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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a feminist criticism, subversive comedy refers to the concept of female writers using various comedy constructs to point out, undermine and subvert the traditional hierarchy of paternalistic reality. In other words, authors like Fanny Burney to Jane Austen through Muriel Spark use comedy elements such as irony, sarcasm, burlesque, satire and parody to examine cultural and societal prejudices against women. the aim of this examination is to undermine the established male norm in order to speed the downfall of Western dependence upon a patriarchal society governed by men who govern and define women.

Some examples of works in the subversive comedy vein are Fanny Burney's Evelina or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World, Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility and Lady Susan (among others) and Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Though Shakespeare doesn't fall under the feminist criticism definition of subversive comedy, his comedies might be said to fulfill the function of subversive comedy. Plays like As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, and Twelfth Night might be said to undermine the Renaissance doctrine of the innate superiority of males. In fact, it might also be said that the reverse is true, that these plays prove the innate equality of women with men as the hero's of these plays turn out to be the heroines themselves, as Hero's name points out.