English Stage Comedy

English Stage Comedy

English Stage Comedy

English Stage Comedy

Excerpt

Despite a classical tradition concerning miscarriage at the sight of Aeschylean furies, or bad conscience laid open, and despite a tearful indulgence that seems to have been fairly frequent with audiences in the eighteenth century, tragedy is nowadays hardly expected to produce even the commotion of tears. On the other hand, one of the most patent facts about comedy is that even the modern audience does laugh, and is apparently expected to. One recent writer on the subject has indeed considered it "very doubtful whether the end of comedy is to produce laughter." He observes that "many of the greatest comedies have a rather sobering effect." His argument may work especially well for the comic novel or the "comic" essay. Mr. Potts may be able to read Emma to himself without laughing. But a comic play at which people do not laugh sounds like an odd success, and this no doubt helps to explain both why the literary comic tradition centers on the stage, and why comic theory has almost always been implicated in theory of laughter. The phenomenon of laughter does offer an easily locatable, if perhaps only superficial, point of reference for talking about a literary species.

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