Acting Funny: Comic Theory and Practice in Shakespeare's Plays
Frances N. Teague
Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1994 - Literary Criticism - 190 pages
This anthology of critical essays uses Shakespeare's plays to consider some of the theoretical and practical issues involved in staging the comic. The contributors reexamine certain familiar assumptions about comic characters and situations in Shakespeare's plays and demonstrate that rejecting or modifying those assumptions significantly enriches one's understanding of the plays. Essays that trace criticism of Shakespeare's comedies often begin by remarking that the comedies have been neglected: one reason for that neglect is the critical assumption that tragedy is superior to comedy. The intrusion of the comic into tragedy is often considered an artistic lapse by Renaissance commentators like Jonson and Sidney. An assumption that may follow from the premise of tragedy as a master form is that a hierarchical universe exists in which both life and art are organized by hierarchies. That has led critics to insist that comedy focuses on the affairs of low people (as opposed to princes), and that laughter is a way of marking one's status. Finally, these assumptions lead to the corollary that such hierarchies are natural and immutable and not fashioned by critics.
The essays that form Acting Funny challenge each of these presuppositions. They do so by focusing on the works of Shakespeare. His plays have been more intensively studied than any other dramatist; moreover, he wrote successfully in several genres. Thus he offers a particularly rich body of material for anyone who wants to consider structure and characterization in comedy, why some comedies are not comic, why some tragedies use the comic, how culture marks some groups as marginal, and whether that identification is comic or threatening.
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