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Comedy, Humor, and Satire in Drama
Comedy refers to a movie, play or other forms of drama that is full of humorous characters and has joyful ending. It usually deals with the daily lives of ordinary citizens. For this reason, characters in comedy are plain and live an ordinary life. The first examples of comedies were mostly satirical. The Greeks used comedies in drama to mock those in power for their foolishness or vanity. Satire is the use of ridicule, sarcasm, or irony in exposing vice or denouncing such behaviors in the community. As a literary composition, satire gives venue for people to scorn or ridicule a human folly. Satirical plays were short and were performed between different acts of tragedies. They mocked and made fun of characters involved in the whole tragedy. This essay uses Playwriting 101: The Rooftop Lesson by American playwright Orloff Rich as an example to show the use of comedy, satire and humor in drama.
Aristotle depicts that the origin of ancient comedy is in the komos. The komos refers to a curious scene where a group of cheerful males sang and danced around a huge image of phallus. This link appears to be appropriate because comedy has always been associated with celebrating the triumph of eros or human sexuality. On the other hand, tragedies happen in a setting of battlefield. Notably, it is not necessary for humor to be present in a literary work or drama for it to qualify as comedy. A comedy is that which has a happy conclusion. It is more than plot full of jokes or cartoons. According to Aristotle’s suggestion, the moral character of comic heroes range from average to below average. Moreover, only ignoble or low-life individuals do strike as ridiculous in literary works. However, self-important and merely pompous characters are the most ridiculous ones. Heroes, heads of state, plutocrats, kings and queens are the dramatis personae of a tragedy, but they are rarely featured in a comedy. Comedic plots touch on issues facing ordinary people; for example, dealing with a bad day, getting a job, getting cash for useful purposes, etc. Comedy is not wholly about laughter; it is about the feeling of satisfaction when an individual succeeds in his or her endeavors. The three sub-categories of comedy include satirical comedy, romantic comedy, and farce.
Tragedy depicts the negative of comedy. It shows the downfall of a hero that was once a powerful figure. It also originated from religious backgrounds: from a Dionysian ceremony where dancers were dressed as animals depicting the suffering of a heroic figure. For a long time, Aristotle’s poetics has guided the composition and use of tragedy. According to him, tragedy shows a good character being a victim of misjudgment or fatal error, thereby bringing suffering to the protagonist and awakening pity or fear amongst the audience. In Aristotelian tragedy, the audience responds to suffering or pain by showing fear and pity.
Aristotle states that tragedy affects the catharsis of such emotions. Furthermore, when a villain or scoundrel falls, the act induces applause more than pity. An audience is most likely to cheer when a bad character goes down than pity him. However, if a good character falls down, the act will evoke compassion. However, a hero’s downfall in a true tragedy only comes after committing an error or because of a personal decision. According to Aristotle, there cannot be an innocent victim in a tragedy. A genuine downfall can never be entirely due to bad luck or blind accident. It can only be because of a genuine choice made by the heroic figure.
During the ancient times, Greeks used humor (writings that depict humorous situations) in most of their dramas. They also used satire in their plays and performances. Satires were comedy plays which involved men dressed as Satyrs. These were weird creatures: the upper part of their body was that of a man, while the bottom half was for a horse or goat. Aristeas, Pratinas, and Aeschylus were first Greek writers to develop this form of drama. They used them in between tragic plays to ease the buildup created by the whole drama. They eventually became popular, and as a result, the form became extended.
Tragedy, the opposite of comedy, usually tackled big themes involving love, pride, abuse of power, loss, including the relationships men shared with the Greek gods. They are the same as comedy though. The main protagonist, without realizing it, shows his foolishness by committing a terrible crime. However, everything goes wrong the moment he realizes he has done a mistake. A basic Greek tragedy starts with a prologue. It preceded the chorus, and usually one or two characters uttered it. It gives the mythological background for the play so that the audience can comprehend easily. Next is the parodos, a song sung by the chorus when entering the orchestra and dances. Thereafter, the characters in conjunction with the chorus talk in the first episode.
At the end of each episode, the chorus dances and sings a choral ode or stasimon, while the rest of the characters have left the stage. The ode is useful in reflecting the message carried in the episodes. It creates a larger picture of mythological framework. The rest of the play alternates between the episodes and choral ode or stasima, until the exodos, which is the final scene. In the exodos, the chorus sings a song as they exit the stage. The processional song gives words of wisdom as they relate to the play or its outcome.
Playwriting 101: The Rooftop Lesson is an example of comical play written by the American playwright Orloff Rich. It is about an instructor who teaches playwriting using two examples with two characters. Orloff indicates that the first character is a would-be jumper standing on the edge of a sledge, and the other is a would-be Good Samaritan that tries to save the jumper (Orloff 6). However, the instructor pauses and replays the two scenes repetitively. It reaches a point where they both decide to revolt against the instructor as well as the rules used in playwriting. In general, the drama uses a number of comedic conventions that are typical of Greek drama. In the prologue of a Greek drama, an actor takes his time to introduce the play to its audience. Playwriting 101: The Rooftop Lesson applies the use of prologue as well. Orloff points out that as the jumper comes in play, he says that, “he wants to jump, and no one can stop him” (Orloff 7). The Good Samaritan steps in and tells him “not to” (Orloff 7). The teacher then freezes their actions and introduces it to the audience.
Furthermore, the monologue refers to a comical device that is non-illusory. It gives the opportunity to characters and their audience to share their inner and deeper thoughts. It helps in defining the character. It seeks to draw sympathy for the character from the audience. Playwriting 101: The Rooftop Lesson also uses this comedic convention. After freezing their action and restarting the play, the teacher engages the audience to share their thoughts. He asks them about the play: “Is the play satisfying? Is suspense and tension present?”(Orloff 7). In eavesdropping, a character listens to how other characters converse without being seen. Sympathetic characters usually use this to gain information, which they can apply later in the play. Asides refer to character’s comments towards the audience; however, other characters do not hear them. They naturally happen in eavesdropping scenes, where listeners can comment to the audience on what has been overheard. However, Playwriting 101: The Rooftop Lesson does not use this effect to the maximum.
In conclusion, there are many uses of comedy, satire and humor in drama both during the ancient Greek times and to this day. Comedy involves humorous characters to depict the daily lives of ordinary citizens. Ancient comedies mock those in power for their foolishness or vanity. Satire exposes vice or denounces such behaviors in the community. It gives venue for people to scorn or ridicule a human folly.
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