English | INTRODUCTION TO WRITING AND THE STUDY OF LITERATURE 2
L142 | 1831 | Rosenblum


Title: "What Comedy Does for 'Us'"
Lecture 11:15-12:05 MW
We have comedy clubs and a Comedy Channel; although not everybody likes
Seinfeld, everybody knows who he is. Clearly comedy does something for us,
as individuals and as members of a culture. Various explanations for its
benefits have been proposed.  Freud says that when we laugh we momentarily
recover that state of euphoric well-being we enjoyed in our childhood.
Thomas Hobbes thought we laugh out of a nasty sense of superiority to "some
deformed thing in another." Comedy can be seen as a protest against
authority (if we are laughing at somebody, we can't be intimidated by them).
On the other hand, comedy can be seen as a licensed blowing-off steam, a way
for the status quo to be maintained. We will be considering some of these
theories  in relation to classic and modern works that fit (or can be made
to fit) the label of comedy.
I am not sure about the reading list yet, but we will certainly be studying
Shakespeare's great comic hero Falstaff as he appears as a character in a
history play _Henry Fourth Part I_ and in his "own" play, _The Merry Wives
of Windsor_. I would also like to consider what happens when the "hero"of a
comedy is a heroine, as in Jane Austen's _Pride and Prejudice_. Other
possible texts: Aristophanes' _Lysistrata_, Dickens' _Pickwick Papers_,
Carroll's _Alice in Wonderland_. Most of the course will be devoted to
classic works of other cultures, but the last few weeks of the course will
consider one or more contemporary figures (Letterman? Woody Allen? Whoopi
Goldberg?) or genres (sit-com? late-nite talk show? ).  There will be two
lectures a week as well as discussion sections. Students will be expected to
take a midterm and a final and write a series of short papers and two longer
ones.