We have already been discussing about the most representative female character in English comedy:
When I posted that question I had one answer in mind: Beatrice, from Much Ado About Nothing. I am very pleased to find that most of you agree. Now I have another similar question to ask. Beatrice is, of course, the most representative character in the HIGH comedy vein. What would you say about low comedy -- that kind of comedy which depends on physical action, broadly humorous or farcical situations, and often bawdy or vulgar jokes? Which would be the most representative female character in English LOW comedy?
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As other posters have identified, it is quite a challenge to find a rounded female comic character in texts written before the 1900's. I would agree that the nurse would get my vote, and I have certainly seen performances of Romeo and Juliet where her performance has made me laugh out loud (Miriam Margolyes in the Luhrmann film also did this.)
A comic character who demonstrates both 'low' and more elevated humor would be Rita from Willy Russell's Educating Rita. There are more examples of rounded comic female characters in modern English drama than in early literature.
Certainly, the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet seems to be the best candidate for low comedy. I wonder if the guidelines in identifying low comedy apply only to drama. I cannot find anything to that effect.
I thought to suggest the Princess of Palestrina (the Old Woman) in Candide. I know it is a satire, but for me the experiences of the Old Woman, and even Cunégonde, seem to border on farce. If so, I can only say that to me, there is a very fine line between farce and satire. There is no physical interaction (such as slapstick), but certainly there is the ridiculous, such as we find with the Nurse.
The first one to come to my mind as well was Nell Quickly, though, of course, I couldn't remember her name right off! I agree, too, that Nurse is a prime low comedy character, although I must say she has never made me laugh out loud--or even chuckle out loud--although she is very amusing.
This is rather a difficult question to answer, because on the whole the female characters in the subplots of Restoration plays are often minor characters who have little overall impact on the action of the play. I do agree with the Nurse as suggested by others above, but at the same time I must admit that after being forced to study Henry V for four years straight, I have rather a soft spot for Mistress Nell Quickly, who, although she is rather a minor character, does seem to embody all of the qualities that you are looking for.
One possibility is Ursula the Pig Woman in Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair. People who have read or (if they are lucky) have seen the play generally find her an unforgettably grotesque character, but one who is also in her own ways vital and appealing. You may want to have a look at her. I also agree, however, with litteacher8 that the nurse in Romeo and Juliet is a character who, once experienced, can never be forgotten. The actress who played her in the Zefferili film did a wonderful job, but she has been well done in many of the productions I've seen. I suspect that you would also find some good contenders in Restoration comedies.
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