Encyclopedia of Literature and Criticism

By Martin Coyle; Peter Garside et al. | Go to book overview

26

COMEDY

PETER THOMSON

Common usage, in the twentieth century, permits us to call it a ‘tragedy’ if we scratch the paintwork of a new car and to call it a ‘comedy’ if we lock the keys inside it. That is to say that we may label ‘comic’ the events that ensue from a mishap that doesn’t really matter, comes out all right in the end and costs little or nothing. Nor is this association of comedy with the fundamentally unserious confined to the banter of manifestly uncritical discourse. Ann Jellicoe, herself the author of the successful comedy The Knack (1961), has recently written and directed community plays, about which she has published a practical guide. The section subheaded ‘Practical Demands of the Script’ offers this advice to playwrights: ‘The play should have lots of action. It should aim to be popular. It may be serious—people love serious things as much as they love comedy’ (1987, p. 131).

Jellicoe’s opposition of seriousness and comedy is slipshod, but it signifies a stage in the history of a word. Spoken in modern, middle-class comfort, ‘I like a good comedy’ should be interpreted as: ‘If I do go to the theatre—which is a rare occurrence—I like to see a play which makes me laugh, but doesn’t make me think.’ The pervasive influence of television is significant here. A regular splash of laughter from a studio audience increases the fireside appeal of ‘situation comedy’. There is no clear reason why this should be so, although the tendency of laughter to spread is well observed. The television series M*A*S*H is not more ‘comic’ in America, where it is accompanied by canned laughter, than it is in Britain, where it is broadcast without accompaniment. The question is of some historical importance, for although the provoking of laughter has been a characteristic effect of comedy throughout its existence, it is only in the television age that the provocation has been perceived as the single goal. A similar teleological transformation has already overtaken the kindred word ‘comedian’. A Polonius, informed that the comedians are in Elsinore, would not be surprised to find them playing a tragedy. It was primarily through radio that the word became tied to the stand-up act of an Arthur

