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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M015-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2021
Retrieved June 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

In the narrowest sense, comedy is drama that makes us laugh and has a happy ending. In a wider sense it is also humorous narrative literature with a happy ending. In the widest sense, comedy includes any literary or graphic work, performance or other art intended to amuse us. This entry will leave aside theories of humour and concentrate on comedy as a dramatic and literary form. Comedy began at about the same time as tragedy, and because they represent alternative attitudes toward basic issues in life, it is useful to consider them together. Unfortunately, several traditional prejudices discriminate against comedy and in favour of tragedy. There are four standard charges against comedy: it emphasizes the animal aspects of human life, encourages disrespect for leaders and institutions, is based on malice, and endangers our morality. These charges are easily answered, for none picks out something that is both essential to comedy and inherently vicious. In fact, once we get past traditional prejudices, several of the differences between comedy and tragedy can be seen as advantages. While tragedy tends to be idealistic and elitist, for example, comedy tends to be pragmatic and egalitarian. While tragedy values honour, even above life itself, comedy puts little stock in honour and instead emphasizes survival. Tragic heroes preserve their dignity but die in the process; comic characters lose their dignity but live to tell the tale. Most generally, comedy celebrates mental flexibility and a realistic acceptance of the limitations of human life. The comic vision of life, in short, embodies a good deal of wisdom. Indeed, one newer genre of comedy, stand-up comedy, has at least ten similarities to philosophy itself.

Citing this article:
Morreall, John. Comedy, 2021, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M015-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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