• Nicholas Grene


The meaning of comedy has in the past most frequently been sought in the meaning of laughter; theories of comedy have been theories of the comic. Although several literary critics have argued against this approach, insisting that we ought to be concerned with the artistic structure of comedy as of any other genre rather than merely its comic effects,1 there continues to be an expectation that any general idea of comedy should explain why we laugh and what our laughter signifies. It is inevitable that it should be so. Laughter is such a basic effect of comedy that it seems reasonable to approach it by way of the whole class of things which are laughable, and that necessarily takes us away from the purely literary or theatrical. The most eminent modem theorists of the comic, still after seventy-five years extremely influential, are a psychiatrist and a philosopher, whose ideas on the subject originated as by-products of their psychiatry and philosophy. We turn eagerly to Freud or Bergson for illumination on the fundamental nature of the comic because this seems the key to the understanding of comedy. And so, an aesthetic of comedy most often ends up as a psychology of laughter. This study has been concerned with the analysis of laughter only tangentially, concentrating on the structure and attitudes of comedy rather than on comic techniques. However it seems appropriate in conclusion to consider some of the implications of the comic contract which we have been examining in Shakespeare, Jonson and Molière in the light of previous general theories of the comic.


Comic Contract Happy Ending Shared Laughter Romantic Comedy Unconscious Anxiety 
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  1. 2.
    Sigmund Freud, Jokes and their relation to the unconscious, trans. James Strachey (London 1960), p. 224.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Charles Mauron, Psychocritique du Genre Comique (Paris 1964).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Morton Gurewitch, Comedy: the irrational vision (Ithaca, N.Y. and London 1975).Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Arthur Koestler, The Act of Creation (London 1976), p. 95.Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    Marcel Gutwirth, ‘Réflexions sur le comique’, Revue d’Esthétique 17 (1964), 10.Google Scholar

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© Nicholas Grene 1980

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  • Nicholas Grene

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