from the object of humor. Satire is a type of comedy. Parody borrows the form of some popular genre, artwork, or text but uses certain ironic changes to critique that form from within (though not necessarily in a condemning way). Screwball comedy derives its humor largely from bizarre, surprising (and improbable) situations or characters. Black comedy is defined by dark humor that makes light of so called dark or evil elements in human nature. Similarly scatological humor, sexual humor, and race humor create comedy by violating social conventions or taboos in comic ways. A comedy of manners typically takes as its subject a particular part of society (usually upper class society) and uses humor to parody or satirize the behavior and mannerisms of its members. Romantic comedy is a popular genre that depicts burgeoning romance in humorous terms, and focuses on the foibles of those who are falling in love.

Contents

Etymology

Tragic Comic Masks of Ancient Greek Theatre represented in the Hadrian's Villa mosaic.

The word "comedy" is derived from the Classical Greek κωμῳδία kōmōithía, which is a compound either of κῶμος kômos (revel) or κώμη kṓmē (village) and ᾠδή ōidḗ (singing); it is possible that κῶμος itself is derived from κώμη, and originally meant a village revel. The adjective "comic" (Greek κωμικός kōmikós), which strictly means that which relates to comedy is, in modern usage, generally confined to the sense of "laughter-provoking".[4] Of this, the word came into modern usage through the Latin comoedia and Italian commedia and has, over time, passed through various shades of meaning.[5]

Greeks and Romans confined the word "comedy" to descriptions of stage-plays with happy endings. In the Middle Ages, the term expanded to include narrative poems with happy endings and a lighter tone. In this sense Dante used the term in the title of his poem, La Divina Commedia. As time progressed, the word came more and more to be associated with any sort of performance intended to cause laughter.[5] During the Middle Ages, the term "comedy" became synonymous with satire, and later humour in general, after Aristotle's Poetics was translated into Arabic in the medieval Islamic world, where it was elaborated upon by Arabic writers and Islamic philosophers, such as Abu Bischr, his pupil Al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes. Due to cultural differences, they disassociated comedy from Greek dramatic representation and instead identified it with Arabic poetic themes and forms, such as hija (satirical poetry). They viewed comedy as simply the "art of reprehension", and made no reference to light and cheerful events, or troublous beginnings and happy endings, associated with classical Greek comedy. After the Latin translations of the 12th century, the term "comedy" thus gained a more general semantic meaning in medieval literature.[6]

In the late 20th century, emerged among scholars the tendency to pragmatically prefer the term laughter to comprehensively refer to the whole gamut of the comic, to avoid the classification in ambiguous and problematically defined genres and fields like humour, grotesque, irony, satire.[7][8]

History

Dionysiac origins and Aristophanes

A satyr masturbating. Detail of side B of a Greek column krater showing two satyrs and a maenad in a Dionysiac scene.

Starting from 425 BCE, Aristophanes, a comic playwright and satirical author of the Ancient Greek Theater wrote 40 comedies, 11 of which survive and are still being performed. Aristophanes developed his type of comedy from the earlier satyr plays, which were shamelessly obscene.[9] Of the satyr plays only survive examples by Euripides which are not representative of the genre.[10] In ancient Greece, comedy originated in bawdy and ribald songs or recitations apropos of phallic processions and fertility festivals or gatherings.[11] According to some,[who?] the original phallic songs also made fun at other people or stereotypes.[citation needed][dubious ]

Around 335 BCE, philosopher Aristotle, in his work Poetics, stated that comedy originated in Phallic processions and the light treatment of the otherwise base and ugly. He also adds that the origins of comedy are obscure because it was not treated seriously from its inception.[12] That said, comedy had its own Muse: Thalia.

Also in Poetics, Aristotle defined Comedy as one of the original four genres of literature. The other three genres are tragedy, epic poetry, and lyric poetry. Literature in general is defined by Aristotle as a mimesis, or imitation of life. Comedy is the third form of literature, being the most divorced from a true mimesis. Tragedy is the truest mimesis, followed by epic poetry, comedy and lyric poetry. The genre of comedy is defined by a certain pattern according to Aristotle's definition. All comedies begin with a low, typically with an "ugly" guy who cannot do anything right. By the end of the story or play, the "ugly" guy has won the "pretty" girl, or achieved some other goal. Comedies usually also have elements of the supernatural, typically magic and, for the Ancient Greeks, the gods. Comedy includes the unrealistic in order to portray the realistic. For the Greeks, all comedies ended happily which is opposite of tragedy, which ends sadly.

