Concept of Comedy and Verious Forms

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      Comedy is opposed to tragedy, it is intended to provoke laughter, not tears, and to present an amusing, not a grave view of life. The comic hero triumphs over the difficulties that beset him, and the way in which he succeeds in doing this wins our admiration and fills our mind with a sort of intellectual pleasure. Instead of the death and disaster on which a tragedy closes, we find at the end of a comedy all the characters are united and happy. Comedy provides the best scope for the exercise of 'poetic justice'.

      Poetic justice is exercised when the dramatist or poet represents vice as punished and virtue as rewarded. Care must be taken to see that this notion of the just, or punishment of the wicked, is not ostentatiously thrust before the reader's attention, but that it follows naturally from the course of the story.

Various Kinds of Comedy

      (i) The Comedy of Manners. The Comedy of Manners, which is also spoken of as Artificial Comedy or High Comedy; was in vogue in England after the Restoration, and had in view the portrayal of the social customs, manners and life of the age. The comedies of Congreve belong to this class.

      (ii) Low Comedy. It is the same as farce when it makes use of less refined speech and action in order to create its comic appeal.

      (iii) Comedy of Intrigue. In the Comedy of Intrigue the plot or action is made the principal object, and not the presentation of character. Comedies of this kind were very popular in Spain, and the English dramatists of the post-Restoration period, notably Dryden, imitated them. Dryden's The Spanish Friar is a comedy which depends for its interest on intrigue.

      (iv) The Comedy of Character. On the other hand, the Comedy of Character or as it was also called, the 'Comedy of Humour', set itself the task of presenting some special peculiarity or oddity of character; some salient trait, such as the habitual attitude and the conduct of the person possessing it. Such types are to be found in Ben Johnson's Every Man in His Humour and in the works of the French dramatist Moliere.

      (v) The Divine Comedy as a Comedy. When Dante called his great epic The Divine Comedy he used the term 'comedy' in a sense very different from that in which it is used by us. In Dante's time, comedy meant a story with a happy ending; there was no notion attached to it of its being hilarious or mirth-provoking.

      (vi) Tragi-Comedy or The Romantic Comedy. Tragi-comedy in its literal meaning is a mixture of tragedy and comedy. Such a combination was repulsive to the taste of those dramatists who followed the classical tradition and Dryden gives expression to their view in his Essay on Dramatic Poesy when he says: "There is no theatre in the world as anything so absurd as the English Tragi-comedy; here a course of mirth, there another of sadness and passion, and a third of honor and a duel: thus in two hours and a half we run through all the fits of Bedlam". The Romantic dramatists did not believe in the view that mirth was incompatible with seriousness, and therefore, in some of the most awe-inspiring tragedies of Shakespeare, like Macbeth or Hamlet, there are comic scenes, that of the Porter in the former and that of the Grave-diggers in the latter; but they do not make the play a tragi-comedy, for there is a tragic note running through the whole play. These scenes are intended to provide some relief to the overwrought feelings of the audience, and at the same time, by way of contrast, to deepen the sense of tragedy.

      But there are other plays, which, though they end happily; nevertheless, contain elements which might have turned the into tragedies; such are, for instance, Measure for Measure and The Winter's Tale, and to these, the name of tragi-comedies may more fitly be given. We cannot, however, speak of tragi-comedy as a separate division of the drama, for in as much as it has a happy ending it comes under the generic heading of comedy.

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