Paradise Lost tells multiple stories of Creation--in the invocation to Book 1; in Uriel's speech at the end of Book 3; in Raphael's description in Book 7; in Adam's account of his birth in Book 8. Why does each character see something different? What do their differing perspectives contribute
to the poem's sense of what God is like? OR why do the accounts come in this particular order? How do they build upon each other?
Is the war in heaven comic? Why does God allow it to be waged? What educational purpose does Raphael’s account of the war in heaven serve?
Comedy ala Aristotle
Aristotle divides the object of imitation into superior action and inferior action. Within the dramatic genres, comedy imitates inferior action. The proper object of comic imitation is, however, not ‘every sort of fault,’ but ‘the ridiculous, which is a species of the ugly (49a33-34).’
From the fact that comedy is an imitation of the inferior action derives the requirement that it should represent a complete and whole action with magnitude and must have the same constitutive elements as tragedy. Among these elements, mu'qo" is the most important for comedy, too. This does not mean the comic poet should pursue the various possibilities of the plot. Rather, he should stick to a certain pattern of the plot which I would like to elucidate in this chapter.
The general claim for the plot of tragedy laid in Chapters 7 and 8 also applies to comedy. As an imitation, it has to speak somehow of ’the universal.’ Comic action should also contain a proper “beginning, middle, and end,’ and proceed in necessary or probable sequence. As for the aesthetic claim concerning its size, although comedy should imitate the ‘ridiculous’ that is a part of the ‘ugly,’ Aristotle tells us that comic form is larger (meivzw) than the iambic poem. The claim for magnitude also applies to comedy. The comic plot, as well as the tragic one, must have ‘a length which allows the hero to pass through a series of probable or necessary stages from bad fortune to good, or from good to bad (51a12-14),’ and we cannot believe that the claim of Tractatus that comedy is an imitation of an action which lacks magnitude is Aristotelian. The argument in Chapter 13 that the pleasure in the double plot is proper to comedy also corroborates our claim that the comic plot should have a proper length and that its limit is same as that of tragedy.
We can also assume the exsistence of the argument of ‘comic’ plot which corresponds to the argument
made in Chapter 13 and 14 for tragedy in our extant Poetics. In Chapter 13, Aristotle divided the tragic plot according to the moral character of the tragic hero and the direction of the change of his fortune. That these two criteria are also valid for the comic plot is shown in his ascription of the double plot (poetic justice) to comedy. In the case of comedy, however, the plot should be ‘ridiculous’ instead of ‘pitiful and fearful.’ As pity and fear are characteristics of the tragic action, so the ridiculous is that of the action that constitutes the comic plot. We must,then, conclude that the best comic plot must be different from that poetic justice.<197> Poetic justice is proper to comedy only in comparison with tragedy.
The ridiculous is defined as “a kind of error (aJmavrthma) neither painful nor destructive.” As Else has pointed out, tragic error (aJmartiva) in Chapter 13 is a concept that is synonymous with the ‘error (aJmavrthma)’ in Nicomachean Ethics, where it is defined as an injury done in ignorance (1135b12) and without bad intent (b18-19). Here in the definition of ridiculous in which Aristotle uses the same term as in Nicomachean Ethics, he should have intended the same meaning and comic error is the concept that corresponds to the tragic error in Poetics. However, there is of course a difference between tragic and comic errors. Comic error is neither painful nor destructive (ajnwvdunon kai; ouj fqartikovn, 49a35). This means comic error is, unlike tragic one, without pavqo", as pavqo" is the “action that is destructive or painful (pra'xi" fqartikh; h] ojdunhra, 52b11-12).” The tragic plot should be pitiful and fearful because of the (tragic) error of the hero and the comic plot should be ridiculous through the (comic) error of the protagonist. The error becomes ridiculous in comedy and not pitiful and fearful because it is ‘neither painful nor destructive,’ that is, without ‘pavqo".’
As comedy should pursue the ridiculous and the ridiculous is defined as a kind of ‘error,’ it follows that an ‘error’ plays a central role both in tragic and comic plots. Tragic poets, imitating a superior action, should create an error that is serious and with pathos. On the other hand, comic poets, being the imitators of inferior action, should create one that is not serious and without pathos. The absence of pathos is the characteristic that distinguishes the comic plot from the tragic.
The argument in Chapter 14 also has an equivalent in the argument on comic plot. As we have seen, recognition and reversal must be fundamental constitutive elements for the comic plot as well. Then, in the case of comedy, as well as that of tragedy, the two patterns with these two elements should be better than those without them. In other words, the best plots for Aristotle are: (1) the protagonist does mischief without knowing to whom he is doing harm and is informed and punished after the deed, and (2) the protagonist almost accomplishes mischief in an error of some kind, but in the nick of the time, recognition occurs and the deed is avoided. The comic mischief, however, lacks pathos and can be ridiculous. The recognition and reversal with pathos constitute the tragic and those without pathos constitute the comic plot.
