Different Kinds of Comedy & Examples in Literature

What is Comedy?

Comedy is a comic element, that is used to amuse and entertain the people. This entertainment comprises on jokes, satire and humor. It can be in the shape of a film, book or play which contains a happy ending.

Although comedy is taken as a source of pleasure, however, it does not mean that all comedy work is for entertainment. Typically, comedy focuses on the shortcomings, mistakes and misunderstandings of characters to provoke laughter.

It often highlights the human follies and social customs in a light-hearted, exaggerated and satirical manner. Comedies usually have happy endings. It is the best source to resolve conflicts and misunderstandings. This genre can include various subtypes, such as slapstick, parody, romantic comedy and satirical comedy. Each employ different methods to elicit laughter and entertainment.

Tone & Characters of Comedy

The tone of the comedy is humorous and its theme is also comic. The characters of the comedy are in a state of satire and humor. Consecutive humorous series of events come in that type of play.

Two Major Figures of Comedy

The two major writers of comedy in England were Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. In their conception and treatment of comedy, they were very different.

Shakespeare wrote almost every kind except satirical comedy whereas Johnson wrote any that was not satirical. Shakespeare and Jonson had many imitators, but there were also many original works written in the period. Notable minor works are John Lyly’s Endymion, Robert Greene’s Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, etc.

Different Kinds of Comedy

  1. Slapstick Comedy: This type contains exaggerated physical activity that exceeds the boundaries of normal physical comedy. It includes pratfalls, pie-throwing and other forms of violent action, which intend to extend laughter.
  2. Satire: It includes the uses of wit, irony and exaggeration to criticize and poke fun at follies and shortcomings in the context of contemporary politics, other topical issues and societal norms.
  3. Parody: A parody mimics the style of a particular genre, work and artist. It often exaggerates characteristic features of the original for comic effect.
  4. Screwball Comedy: This type of comedy is considered as a combination of slapstick with fast-paced repartee and absurd situations. They often involve battles of the sexes and a quirky romantic element.
  5. Romantic Comedy: It is abbreviated as “rom-com”. This sub-genre combines elements of romance and comedy. It focuses on the relationships and allow the misadventures of those falling in love.
  6. Black Comedy: Black comedy makes humor out of subjects that are generally considered serious, taboo and distressing, such as death, war and crime.
  7. Stand-up Comedy: The comedic performance where the comedian performs in front of a live audience. The performer speaks directly to them. He recites a fast-paced succession of humorous stories, short jokes and involve the acute observations of everyday life.
  8. Sitcoms (Situational Comedies): The type of comedy series that revolve around a fixed set of characters in a relatively consistent setting. Sitcoms traditionally involve characters who deal with situational misunderstandings and humorous conflicts in each episode.
Different Kinds of Comedy
Different Kinds of Comedy

Types of Comedy genres

I- Greek Comedy

Greek comedy (in speaking of which we distinguish between Old, Middle, and New Comedy) was from the beginning associated with fertility rites and the worship of Dionysus; thus, with komos. From Aristophanes onwards, it has been primarily associated with drama. Aristophanes wrote a variety of comedies that combine fine lyric verse, dance, satire, social comments, and remarkable characters.

II- Tragedy Comedy in Poetics

As for the theory of comedy thus far, there is not much to record. In Poetics, Aristotle distinguishes it from tragedy by saying it deals amusingly with ordinary characters in rather everyday situations.

III- Comedy as per ‘Dante’

It is made clearer by Dante in his Epistle to Can Grande in which he explains what he is setting out to achieve in the Divina Commedia. He derives the word comedy from ‘comos’, ‘a village’, and oda, ‘a song’, thus comedy is a sort of rustic song. He goes on to say that comedy is a method of poetical description that is dissimilar from any other kind.

He contrasts comedy and tragedy and points out that comedy begins with harshness but ends happily. Its style is negligent and humble.

Comedy in Middle Age and Renaissance

In the Middle Ages, a comedy was a poem with a sad start and a happy end. In the Renaissance, a very different vision of comedy was carried out, as one can soon discover from a brief examination of English critics. For the most part, they held the view that the object of comedy was corrective, if not punitive.

Comedy as per ‘Sidney’ in ‘Apologie for Poetrie

“Comedy is an imitation of the common errors of life, which he represents in the most ridiculous and scornful sort that may be; so that it is impossible that any beholder can be content to be such a one.”

In The Arte of English Poesie, Puttenham wrote

…but commonly of merchants, souldieers, artificers, good honest householders, and also of unthrifty youths, yong damsels, old nurses, bawds, brokers, ruffians, and parasites, with such like, in whose behaviors lyeth in effect the whole course and trade of man’s life, and therefore tended altogether to the good amendment of man by discipline and example. It was also much for the solace and recreation of the common people by reason of the pageants and shewes. And this kind of poem was called Comedy….

Examples of Comedy Literature

Example#1

“roilus and Criseyde” by Chaucer

Go, litel book, go, litel myn tragedye,
Ther god thi makere yet, er that the dye,
So sende might to make in som comedye!

Here the usage is antithetical. It is frustrating that Chaucer never told us what he thought comedy was.

Example#2

“The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Knight interrupts the Monk’s long catalog of tragedies and says that he would like to hear a different kind of story:

I seye for me, it is a greet disese
Where-as men han ben in greet welthe and ese,
To heren of hir sodeyn fal, allas!
And the contrarie is loye and greet solas,
As whan a man hath been in povre estaat
And clymbeth up, and wexeth fortunate,
And there abydeth in prosperitee,
Swich thing is gladsome, as it thinketh me.

The Knight’s description of a person climbing out of misfortune to prosperity, to the ‘gladsome,’ is as satisfactory a definition of the medieval conception of comedy as one will find.

Example#3

“Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift

“I told him… that we ate when we were not hungry, and drank without the provocation of thirst.”

The writer uses satire in “Gulliver’s Travels” to critisize the customs and behavior of his contemporary society. In the aforesaid example, Gulliver explains human eating and drinking habits to the King of Brobdingnag, who is puzzled by the irrationality of consuming food and drink without the basic need for it. This serves as a satirical remark on excessive consumption and gluttony prevalent in Swift’s society.

Types of Comedy Theatre

There are various types of comedy theatre. Comedy is a broad term, covering all genres of comedy, but certain types are often associated with certain kinds of comedy.

Comedy theatre can be divided into two main categories: farce and slapstick. Farce is a drama that is characterized by an improbable plot and many comic elements that are played for laughs.

Slapstick is a form of physical comedy that relies heavily on pratfalls, stunts and other physical feats of derring-do in order to bring about laughter from the audience.

Related Terms

I- farce

Farce is a sub-genre of comedy that emphasizes highly exaggerated, extravagant, and thus improbable situations. It often includes elements of slapstick, absurdity and rapid movement. It is designed to provoke laughter through nonsensical scenarios and physical humor.

II- Irony

Irony is a literary device involving a discrepancy between expectations and reality. It is used to express a contradiction between what is said and what is meant, or between what happens and what was expected to happen. Irony can serve as a powerful tool in comedy to enhance humor through contrast and unexpected twists.

For example, in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” verbal irony is frequently used when characters say things that mean quite the opposite of what is true, often to comic effect, particularly in the dialogue of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

Read also: Literary Devices That Start With C

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