in Space, Time, and the Imagination



Comedy in Space, Time, and the Imagination

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A Formal Definition of Comedy

From Chapter 2, "A Definition of Comedy," Comedy in Space, Time, and the Imagination, pp. 17-18.


Comedy’s basic message is that the human race will survive, that it is destined to carry on.  We love to hear this message infinitely repeated, but the mere repetition can become cloying.  So comedy often goes on to the more complicated assertion not only of survival but of how that survival is possible and under what conditions survival can be assured.  Put somewhat more rigorously, comedy as seen from a formal perspective is the representation of life patterned to demonstrate or to assert a faith in human survival, often including or emphasizing how that survival is possible or under what conditions that survival takes place.

. . .[For] a sophisticated appreciation of comedy capable of solving some of the knottier problems of practical comedic criticism, we will need to rely on several key principles of comedy.

First comedy is a representation of life, not the representation of an action.  This distinction saves us from the futility of arguing that one plot or another is central to multi-plotted comedies like Twelfth Night and Matchmaker. . . .

Second, comedy’s assertion is a faith, not a fact. . . .

[Third,] we come to the idea of patterning: comedy depends upon a certain kind of patterning.