Guide to Literary Terms Comedy

Comedy

Comedy - a ludicrous and amusing event or series of events designed to provide enjoyment and produce smiles or laughter usually written in a light, familiar, bantering, or satirical style. Comedy is the opposite of tragedy. Dramatic comedy begins in difficulty and rapidly involves its characters in amusing situations and ends happily, but not all comedies are humorous and lighthearted. It differs from burlesque and farce in that comedy has a more closely knit plot, more sensible and intelligent dialogue, and more plausible characterization. Often comedy assures its desired effect by stressing some oddity or incongruity of character, speech, or action—perhaps by caricature or exaggeration. There are many different kinds of comedy with the most usual being:

1. the comedy of humors in which characters’ actions are controlled by some whim or humor,

2. the comedy of manners which involves the conventions or manners of artificial and sophisticated society, and

3. the comedy of intrigue or situation which depends more on plot than characterization.
There are also topical, romantic, satirical, and verbal wit comedies.

The word comes from the French comedie which was derived from the Greco-Latin comoedia which was formed by combining komos, meaning “to revel,” and aeidein, meaning “to sing.”

In the Middle Ages, comedy referred to narrative poems that ended happily, such as Dante’s Divine Comedy (1320). Prior to that, comedy may be traced as far back as Aristophanes, the Fifth Century B.C. Greek playwright.

An example of contemporary comedy comes from Faye Kellerman’s The Quality of Mercy:

“Aye, a strong neck I have. Yet it is neither as long nor graceful as thine—” He corrected himself. “As yours. As far as the head is concerned, I’ve been told I have a head for words, yet not much of one for numbers and none for science and languages, as you have. So as far as heads go, you are heads above me. Which explains why your neck is longer than mine.”

see: black comedy, comic relief, farce