Conflicting Contracts

  • Nicholas Grene


Inflexibility Bergson thought to be the basic, the essential, comic sin. His book Le Rire isolates the origin of laughter in a central antithesis between the mechanical, the rigid, and the systematic, on the one hand, and the organic, the flexible, the accidental, on the other. This central concept is attractive in that it seems to comprehend a very wide range of different comic patterns, and can be interpreted at a number of different levels. Those, for example, who assert their individual will to control are frequently subjected to comic mockery. The living instincts of an Agnès escape the arbitrary schooling of Arnolphe; the peremptory father-figures of comedy are perennially outwitted by the younger generation assisted by the infinitely agile tricky slave. The instance of Arnolphe, alternatively, might be related to the paradigm of theory against practice. Comedy is basically anti-theoretical. The whole comic tribe of doctors, pedants, learned ladies, is always falling into the pits dug for them by the actual. In the very broadest terms, comedy can be seen to be an assertion of life itself against all life-deniers. The précieuses ridicules, the King of Navarre’s academy, are ridiculous in so far as they attempt to reject their own natural impulses. Jonson’s Morose would shut out all noise, the audible evidence of vitality.


Comic Controller Comic Contract Happy Ending Comic Pattern Ascetic Ideal 
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© Nicholas Grene 1980

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  • Nicholas Grene

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