In ancient Sanskrit drama

After 200 BCE, in ancient Sanskrit drama, Bharata Muni's Natya Shastra defined humour (hāsyam) as one of the nine nava rasas, or principle rasas (emotional responses), which can be inspired in the audience by bhavas, the imitations of emotions that the actors perform. Each rasa was associated with a specific bhavas portrayed on stage. In the case of humour, it was associated with mirth (hasya).

Shakespearean and Elizabethan comedy

Title page of the first quarto of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream (1600).

"Comedy", in its Elizabethan usage, had a very different meaning from modern comedy. A Shakespearean comedy is one that has a happy ending, usually involving marriages between the unmarried characters, and a tone and style that is more light-hearted than Shakespeare's other plays.[13]

After the 19th century

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (ca. 1950).
Jackie Chan at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.
Popov the Clown in 2009.
Barry Humphries in character in London as "Dame Edna Everage" on the day of the 2011 Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

The advent of cinema in the late 19th century, and later radio and television in the 20th century broadened the access of comedians to the general public. Charlie Chaplin, through silent film, became one of the best known faces on earth. The silent tradition lived on well in to the 20th century through mime artists like Marcel Marceau, and the physical comedy of artists like Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean. The tradition of the circus clown also continued, with such as Bozo the Clown in the United States and Oleg Popov in Russia. Radio provided new possibilities - with Britain producing the influential Goon Show after the Second World War. American cinema has produced a great number of globally renowned comedy artists, from the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope during the mid-20th century, to performers like George Carlin, Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy at the end of the century. Hollywood attracted many international talents like Canadian comics Dan Aykroyd, Jim Carrey and Mike Myers. Among the most successful non-Hollywood comics was Australian comedian Paul Hogan in character as Crocodile Dundee. Other centres of creative comic activity have been the cinema of Hong Kong, Bollywood and French farce.

American television has also been an influential force in world comedy: with American series like M*A*S*H, Seinfeld, Friends and The Simpsons achieving large followings around the world. British television comedy also remains influential, with quintessential works including Fawlty Towers, Monty Python, Dad's Army, Blackadder and The Office.

Australian satirist Barry Humphries, whose comic creations include the housewife and "gigastar" Dame Edna Everage, For his delivery of Dadaist and absurdist humour to millions, was described by biographer Anne Pender in 2010 as not only "the most significant theatrical figure of our time … [but] the most significant comedian to emerge since Charlie Chaplin".[14]

Studies on the theory of the comic

The phenomena connected with laughter and that which provokes it have been carefully investigated by psychologists. They agreed the predominant characteristics are incongruity or contrast in the object and shock or emotional seizure on the part of the subject. It has also been held that the feeling of superiority is an essential factor: thus Thomas Hobbes speaks of laughter as a "sudden glory". Modern investigators have paid much attention to the origin both of laughter and of smiling, as well as the development of the "play instinct" and its emotional expression.

George Meredith, in his 1897 classic Essay on Comedy, said that "One excellent test of the civilization of a country ... I take to be the flourishing of the Comic idea and Comedy; and the test of true Comedy is that it shall awaken thoughtful laughter." Laughter is said to be the cure to being sick. Studies show that people who laugh more often get sick less.[15][16]

Forms

Comedy may be divided into multiple genres based on the source of humor, the method of delivery, and the context in which it is delivered. The different forms often overlap, and most comedy can fit into multiple genres. Some of the sub-genres of comedy are farce, comedy of manners, burlesque, and satire.

Performing arts

Performing arts
Major forms

Dance · Music · Opera · Theatre · Circus

Minor forms

Magic · Puppetry

Genres

Drama · Tragedy · Comedy · Tragicomedy · Romance · Satire · Epic · Lyric

view · talk · edit

Historical forms

Plays

Opera

Improvisational comedy

Joke

Stand-up comedy

Stand-up comedy is a mode of comic performance in which the performer addresses the audience directly, usually speaking in their own person rather than as a dramatic character.

