Comic Controllers

  • Nicholas Grene


The switchback action of comedy repeatedly throws off those characters who try to ride it towards a fixed goal of their own choosing. The dogmatist Arnolphe who believes in the possibility of total control is defeated at every turn by the sequence of circumstances which moves always to the benefit of spontaneity and unwilled impulse. The crusade ofjustice Overdo to enforce his literal-minded and pedantic code must necessarily end in mockery. Almost any character in a comedy who begins by asserting with assurance his capacity to shape his own and others’ lives is marked out for the punishment which this comic version of hubris demands. Yet only in pure farce does the series of events appear a totally meaningless and absurd concatenation of chances beyond the control of anyone involved. Much more frequently in comedy there are characters who can exploit the absurd logic of the plot, who do contrive to master the perverse movement of the action. Why should some be allowed to dominate, when the officious attempt at domination is one of the most signal comic sins? Who are the controllers of comedy and by virtue of what circumstances do they control?


Comic Action Comic Controller Comic Contract Happy Ending Comic Pattern 
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    See Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, Volume I (London and N.Y. 1957), p. 368.Google Scholar
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    Paul A. Olson, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the meaning of court marriage’, ELH 24 (1957), 95–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See William A. Ringler Jnr. ‘The Number of Actors in Shakespeare’s Early Plays’, in The Seventeenth Century Stage, ed. G. E. Bentley (Chicago 1968), p. 132, fig. 4.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Clifford Leech, ‘Shakespeare’s Comic Dukes’, A Review of English Literature 5 (1964), 101–14.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    R. W. Dent, ‘Imagination in A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Shakespeare Quarterly 15 (1964), 124.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Nicholas Grene 1980

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  • Nicholas Grene

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