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Encyclopedia of Literature and Criticism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Preface xvii
  • I - Introduction 1
  • 1 - Literature 3
  • Further Reading 24
  • Additional Works Cited 25
  • 2 - Criticism 27
  • Further Reading 63
  • II - Literature and History 67
  • 3 - Medieval Literature and the Medieval World 69
  • Further Reading 80
  • 4 - The Renaissance 82
  • 5 - Augustanism 93
  • Additional Works Cited 105
  • 6 - Romanticism 106
  • 7 - Modernism 119
  • Further Reading 129
  • 8 - Postmodernism 131
  • III - Poetry 149
  • 9 - Genre 151
  • Further Reading 162
  • 10 - Poetry 164
  • Additional Works Cited 176
  • 11 - Epic and Romance 177
  • 12 - Lyric 188
  • Further Reading 197
  • 13 - Narrative Verse 199
  • Further Reading 207
  • 14 - Women and the Poetic Tradition: The Oppressor’s Language 208
  • 15 - Medieval Poetry 223
  • Additional Works Cited 238
  • 16 - Renaissance Poetry 239
  • Additional Works Cited 250
  • 17 - ‘Augustan’ Poetry 253
  • 18 - Romantic Poetry 265
  • Further Reading 276
  • 19 - Victorian Poetry 278
  • 20 - The French Symbolists 295
  • Further Reading 306
  • 21 - Modern Poetry 308
  • 22 - British Poetry since 1945: Poetry and the Historical Moment 321
  • 23 - Contemporary American Poetry 336
  • IV - Drama 349
  • 24 - Stagecraft 351
  • Further Reading 361
  • 25 - Tragedy 363
  • Further Reading 374
  • 26 - Comedy 375
  • Further Reading 385
  • 27 - Shakespeare 387
  • Additional Works Cited 399
  • 28 - Medieval Drama 400
  • 29 - Renaissance Drama 413
  • Further Reading 423
  • 30 - Restoration Theatre 424
  • Further Reading 435
  • 31 - The Origins of the Modern British Stage 436
  • Further Reading 449
  • 32 - Theories of Modern Drama 451
  • 33 - The Theatre of the Absurd 464
  • Further Reading 474
  • 34 - Theatre and Politics 475
  • Further Reading 487
  • 35 - Feminist Theatre 488
  • V - The Novel 503
  • 36 - Modes of Eighteenth-Century Fiction 505
  • Further Reading 516
  • 37 - Feminine Fictions 518
  • Further Reading 529
  • 38 - The Historical Novel 531
  • 39 - The Nineteenth-Century Social Novel in England 544
  • Further Reading 553
  • 40 - The Realist Novel: The European Context 554
  • Further Reading 564
  • 41 - Realism and the English Novel 565
  • Additional Works Cited 575
  • 42 - American Romance 576
  • Further Reading 586
  • 43 - Formalism and the Novel: Henry James 589
  • Further Reading 601
  • 44 - The Novel and Modern Criticism 602
  • Further Reading 617
  • 45 - The Modernist Novel in the Twentieth Century 619
  • 46 - British Fiction since 1930 631
  • 47 - Contemporary Fiction 643
  • Further Reading 649
  • VI - Criticism 651
  • 48 - Biblical Hermeneutics 653
  • Further Reading 664
  • 49 - Neo-Classical Criticism 666
  • Further Reading 680
  • Additional Works Cited 681
  • 50 - The Romantic Critical Tradition 682
  • 51 - Great Traditions: The Logic of the Canon 696
  • Further Reading 706
  • 52 - Marxist Criticism 708
  • Further Reading 719
  • 53 - The New Criticism 721
  • Further Reading 734
  • 54 - Structuralism and Post-Structuralism: from the Centre to the Margin 736
  • Further Reading 748
  • 55 - Feminist Literary Criticism: ‘New Colours and Shadows’ 750
  • Further Reading 762
  • 56 - Psychoanalytic Criticism 764
  • 57 - Deconstruction 777
  • Further Reading 789
  • 58 - New Historicism 791
  • Further Reading 803
  • VII - Production and Reception 807
  • 59 - Production and Reception of the Literary Book 809
  • 60 - The Printed Book 825
  • 61 - Literacy 837
  • 62 - Publishing before 1800 848
  • Further Reading 860
  • 63 - Publishing since 1800 862
  • Further Reading 874
  • 64 - British Periodicals and Reading Publics 876
  • Further Reading 887
  • 65 - Libraries and the Reading Public 889
  • 66 - Censorship 901
  • 67 - The Bibliographic Record 915
  • 68 - The Institutionalization of Literature: The University 926
  • Additional Works Cited 938
  • VIII - Contexts 939
  • 69 - Literature and the History of Ideas 941
  • 70 - Literature and the Bible 951
  • Further Reading 962
  • 71 - Literature and the Classics 964
  • Additional Works Cited 975
  • 72 - Folk Literature 976
  • Further Reading 988
  • 73 - Literature and the Visual Arts 991
  • 74 - Literature and Music 1004
  • Further Reading 1014
  • 75 - Literature and Landscape 1015
  • Further Reading 1027
  • 76 - The Sentimental Ethic 1029
  • 77 - The Gothic 1044
  • Further Reading 1054
  • 78 - Aestheticism 1055
  • 79 - Literature and Science 1068
  • 80 - Literature and Language 1082
  • 81 - Culture and Popular Culture: The Politics of Photopoetry 1098
  • IX - Perspectives 1111
  • 82 - New English Literatures 1113
  • 83 - African Literature in English 1125
  • Further Reading 1134
  • 84 - The African-American Literary Tradition 1136
  • 85 - Australian Literature and the British Tradition 1148
  • 86 - Canadian Literature 1162
  • Further Reading 1175
  • 87 - Indian Literature in English 1176
  • 88 - New Zealand and Pacific Literature 1186
  • Further Reading 1196
  • 89 - West Indian Literature 1198
  • Additional Works Cited 1209
  • 90 - Western Literature in Modern China 1210
  • X - Afterword 1219
  • W(H)Ither ‘English’? 1221
  • Further Reading 1236
  • The Contributors 1237
  • Index 1241
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