Events and awards

List of comedians

Mass media

Literature
Major forms

Novel · Poem · Drama
Short story · Novella

Genres

Epic · Lyric · Drama
Romance · Satire
Tragedy · Comedy
Tragicomedy

Media

Performance (play· Book

Techniques

Prose · Verse

History and lists

Outline of literature
Index of terms
History · Modern history
Books · Writers
Literary awards · Poetry awards

Discussion

Criticism · Theory · Magazines

Literature

Film

Television and radio

Lists of comedy television programs

See also

  • List of comedies
  • Humour
  • Australia comedy
  • List of genres

References

Footnotes

  1. ^ Henderson, J. (1993) Comic Hero versus Political Elite pp.307-19 in Sommerstein, A.H.; S. Halliwell, J. Henderson, B. Zimmerman, ed (1993). Tragedy, Comedy and the Polis. Bari: Levante Editori. 
  2. ^ (Anatomy of Criticism, 1957)
  3. ^ (Marteinson, 2006)
  4. ^ Cornford (1934)[page needed]
  5. ^ a b Oxford English Dictionary
  6. ^ Webber, Edwin J. (January 1958). "Comedy as Satire in Hispano-Arabic Spain". Hispanic Review (University of Pennsylvania Press) 26 (1): 1–11. doi:10.2307/470561. http://jstor.org/stable/470561 
  7. ^ Herman Braet, Guido Latré, Werner Verbeke (2003) Risus mediaevalis: laughter in medieval literature and art p.1 quotation:

    The deliberate use by Menard of the term 'le rire' rather than 'l'humour' reflects accurately the current evidency to incorporate all instances of the comic in the analysis, while the classification in genres and fields such as grotesque, humour and even irony or satire always poses problems. The terms humour and laughter are therefore pragmatically used in recent historiography to cover the entire spectrum.

  8. ^ Ménard, Philippe (1988) Le rire et le sourire au Moyen Age dans la litterature et les arts. Essai de problématique in Bouché, T. and Charpentier, H. (eds., 1988) Le rire au Moyen Âge, Actes du colloque international de Bordeaux, pp.7-30
  9. ^ Aristophanes (1996) Lysistrata, Introduction, p.ix, published by Nick Hern Books
  10. ^ Reckford, Kenneth J. (1987) Aristophanes' Old-and-new Comedy: Six essays in perspective p.105
  11. ^ Cornford, F.M. (1934) The Origin of Attic Comedy pp.3-4 quotation:

    That Comedy sprang up and took shape in connection with Dionysiac or Phallic ritual has never been doubted.

  12. ^ Aristotle, Poetics, lines beginning at 1449a
  13. ^ Regan, Richard. "Shakespearean comedy"
  14. ^ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/entertainment/books/absurd-moments-in-the-frocks-of-the-dame-20100914-15ar3.html
  15. ^ LENNY BRUCE (continued from cover) The Realist No. 15, February 1960
  16. ^ Essay on Comedy, Comic Spirit, by George Meredith from the Encyclopedia of the Self, by Mark Zimmerman
  17. ^ This list was compiled with reference to The Cambridge Guide to Theatre (1998).

Notations

External links


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  • comedy — [käm′ə dē] n. pl. comedies [ME & OFr comedie < L comoedia < Gr kōmōidia < kōmos, revel, carousal + aeidein, to sing: see ODE] 1. Obs. a drama or narrative with a happy ending or nontragic theme [Dante s Divine Comedy] 2. a) any of… …   English World dictionary

  • Comedy — Com e*dy, n.; pl. {Comedies}. [F. com[ e]die, L. comoedia, fr. Gr. ?; ? a jovial festivity with music and dancing, a festal procession, an ode sung at this procession (perh. akin to ? village, E. home) + ? to sing; for comedy was originally of a… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • comedy — late 14c., from O.Fr. comedie (14c., a poem, not in the theatrical sense), from L. comoedia, from Gk. komoidia a comedy, amusing spectacle, from komodios singer in the revels, from komos revel, carousal + oidos singer, poet, from aeidein to sing… …   Etymology dictionary

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  • comedy — ► NOUN (pl. comedies) 1) entertainment consisting of jokes and sketches intended to make an audience laugh. 2) a film, play, or programme intended to arouse laughter. 3) a humorous or satirical play in which the characters ultimately triumph over …   English terms dictionary

  • comedy — comedial /keuh mee dee euhl/, adj. /kom i dee/, n., pl. comedies. 1. a play, movie, etc., of light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance,… …   Universalium

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  • comedy — Synonyms and related words: Atticism, Thalia, agile wit, arlequinade, black comedy, black humor, bladder, broad comedy, burlesque, burletta, camp, cap and bells, caricature, comedie bouffe, comedie larmoyante, comedie rosse, comedietta, comedy… …   Moby Thesaurus

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