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Home > AP Courses and Exams > Course Home Pages > Comedy and Its Characteristics

Comedy and Its Characteristics

by Celia Maddox
Educational Consultant
Norwalk, Connecticut

Comedy in General
Columbia Encyclopedia: Comedy
The Columbia Encyclopedia's entry on comedy is fairly brief, with just a few paragraphs on the evolution of theatrical comedy and still fewer entries on twentieth-century comedy. It features links to major comic dramatists from Aristophanes to Mamet.
Columbia Encyclopedia: Comedy

Britannica.com
The Encyclopedia Britannica's online article is a detailed 30 pages but requires an (inexpensive) subscription.
  Britannica.com

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature at Bartleby.com (18 volumes) includes informative and thorough entries on comedy of periods from Chaucer to Twain. The Restoration article (which includes discussion of Molière) is particularly good. You can search the volume for relevant entries, using "comedy" and "humour" or more specific phrases (e.g., "comedy of manners") as search terms.
  The Cambridge History of English and American Literature

Theories of Humor and Comedy
A longish introduction to comedy and humor from a Theories of Comedy and Humor course at Calverton School is useful for its simply-stated discussion of major theories from Aristotle to Freud, for the connections it makes to modern humor from Lenny Bruce to Wile E. Coyote, and for its overview of comic elements (incongruity, reversal, exaggeration).
  Theories of Humor and Comedy

"On the Idea of Comedy and of the Uses of the Comic Spirit" by George Meredith
E-text of George Meredith's essay "On the Idea of Comedy and of the Uses of the Comic Spirit" (1898).
  "On the Idea of Comedy and of the Uses of the Comic Spirit" by George Meredith

"Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic" by Henri Bergson
E-text of Henri Bergson's "Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic" (1900).
  "Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic" by Henri Bergson

The Characteristics of Comedy
Comedy and Tragedy
This page from a course called "True Love: Men Versus Women in Ancient and Modern Culture" comments succinctly on aspects of comedy that might be most useful in courses in the Pre-AP years: the comic hero, the focus on ordinary people, and the basic types of comedy -- farcical, romantic, and satirical.
  Comedy and Tragedy

Dramatic Subgenres
A simple page on dramatic subgenres whose definitions include examples of each type and a hyperlinked sidebar for zeroing in on "key terms" such as comedy of humors and high/low comedy.
  Dramatic Subgenres

Theories of Comedy
Bulleted highlights from theories of comedy found in Aristotle's Poetics and Tractate, and in Cicero's "Character of the Orator."
  Theories of Comedy

Characteristics of Tragedy and Comedy
A chart that the author, John Morreall, calls a "debatable list" of the characteristics of comedy versus tragedy.
  Characteristics of Tragedy and Comedy

Some Distinctions Between Classical Tragedy and Comedy
Another chart-like list that compares comedy and tragedy in several categories: purpose and effect, qualities of protagonist, types of struggle, and methods.
  Some Distinctions Between Classical Tragedy and Comedy (.pdf/563KB)






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