Comedy

This class considers comedy in drama, narrative, and film spanning more than 2000 years, drawing examples from narrative or dramatic works of literature and pairing them as well as we can with examples drawn from film. We will investigate the romantic comedy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Howard Hawks’s film, Bringing Up Baby; study the comedy of humors in Moliere’s The Misanthrope and Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day; try to understand the uneasy relationships between farce and romantic love in Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Billy Wilder’s film Some Like It Hot; analyze the comedy of the grotesque in Rabelais’s Gargantua and Carl Reiner’s film All of Me; look into the workings of satire in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove; consider the anarchy of screwball comedy in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, part I and the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup. We will touch upon the connections between violence and redemptive humor, satire and festivity, while noting certain fundamentals: an interest in the body as object and source of rebellious pleasure; a pattern of transgression against social norms corrected and reordered through laughter; a fascination with the possibilities and limits of verbal play; a concern with real and mistaken identity; an opportunity for political protest and social reform. As the class develops, we will note the ways writers appropriate and reshape comic plots and structures from the past for new uses, and we will read and discuss philosophic investigations of the sources of comic effect in works by Aristotle, Henri Bergson, Sigmund Freud, Northrop Frye, and others.