The Triumph of Nature

  • Nicholas Grene


The Horatian tag might stand as the epigraph to any number of comedies. A variety of pitchforks are used in the attempt to expel nature: the old man defies the natural decorum of like to like when he marries a young wife; the tyrannical father tries to prevent the natural rhythm of the generations when he opposes the marriage of his son or daughter; the fop, the hypocrite or the pedant by their absurd behaviour offend against a social idea of naturalness. But in the final act of the play nature returns to triumph, with the jealous old husband cuckolded, the heavy father outwitted, and the comic butts mocked and humiliated. All of these deviate not merely from a norm of reason, or of socially acceptable behaviour, but from what is taken to be a natural norm. It is easy to move on from the observation of this recurrent pattern to the general concept of comedy as a celebration of the forces of nature. The theme of the triumph of nature may be related to the rhythms of fertilityritual from which comedy is assumed to have originated. Suzanne Langer’s view is representative of that of many modern theorists: ‘Comedy is an art-form that arises naturally wherever people are gathered to celebrate life, in spring festivals, triumphs, birthdays, weddings, or initiations.’1 In these terms, comedy enacts the victory of the new over the old, spring over winter, nature over death.


Human Nature Natural Goodness Comic Contract Happy Ending Spring Festival 
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  1. 1.
    Suzanne Langer, Feeling and Form (London 1953), p. 331.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    See P. H. Nurse ‘The Role of Chrysalde in L’Ecole des Femmes’, Modern Language Review 61 (1961), 167 – 71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 9.
    See, for instance, Alvin Eustis Molière as Ironic Contemplator (The Hague, Paris 1973), p. 103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 10.
    Michael Taylor, ‘As You Like It: the Penalty of Adam’, Critical Quarterly 15 (1973), 79.Google Scholar

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© Nicholas Grene 1980

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  • Nicholas Grene

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