Comedy and Tragedy According to Aristotle

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Comedy and Tragedy| |
 
    Comedy
    According to Aristotle (who speculates on the matter in his Poetics), ancient comedy originated with the komos, a curious and improbable spectacle in which a company of festive males apparently sang, danced, and cavorted rollickingly around the image of a large phallus.  (If this theory is true, by the way, it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "stand-up routine.")     Accurate or not, the linking of the origins of comedy to some sort of phallic ritual or festival of mirth seems both plausible and appropriate, since for most of its history--from Aristophanes to Seinfeld--comedy has involved a high-spirited celebration of human sexuality and the triumph of eros. As a rule, tragedies occur on the battlefield or in a palace's great hall; a more likely setting for comedy is the bedroom or bathroom.     On the other hand, it's not true that a film or literary work must involve sexual humor or even be funny in order to qualify as a comedy. A happy ending is all that's required. In fact, since at least as far back as Aristotle, the basic formula for comedy has had more to do with conventions and expectations of plot and character than with a requirement for lewd jokes or cartoonish pratfalls. In essence: A comedy is a story of the rise in fortune of a sympathetic central character.     The comic hero

    Of course this definition doesn't mean that the main character in a comedy has to be a spotless hero in the classic sense. It only means that she (or he) must display at least the minimal level of personal charm or worth of character it takes to win the audience's basic approval and support. The rise of a completely worthless person or the triumph of an utter villain is not comical; it's the stuff of gothic fable or dark satire. On the other hand, judging from the qualities displayed by many of literature's most popular comic heroes (e.g., Falstaff, Huck Finn) audiences have no trouble at all pulling for a likeable rogue or fun-loving scamp.     Aristotle suggests that comic figures are mainly "average to below average" in terms of moral character, perhaps having in mind the wily servant or witty knave who was already a stock character of ancient comedy. He also suggests that only low or ignoble figures can strike us as ridiculous. However, the most ridiculous characters are often those who, although well-born, are merely pompous or self-important instead of truly noble. Similarly, the most sympathetic comic figures are frequently plucky underdogs, young men or women from humble or disadvantaged backgrounds who prove their real worth--in effect their "natural nobility"--through various tests of character over the course of a story or play.     Ordinary People

    Traditionally, comedy has to do with the concerns and exploits of ordinary people. The characters of comedy therefore tend to be plain, everyday figures (e.g., lower or middle-income husbands and wives, students and teachers, children and parents, butchers, bakers, and candlestick-makers ) instead of the kings, queens, heroes, plutocrats, and heads of state who form the dramatis personae of tragedy. Comic plots, accordingly, tend to be about the kind of problems that ordinary people are typically involved with: winning a new boyfriend (or reclaiming an old one), succeeding at a job, passing an exam, getting the money needed to pay for a medical operation, or simply coping with a bad day. Again, the true hallmark of comedy isn't always laughter. More often, it's the simple satisfaction we feel when we witness deserving people succeed.     Types of Comedies

    Comedies can be separated into at least three subordinate categories or sub-genres--identified and briefly characterized as follows: * Farce. The identifying features of farce are zaniness, slapstick humor, and hilarious improbability. The characters of farce are typically fantastic or absurd and usually far more ridiculous than those in other forms...
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