What is the difference between high and low comedy?
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In defining "high comedy," this kind of writing reflects a not so subtle form of social and intellectual snobbery. Merriam-Webster defines this kind of comedy as...
...comedy employing subtle characterizations and witty dialogue.
"High" comedy is entertainment that appeals to those of higher intellect. It is more sophisticated in nature, concentrating on...
...the inconsistencies and incongruities of human nature...by displaying the follies of social manners.
From a neoclassic standpoint, this comedy was meant to appeal to a "higher social class." It was not to be "derisive." It was to avoid the use of emotion, "especially sentimentality," and was to appeal to the intellect.
On the flip side, "low comedy" was much more basic. It is defined by Merriam-Webster as:
....comedy employing burlesque, horseplay, or the representation of low life...
It was not serious in nature, and did not appeal to the intellect.
Some features are: quarreling, fighting, noisy singing, boisterous conduct in general, boasting, burlesque, trickery, buffoonery, clownishness, drunkenness, coarse jesting, wordplay, and scolding.
The roots of "low" comedy are found in "medieval religious dramas" and morality plays. As drama became much more sophisticated during, for example, Shakespeare's time, while "low" comedy was most probably considered tacky (lacking "decorum"), it was still very much in demand. Shakespeare solved the problem easily enough by letting it "serve serious dramatic purposes." One such example is found in the Porter's scene in Shakespeare's Macbeth. It is the only "comic relief" in the tragedy, and is easy to spot as "low" comedy, first by the Porter's drunkenness. In addition, some of his jokes are coarse, and he presents a burlesque, acting like the gatekeeper of hell.