High and Low Comedy: Definition & Meaning

Also Read

High Comedy

      High Comedy is an intellectual comedy work filled up with a sophisticated wit, witty dialogue, satire, biting humor, or criticism of life. High Comedy often satirizes the genteel society. High comedy can also be found in poems as well as prose pieces, that is, novels and short stories. The New Classical Period (1700-1800) in literature is full of examples of High Comedy. The mock-heroic poem The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope is one of the example of high comedy. The poem ironically adopts the tone and structure of the ancient epic poets, such as Homer and Virgil.

      Turning to play, Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest is a popular instance of high comedy with clever pun. This play on words uses the homophonic relationship between earnest (sincere) and the male name, Ernest, to identify the central comedic theme. Wilde centers his play on the adoption of the persona of Ernest: a rabble-rousing young man with indelicate manners and appetites. If this was not enough to set the Victorian sensibilities of the day reeling, we discover that actually two different men assume the same persona as a means of escaping the restrictions society has placed on them. With two men trying to be one person though, hilarity is sure to ensue as they attempt to interact socially in a society that would indeed disapprove of their deception.

Low Comedy

      This type of comedy has been a fixture ever since Greek plays. Low comedy was first denoted as comedy for the commoners because it was most often practiced by street performers. Over time as low comedy began to include lewd jokes and more physical comedy, more mainstream performers began to practice this type of comedy: stand-up comedians, musicals, etc. This type of comedy also was employed in most children’s cartoons. Low comedy, in association to comedy, is a dramatic or literary form of entertainment with no primary purpose but to create laughter by boasting, boisterous jokes, drunkenness, scolding, fighting, buffoonery and other riotous activity. It is also characterized by ‘horseplay’, slapstick or farce. Other examples include one throwing a custard pie into another’s face. This definition has also expanded to include lewd types of comedy that rely on physical jokes. Used either alone or added as comic relief to more serious forms, low comedy has origins in the comic improvisations of actors in ancient Greek and Roman comedy. Low comedy can also be found in medieval religious drama, in the works of William Shakespeare, in farce and vaudeville, in the antics of motion-picture comedians, and in television.

Previous Post Next Post