Comedy: ''An Essay on Comedy'' by George Meredith. ''Laughter'' by Henri Bergson / Edition 1

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"Laughter makes us human" is the theme of these two classic works, one by the English novelist George Meredith, the other by the celebrated French philosopher Henri Bergson. Written some hundred years ago, largely in response to what their authors saw as the dehumanization of man in the industrial age, the essays still convey great sense and significance today.

Casting a critical eye on comic works throughout the ages, Meredith finds that the most skilled masters of the comic art--Aristophanes, Rabelais, Voltaire, Cervantes, Fielding Moliere--used comedy to grasp the essence of humanity. Comedy, according to Meredith's theory, serves an important moral and social function: it redeems us from our posturings, stripping away pride, arrogance, complacency, and other sins.

Bergson's essay looks at comedy within a wider field of vision, focusing on laughter and on what makes us laugh. His study examines comic characters and comic acts, comedy in literature and in children's games, comedy as high art and base entertainment, to develop a psychological and philosophical theory of the mainsprings of comedy.

Complementing the work of Meredith and Bergson is Wylie Sypher's appendix, an essay that discusses comedy and the underlying comic structure in both anthropological and literary contexts. Sypher offers an enlightening discussion of the relationship between comedy and tragedy and their link with the ritual purging of evil from a society by means of a scapegoat. He then goes on to examine the guises of the comic hero in such figures as the Wife of Bath, Don Quixote, and Falstaff, relating them to such great tragic figures as Oedipus, Faust, and Hamlet.

Through the many perspectives it offers, Comedy will appeal not only to students of literature and literary criticism, but to those studying philosophy and history as well.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World

Probably the two best looks at the lighter side are these essays, the first by a master of the English novel of manners, the second by a philosopher who influenced a generation of French writers, including Proust... Contains a long index and appendix, the latter offering a wide-ranging historical inquiry into the comic.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801823275
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/1980
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.56 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction vii
An Essay on Comedy 3
I. The Comic in General 61
The Comic Element in Forms and Movements 74
Expansive Force of the Comic 84
II. The Comic Element in Situations and the Comic Element in Words 104
III. The Comic in Character 146
Appendix The Meanings of Comedy
I. Our New Sense of the Comic 193
II. The Ancient Rites of Comedy 214
III. The Guises of the Comic Hero 226
IV. The Social Meanings of Comedy 241
Notes 256
Bibliographical Note 259
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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2000

    Essential text for the study of comedy

    Several years ago, I used this text for an honors level literature course at the university I was attending. It was the foundation for my analysis and comparison of two films: The General, and Modern Times. Bergson's work gave me a profound understanding of the how and why of comedy.

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