- Slides: 23
Comedy from The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker
The plots are: § Overcoming the Monster § Rags to Riches § The Quest § Voyage and Return § Comedy § Tragedy § Rebirth
Remember this! § The essence of Comedy is always that some redeeming truth has to be brought out of the shadows into the light.
A History § Etymology of “comedy”: a banquet, a jovial festivity, a festal procession § Speculated to have begun in the villages of ancient Greece § Many of the conventions of the comedy plot have scarcely changed in 2, 000 years
A History: Old Comedy § The plays of Aristophanes, performed between 425 and 388 BC § At heart of his comedies lay an agon, or conflict, between two characters or two groups of characters § One side is life-giving, the other side life-denying (freedom vs. oppression) § The losing side (always the meanies) is suddenly forced to recognize something so important about themselves that it changes their ways and leads to reconciliation.
A History: New Comedy § Emerged with the plays of the Menander (from Athens), and later with Plautus and Terence (both Romans) § Biggest mutation is that comedy became a love story § Central characters are a hero and heroine; the purpose of the confusion or conflict in the story is to keep the two apart until they are brought triumphantly together in the closing scenes
Conventions: Love Element § More on the “New Comedy” plot: § There are two ways that the lovers are kept apart until the end… § 1. Two lovers passionately desire to get married, but a selfish and unrelenting father (the dark figure) prevents them from doing so. § 2. There is quarrel and confusion between the lovers themselves, based on a misunderstanding
Conventions: Mistaken Identity § Always present in comedy, but more explicit from New Comedy onward. Identities can be confused through: § Mysterious births and origins § Characters in disguise or deliberately assuming new identities § Cross-dressing § Characters concealed in exile, or eavesdropping in closets or nearby rooms
Conventions: Mistaken Identity § Anagnorsis – the moment in a play when a character makes a critical discover. § The anagnorisis, then, often relates to a physical recognition of a character’s true identity. This is material to the greater shift from life-denying to lifegiving.
Shakespeare § The Renaissance revival of classical comedies gave Shakespeare much creative material to work with § Shakespeare wrote 16 comedies -nearly half his dramatic output § The key mutation in his comedies was simply the new richness and complexity of the plot
Shakespeare § The plots go further back in the “history” of the characters. In New Comedy, the lovers are already established. In Shakespeare, the plot begins with courting stage. “Getting the girl” becomes a central focus of the plot. § The main action then shifts to the pairing off process itself.
Shakespeare § Pairing off of Shakespeare's characters doesn’t always happen neatly. § His plays feature an ensemble of potential lovers who often embroil themselves in a confusing “love tangle” that propels the conflict forward. § The anagnorisis allows the couples to sift themselves into their proper places.
Shakespeare § What allows all the pieces of a comedy to come together in a comprehensible plot is the action of the “recognition”. § Four processes must occur for the anagnorisis - and therefore the comedy as a whole -- to be complete.
Steps of recognition 1. The dark figures imprisoned in an unloving state must be softened and liberated by some act of self-recognition and change of heart. 2. The identity of one or more characters must be revealed in a more literal sense. 3. Characters must discover who they are meant to pair off with. 4. Wherever there is division, separation or loss, it must be repaired.
Movement from dark to light DARK LIGHT Dark figures Dark characters either change or are exposed and punished True identities/natures are hidden or unclear True identities are revealed Lovers are in a state of uncertainty Each lover is united with the “other half” Families or communities are divided or out of sorts Reunion and restoration
Above/below the line § Above the line: characters representing the established order, an upper social level and hierarchy; authority of men over women, adults over children § Below the line: servants, people of inferior class, wives, the rising generation § The chief source of darkness in the story is on the upper level; the road to liberation lies on the lower level § The road to resolution lies below the line!
Did you remember? § The essence of Comedy is always that some redeeming truth has to be brought out of the shadows into the light.
Where do the laughs come from? § Almost uniformly, the aspect of comedy that elicits laughter from the audience is a character’s egocentricity, his tunnel-vision, his inability to see the world as it is.
Summing-up § Comedy cannot be summarized in quiet the same way as the other basic plots because it covers such a range of variations. § 1. We see a little world in which people have passed under a shadow of confusion, uncertainty and frustration, and are shut off from one another.
Summing-up § 2. the confusion gets worse until the pressure of darkness is at its most acute and everyone is in a nightmarish tangle. § 3. Finally, with the coming of light of things not previously recognized, perceptions are dramatically changed. The shadows are dispelled, the situation is miraculously transformed and the little world is brought together in a state of joyful union.
Three Main Comedy Plots: 1 § The chief source of darkness throwing a shadow over the proceedings is some character other than the hero who dominates everyone else in a way which creates unhappiness and confusion. § The victims are likely the hero and heroine; they can only be raised up into the light and brought together when the dark figure either has his eyes opened and goes through a change of heart or is exposed and pushed off the stage.
Three Main Comedy Plots: 2 § Chief dark figure is the hero himself. § The heroine, standing for true feeling and the ability to see whole, is most obviously in the shadows. § He hero must undergo a change of heart and ‘come to himself’. § Heroine will also undergo some changes as she brings out the good in the dark figure.
Three Main Comedy Plots: 3 § No obvious dark figure. § Source of confusion is simply a general state of misunderstanding which has everyone in its grip. § Resolution can only be reached when the redeeming truth is won from the shadows. § The real cause of confusion and conflict is always that the characters are not fully conscious of the truth, either about other people or about themselves.