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Tradition and Change in Literature: The History and Theory of Comedy


Block 1: Lisa Hughes (English/Comparative Literature)

Block 2: George Butte (English)

This two-block course fulfills the Critical Perspective: The West in Time requirement. 

This class examines the history and nature of comedy, beginning with the ancient Greeks—Homer and Aristophanes—and Romans, moving to Shakespeare and Jane Austen, and ending with 20th century screwball films and Waiting For Godot (which Samuel Beckett subtitled “a tragicomedy”).         

Comedy as a form originates in the ancient Greek komos, a fertility ritual designed to exorcise death and bring life back to the world in springtime.  We will study the various forms of the komos, and how it came to be connected to humour.  We will look at important theorists of comedy, including Freud, Northrop Frye, Bakhtin and Charlie Chaplin.

There will be considerable attention to critical writing, critical thinking, and to thinking about thinking.  Students will also practice various kinds of critical writing, from close reading explications, to philosophical reflections, and a research project.

 A two-block course with a unique instructor in each block; students will receive one grade for the two blocks as a whole.