Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Comedy of Eros

comedy--a more physical adjunct of humor, characterized by exaggeration, deliberate management of events, pratfalls; circumstances which seem to snowball before the reader's eyes, gaining a momentum which leads to combustion as in the stateroom scene in the Marx Brothers film, A Night at the Opera; a set of circumstances building to a conclusive payoff. Comedy, by its very nature, seems bigger than life, consequently producing the laughter of relief that it is not us to whom the physicality is happening; humor, by its own nature, is just the right size for life, ordered out of a J. Crewe catalog, provoking in us the sad laughter of recognition. Humor is dramatic; comedy is situational and episodic; once the laugh is out, it needs to be wound up again. Comedy is like the cup in which Dunkin' Donuts coffee is served. After one use, it is thrown away. Humor is the growing awareness that we have been holding on to this old paper cup out of sentimentality.

In some of the old Restoration comedies, mistaken identities and lovers hiding under beds or in closets were staples, exaggerated by there being numerous mistakes of identity or so many hiding lovers that they could not all fit in one closet or under one bed. In humor the payoff becomes the sad awareness that one character does not recognize or remember another, that there was a need in the first place for a lover.

Comedy is the antic surprise of the pie in the face, followed by the victim's revenge of returning the favor with another pie and another; it is the anarchy at forced politeness in the convention of rules, the backyard dog digging an escape hole under the gate. Laurel and Hardy are piano movers, lugging a large piano over a narrow rope-and-vine bridge spanning a steep chasm. Midway across, they meet a gorilla coming the other way.

In fiction it becomes the revenge fantasy, acted out, its target humiliated by the forces of destiny as represented by slapstick.


Antigone--a young woman character in a play by Sophocles (442 BC), later by the French Jean Anouilh (1942),and later still by the German dramatist Berthold Brecht (1947);the sister of two brothers who fought on opposing sides in the civil war of Thebes; niece of Creon, new ruler of Thebes.

Antigone as a character bears comparison with Wile E. Coyote because of the way her embodiment of moral choice leads her to become an unrelenting force, triggering behavior in every direction throughout her family, her fiance, and friends. Antigone's opposition to a contemporary convention of respect and honor put her in danger of losing her life, indeed directly provoke an unintended death, which further provokes a sad but valuable understanding. Sophocles, actually a general who fought in the Thebean civil war, eschewed propaganda as did Anouilh, from his position in German-occupied France, and as well Brecht who, although a German, held no brief for German militarism, much less fascism. In any of these versions of the drama, the character of Antigone would do what a character should do--represent a believable individual visited with a conviction and mission that led her forth regardless of consequence. As Hamlet typifies one form of young male character driven by a goal, Antigone is archetypal in her representation of a young woman of dramatic stature.

Either of the three versions of Antigone's story could be successfully presented today; a fourth version, focusing on the recurrent issue of torture and enhanced interrogation techniques, could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them.


consequences--the results of a prior event, thought, deed, decision, or accident; the price that must be paid or the fine assessed for a previous act; the guiding principal of storytelling--things happening because of things that happened, were responded to or not responded. As a consequence of A, B came into being; this is the force that holds episodes together as story, that ties characters to tethers of relationship or commitment. Characters believe they are right, behaving as they do. As a consequence, they perform or do not perform acts, becoming the causal force in story. A narrative without causality is the literary equivalent of a body without blood; neither supports life.


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