Introduction to Issues Surrounding Comedy

Over the course of this semester, we will be exploring together four interrelated issues: 1) the nature of comedy; 2) the performance of comedy; 3) the history of comedy (Western); and 4) the relationship between comedy and a Christian worldview.  To do this we will be looking at the texts of several plays, including visual and aural media whenever possible.  We will also be reading a number of critical and theological studies (some more academic than others) that seek to explore the nature of humor, the comic, and the drama in general.  We will also be writing and presenting critiques, reviews, and reports that seek to engage the history and theory of this field.  As we begin, here are some questions to consider:

drawing of 5 jesters holding hands and playing

1. What exactly is comedy?

  • Is it primarily a matter of the presence or absence of humor?   Are there different kinds of humor that make something a comedy?  Are satire and comedy the same thing?
  • Is comedy a matter of plot?  Dante, for instance, argued that "A tragedy is a story that begins in joy but ends in pain. A comedy is a story that begins in pain, but ends in joy."  Many comedies end happily often with a wedding or reconciliation of all sides, but this isn't always the case. 
  • Do comedies make certain assumptions about the world, society, behavior?  Why do so many comedies seem to stress scatology or sex?  Do comedies seek to conserve a society's norms or reform them?
  • What attitude does the audience have towards the characters and actions on the stage?  Do they feel sympathy, superiority, disdain?
  • How have historical periods differed in their conceptions of comedy?

2. What shapes a dramatic performance? How are each of these involved in shaping and presenting a comic vision?

  • Staging
  • Blocking
  • Costumes
  • Props and Lighting
  • Delivery
  • Dance and music
  • Shape of the theatre

3. What shapes a dramatic reading of a play? How do the following shape the effectiveness of a comedy?

  • Tone
  • Pacing
  • Inflection
  • Body Language
  • Facial Expression
  • Context

4. What are the relationships between God, theology, and Christianity and the theatre, esp. comedy?

  • What kinds of Christian themes are suited for a comic treatment?  Are some unsuitable?
  • How does the history of Christian interaction with (and condemnation of) the theatre shape present involvement with drama?
  • What does Christianity have to say to the staging and performance of drama, especially comedy?
  • Does Christianity have a comic vision?   Does God have a sense of humor?
  • Do certain theological themes, such as Creation, Fall, Incarnation, Eschatology, Redemption, and Hermeneutics, have anything to say to humor, comedy, or the comic vision?
  • Is there a relationship between Christianity liturgy and drama?
  • What does Christianity have to say about acting and the vocation of the actor?