This course studies the theory and artistic expression of dramatic comedy, from ancient Greece to 21st-century America. Specifically, and somewhat distinct from an investigation of jokes and laughter, readings and assignments focus on the formal aspects of comedy, especially as shaped by its origins in Greek fertility festivals through to its absurdist postmodern manifestations. Expressions of comedy include representative plays from four or five historical periods, as well as selections from television and film of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Theoretical readings by such writers as Plato, Aristotle, Henri Bergson, Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russell, Susan K. Langer, Mikhail Bakhtin, Northrop Frye, and Martin Esslin provide frames not only for interpreting comedy itself, but also for understanding the relationship between comedy and society. Affiliate department: English.