Germanic Languages | German Cultural History
G364 | 30971 | Kraft

Second 8 Week Course – Spring 2007: GER364
MTWR 1.25-2.15pm plus additional film showings on Thursdays 8-10pm
Germanic Studies – Stephan Kraft

The World of Comedy – Comedies of the World
In this course, we will both examine what comedy is and attempt to put
our insights into practice by sketching comedies or versions of them
Comedy is not only a way of bringing people to laugh, but the comic
plot is also one of the oldest and certainly the most stable of the
narrative structures of mankind. The ancient Greeks wrote comedies
that you will still find on TV today with only minor variations. The
comic plot, its grammar, the decisions that lead to it, and its limits
are the focus of this second 8 week course.
We will begin by discovering the grammar of the comic plot. I am
speaking of a discovery and not of a process of learning, because just
like the grammar of one’s mother tongue it is – I presume – already in
our minds. Our task will thus be to bring this implicit knowledge to
full awareness.

In a second step we will trace one and the same basic plot through
several very different variations: the story of King Oedipus who is
forced to be the judge of his own actions. We find this scenario in
Sophocle’s Oedipus rex, Heinricht von Kleist’s The Broken Jug and
Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit, once as a tragedy, once as a comedy,
and once as a tragicomedy. By examining which choices have lead to
these different outcomes, we will see more clearly that comedy and
also tragedy are not given facts but sometimes more and sometimes less
possible modes to face the world.
Finally, we will explore the limits of comedy: Is comedy capable of
facing serious political problems in an adequate way? Can there be a
comedy about dictatorship and oppression, or even about the Holocaust?
The viewing of movies will help us to find answers to these question.
No German language knowledge is required. Most of the texts and films
that we are going to examine were scripted on the German language or
deal with Germany-related subjects, but we will read, watch, and
discuss them entirely in English.