These two types of plot are typical in New Comedy. We can recognize them in Menander but not in Aristophanes. Most of Aristophanes’ comedies, for Aristotle, do not deal with the ridiculous but with yovgo". This causes hardly any problem if we take account of the fact that Poetics treats comedy very coldly from the historical point of view. Aristotle states that at first, “the meaner sort of poets imitated the actions of the ignoble (48b27-28),” and comedy was not taken seriously in the earlier stages of its development (49b1). He recounts that “ the movement of tragedy stopped on its attaining to its natural form (49a14-15),” but no such allusion exists for comedy. For Aristotle, Aristophanes still belongs to
the early form of comedy and does not achieve the ridiculous, the proper end of its genre. In this regard, Peter von Möllendorff recognizes the influence of Aristotelian Poetics on Menander’s comedies. Menander, as a student of the Peripatetic school, might have known Aristotelian Poetics, including the lost book. Menanderian comedy might well have constituted an answer to the <198>Aristotelian censure of the comic genre in earlier period. In the Peripatetic tradition, a scholium on Dionysius Trax states that the end of comedy relates to recognition and this may have something to do with Aristotle's Poetics.
4 The Comic Catharsis
We have found three types of tragic catharsis in Aristotle’s theory of tragedy. We can find these three types in comic imitation, too. It is clear from Proclus and Iamblichus that catharsis as emotional purgation holds good for the comic laughter that comes from the ridiculous in comedy. According to Proclus, Aristotle thought that both tragedy and comedy can “satisfy the emotions in due measure (Comm. In Plat. Remp. 1.49).” Iamblichus claimed that “both in tragedy and comedy, by looking at the emotions of others we are able to appease our own emotions and make them more moderate and clear them away (ajpokaqaivromen) (De Mysteriis, 1.11).”
This type of catharsis, namely, the purgation of emotion caused by comic laughter, however, cannot exhaust comic catharsis as a whole. If comic catharsis does exist as the proper effect of comedy, it must inhabit the comic emotion created by the comic plot, as it did in the case of tragic catharsis. In tragedy, catharsis of tragic emotions (pity and fear) assumes the catharsis of tragic pathos. For tragedy to arouse proper tragic emotions and then purify them, tragic action must be purified from bad intent and demonstrated to be a result of the hamartia. We can find the corresponding concept of the comic catharsis of action in the argument concerning the distinction between the invective (yovgo") and the ridiculous.
Aristotle writes that among earlier poets, “the graver... would represent noble actions, and those of noble personages; and the meaner sort the actions of the ignoble. The latter class produced invectives at first, just as others did hymns and panegyrics (48b26-27).” Homeric Margites stands for this type of invective (yovgoi). On the other hand, he also states that “also was he [Homer] the first to outline for us the general forms of comedy by producing not a dramatic picture of invective (yovgo"), but that of the ridiculous (geloi'on) (48b36-38).” Although these two sentences seem to contradict each other, they do not. LSJ recognizes three different meanings of the yovgo", namely (1) blamable fault, blemish flaw, (2) blame, censure and (3) (in plural) lampoons. In 48b37, where Aristotle put the yovgo" alongside with the geloi'on, it means neither the invective as an act nor the lampoons as a literary genre. It must be an object of the early comic imitation and mean a blamable fault, as geloi'on is the proper object of the comic imitation and a kind of ‘error.’ Then, Homeric Margites was a kind of lampoon that did not make the blamable fault but the ridiculous error of the protagonist its proper object of imitation.
To this yovgo" as a characteristic of lesser action corresponds the second yovgo" as censure on the side of the audience. Aristotle, in Nicomachean Ethics, tells about this second yovgo" that “it is only voluntary feelings and actions (ejpi; me;n toi'" eJkousivoi") for which praise and blame (yovgwn) are
given (1109b31-32).” Yovgo" in Poetics is a characteristic of a voluntary harm and corresponds to the tragic miarovn on the side of the comedy. As in tragedy the plot with aJmartiva is purified of miarovn and arouses pity and fear, so in comedy the plot with <199> aJmavrthma is purified of yovgo" and becomes ridiculous. Comic catharsis of action is catharsis from yovgo".
