The History of Comedy

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The History of Comedy. From Old Greek to the Present Day What does Comedy mean? In old Greek times comedy was a village festival where people came together and sang, there were jesters to entertain the audiences. The Greeks created theatre; comedy soon followed which to the present day is known as ‘old comedy’. Old comedy is seen as very political, meaning that the performance uses mockery at the governments’ expense. A similar trait between old comedy and new comedy is the fact that everyone is there for a good time. The Greeks ‘new comedy’ is described as being farcical, it is always funny and satire is less important. A major benefactor to comedy is Plautus and Terence. These Roman/Latin playwrights were studied by Shakespeare, who used the term ‘stock characters’ during his comical plays. Stock characters in non-drama terms are known as stereotypical people whom are very effective in a comedy. A Plautine inspiration is very deep, which is why Shakespeare’s plays were so successful and emotional. Commedia dell’arte is a comedic form from the 16th century Italy. This form resurrected Greek Old Comedy. Full plays of farcical humour were not written yet. This era of comedy also used ‘stock characters’ which we would recognise from society. Since masks were used in the theatre, it became a very physical form of comedy. Lower class characters, such as Harlequin, were often played by acrobats. As well as being very physical, Commedia dell’arte is very visual – “precursor of farce” – it relies on a lot of sight gags in order to get cheap laughs. What does farce mean? “A farce is a comedy which aims to entertain the audience by means of unlikely, extravagant and improbable situations”. The characters are bigger than life and use verbal humour of varying degrees of sophistication, which may include world play and a fast-paced plot whose speed...
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