WHAT IS COMEDY?
COMEDY has not been well treated by the philosophers. She started as a Cinderella of the Muses, and something of a Cinderella she has remained. All the weight of the philosophical criticism of the forms of drama has been directed on Tragedy, and the exhausted analyst, from Aristotle onwards, has generally been content to deal with Comedy in a postscript, or by that unsatisfactory method known as the method of reference. Make the necessary alterations, we are told, and almost everything that has been said of Tragedy may be applied to Comedy. But what are the necessary alterations? Mutatis mutandis is an important expression, and an ablative absolute will always be respectable; but we remain, on those terms, where we were. Even the best of our essayists, our freest minds, tend to succumb, in this matter, like the philosophers. 'I have confined my observations', says Charles Lamb, at the conclusion of a famous paper, 'to the tragic parts of Shakespeare. It would be no very difficult task'-- they all say that--'to extend the enquiry to his comedies; and to shew why Falstaff, Shallow, Sir Hugh Evans, and the rest, are equally incompatible with stage representation.'
Some attempts have indeed been made, in the last half- century or so, to supply this persistent omission, and, at the moment, Comedy--its nature, its habits, and function--is engaging the attention of a number of our younger critics. They have turned to it, naturally enough, after the immense addition of our fathers and grandfathers to the study of Tragedy, and especially Shakespearian Tragedy. Criticism to-day is in considerable and not unhealthy reaction from that school of which Mr. Bradley Shakespearean Tragedy is the