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A Critical Introduction

Eli Rozik is Ph.D. and professor emeritus of theatre studies. He was twice head of the Department of Theatre Studies and Dean of the Faculty of the Arts at Tel Aviv University. He specializes in theatre theory, particularly in non-verbal communication in performance analysis; and has published numerous articles in international leading journals in Europe and the US. His books include The Language of Theatre (1992), The Roots of Theatre – Rethinking Ritual and Other Theories of Origin (2002), Metaphoric Thinking (2008), Generating Theatre Meaning (2008) and most recently Fictional Thinking (2009).

Herewith an original approach to the study of comedy. While assimilating theoretical insights from Aristotle to the present day, it contests, inter alia, the theory of comedy's ritual origin; challenges the age-old and continuing attempts to determine the structure of action that characterizes comedy; and suggests instead that structures of action are shared by all genres, and that it is the specific mood that accounts for their differences. Mood is a prism through which a playwright wishes the spectator to perceive a fictional world. Comedy is characterized by its lighthearted mood, which generates a specific kind of laughter. If mood determines the genre of a fictional world, in contrast to current theory, comedy, satiric drama and grotesque drama are different genres promoting different moods and aiming at different effects. Each genre should thus be read and experienced according to its inherent rules and not in terms of a theory that lumps these genres together.

The book discusses the pivotal role of commedia dell’arte in both reflecting comedy's classical tradition and influencing subsequent developments, especially in comedy's style of acting; it explores the relations between comedy and carnival and between comedy and joke-telling; probes the view that comedy is characterized by a unique vision; and examines comedy in different media – such as cinema, comics, puppet theatre, radio drama and TV drama. Eli Rozik questions the traditional semiotic view that all meaning is in the text, and suggests that, in generating comedic meaning, the spectator’s contribution/reaction is no less vital than that of the text itself. Major contributions to a general theory of comedy, and to a sound methodology for the analysis of comedies, are presented, and ample reference to comedies and/or pertinent analyses of such comedies, written over the course of 2,500 years of theatre recorded history, is provided to enable readers to grasp ideas in their original terminology and logic. Each presentation is accompanied by critical comments which attempt both to introduce the problems involved and suggest possible solutions.

The chapter organization reflects the structure of a university course – ideal for undergraduate teaching.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-477-2
Hardback Price: £55.00 / $74.95
Release Date: July 2011
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-478-9
Paperback Price: £18.95 / $37.95
Release Date: July 2011
Page Extent / Format: 264 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


Basic observations
The origin of comedy – historical evidence
The origin of comedy – ritual theory
'Comedy' as a theoretical term
Methodological considerations
Structure of the book

Chapter 1 – Comic Mood
Frye's approach to mode and mood
Freud's approach and its implications
Mode and mood relations
Menander's The Arbitration
Euripides' Ion and New Comedy
Mixing moods

Chapter 2 – Comic Laughter
Hazlitt's 'incongruity'
Bergson's 'mechanical inelasticity'
Laughter, failure and foolishness
Laughter, anxiety and catharsis
Laughter, pain and pity
Laughing and crying
Cultural dependency

Chapter 3 – Laughter-eliciting Devices
Dramatic irony
Quid pro quo
Trickery and disguise
Compulsive repetition
Foul language
Sexual innuendos
Breaking conventions
Plautus' Amphitryon
Comic acting
Comic atmosphere

Chapter 4 – Fictional Structure
The fictional mode
Structure and thematic specification
Aristotle's structural approach
Hegel's structural approach
The psychoanalytic approach
Frye's thematic approach
Plautus' The Pot of Gold

Chapter 5 – Structure of Comedy
A model of fictional/comedic structure
The inner structure
Menander's Old Cantankerous
The outer structure
Terence's The Brothers
Deus ex machina

Chapter 6 – Comedic Character
Structure of comedic character
Kinds of comedic characters
Bergson's approach
Characterization and function
Stock-type characters
Static characterization
The chorus as comic character

Chapter 7 – The Range of Comedy
Molière's George Dandin
Feydeau's A Flea in the Ear
Chaplin's Modern Times
Romantic comedy
Shakespeare's Twelfth Night
Sketch comedy
The Mobilized Vehicle

Chapter 8 - Tangential Genres
Satiric drama
Aristophanes' Plutus
Gogol's The Government Inspector
Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest
Synge's The Playboy of the Western World
Grotesque drama
Ghelderode's The Blind
Arrabal's Guernica
Ionesco's Exit the King
Stand-up comedy

Chapter 9 – Commedia dell'Arte
A professional theatre
A brief history
A specimen scenario: The Three Cuckolds
The heritage of commedia dell'arte
Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters

Chapter 10 – Comedy and Carnival
Nature of Carnival
The Feast of Fools
Parody of sacred texts – the purim-shpil
The purim-rabbi
Mask and disguise
Carnivalesque elements in comedy
Molière's The Trickeries of Scapin
The Trickeries of Scapin on stage

Chapter 11 – Comedy and Joke-telling
Freud's theory of jokes
Grotjahn's theory of wit
Bentley's approach
A cathartic approach
Elements of joke/wit in comedy
Anonymous Maître Pierre Pathelin

Chapter 12 – The Comic Vision
Langer's 'feeling and form'
Sypher's 'double view'
Scott's 'whole truth'
Bentley's 'enduring life'
Vision vs. mood

Chapter 13 – Comedy in Different Media
The imagistic roots of iconicity
Limitations and compensations
Representative examples
Twelfth Night in the dramatic group
Twelfth Night in the pictorial group
Twelfth Night in the recording and reproducing group

Chapter 14 – Reception of Comedy
Real vs. implied spectator
Implied spectator and reception
The perception of suffering
Holistic experience
Dialogue of author and spectator
The textual fallacy


Cited Theoretical Works
Analyzed and Cited Play-scripts
Analyzed and Cited Works of Art

Rozik offers a complex critical introduction to comedy in 14 chapters. He argues that comedy is a function of ‘mood’ rather than of genre, structure, or other elements, and he employs this conceit to study comic structure, character, range, and the relationships between comedy and carnival, joke telling, ‘tangential genres’, and different media. He summarizes many of the major theories of comedy, laughter, and humor and offers solid critiques of why these theories are incomplete or inadequate. ... Rozik argues for a ‘pivotal role' for commedia dell’arte as both reflecting comedy’s origins and influencing later comedy, thus displaying a bias toward the West. ... The volume will be of interest to scholars.

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