Samuel Foote developed his theory of comedy over a fifteen-year period in several critical works. According to Foote, the main purpose of comedy is to correct vice and folly by ridiculing them while pleasing and delighting the imagination. By representing fashionable foibles and extravagant humors, comedy teaches people to avoid folly. Foote’s comic design was to amend the heart, improve the understanding, and please the imagination. In his A Letter from Mr. Foote, Foote outlined the requirements of comedy: Comedy should be true to nature; it must represent exactly the peculiar manners of a people; it must faithfully imitate singular absurdities and particular follies. Comic imitation and representation provide an example to the entire community.
Foote himself likened his comic-satiric method to that employed by Aristophanes, William Shakespeare, Molière, John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Jean de La Bruyère, and Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux. For Foote, character was the greatest comic requisite, and his definitions of two comic character types—the “humorist” and the “man of humor”—constitute his major contribution to comic theory. According to Foote, the humorist possesses some internal disposition that makes him say or do absurd and ridiculous things while firmly convinced that his actions are correct and acceptable. Foote’s man of humor is the pleasant person who enjoys the humorist’s eccentricities or affectations and exposes...
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