Having established this point, we become prepared to deal with our most important subject, the catharsis of comic emotion. It has been argued that Aristotle’s defense of poetry should be read in relation with the Platonic criticism of poetry. At least, the theory of tragic catharsis is targeted at the Platonic attack of poetry in the Book 10 of Republic. One may, then, argue that the Aristotelian theory of comic catharsis might be an answer to the Platonic censure of comedy. In Philebus, Plato understands pleasure of the comedy as the mixture of pleasure and pain (48A). Ignorance is said to be ‘ridiculous’ when it is “possessed in its harmless form by any of our friends (49E).” We laugh at the ignorance of our friends when they are weak and do not cause any harm to us. As ignorance is in itself a bad thing (kakovn), we feel pleasure in the misfortune of our friends when we laugh at them. It is envy (fqovno") that “causes pleasure in the misfortunes of friends (50A).” Plato does not criticize comedy simply because it makes laughter out of the misfortunes of the weak, but because it makes our own friends the target of our laughter. This is the reason a painful element (envy) has some share in comic laughter. There may hardly be any doubt that Plato has Aristophanes and his contemporaries in mind when he criticizes comedy.
Aristotle answers this criticism by emphasizing the universality of comic plot. Aristotle does not admit the envy in comedy. For Aristotle, “it is only when their plot is already made up of probable incidents that they (comic poets) give it a basis of proper names, choosing for the purpose any names that may occur to them (51b13-15).” The distinction between comic poets and the iambic poets lies precisely in the fact that the latter wrote about particular persons, while the comic poets deal with the universal. In other words, the ridiculous in comedy which contains a universal plot arouses in the audience the purified emotion of the same name that does not have the painful element of envy.
There is a textual support to this idea of catharsis as ‘purification of emotion from the envy.’ Although Aristotle does not mention envy in extant Poetics, fragments from On Poems of Philodemus which is, according to M. L. Nardelli, based on the poetic theory of Aristotle gives some key to the interpretation of comic catharsis. As Richard Janko has pointed out, in these fragments, after a mention of the ‘tragic catharsis of pity (PHerc. 1581 fr. IVb Nardelli),’ comes the fragment that speaks about ‘the catharsis of the error (fr. IIIbis).’ Then appear two larger fragments, separated by lacuna. “...Folly is present in the wisest of souls, and intemperance in the most temperate. Likewise there are fears in brave souls and envy (fqovnoi) in magnanimous ones...(fr. II).” “... a poet represents a complete action. It must be understood that poetry is useful with regard to virtue, purifying, as we said, the part... (fr. I ).” In these fragments, Philodemus (following the argument of Aristotle) cites envy as one of the objects of poetic purification. These fragments constitute a textual corroboration of our thesis that in comedy, the comic ridiculous as an emotion is purified of envy because it speaks of the universal and does not deal with the particular fault of our companions.
Janko claims that comic catharsis is useful in order to achieve the ‘middle’ as virtue. This middle is achieved through catharsis as purgation of the comic emotion. Nicomachean Ethics cites two types of vice concerning the ridiculous. Buffoons, “who itch to have their joke at all <200> costs, and are more concerned to raise a laugh than to keep within the bounds of decorum and avoid giving pain to the
object of their raillery (1128a6-7),” go to excess in ridicule and the boorish and morose, “who never by any chance say anything funny themselves and take offence at those who do (28a7-9),” are deficient in this respect. The ‘middle’ between these two excesses is the witty or versatile, “who jest with good taste (28a9-10).” This middle is explained, for example, as the person who will say and allow others to say to him “only the sort of things that are suitable to a virtuous man and a gentleman.” Comedy, by purging and relieving the comic laughter, will serve as a means to the achievement of the middle concerning the ridiculous.
To sum up, three kinds of comic catharsis can be located in the Aristotelian theory of comedy, each of which corresponds to the tragic one. The comic catharsis of action is a catharsis from yovgo". It ensures that the object of the comic action is an ‘error,’ purified of the bad intent that yovgo" contains. This error thus becomes ridiculous. The comic ridiculous aroused in this way is purified of fqovno" because comedy speaks of the universal and does not make invectives of particular persons. It does not have painful element mixed with its pleasure. Finally, this ridiculous aroused in the audience in the theatre is purged by the comic laughter. This arousal and purgation of the ridiculous in comedy is useful for the realization of the mean in relation to the ridiculous.
AND..... (in other words)
Comedy According to Aristotle (who speculates on the matter in his Poetics), ancient comedy originated with the komos, a curious and improbable spectacle in which a company of festive males apparently sang, danced, and cavorted rollickingly around the image of a large phallus. (If this theory is true, by the way, it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "stand-up routine.")
Accurate or not, the linking of the origins of comedy to some sort of phallic ritual or festival of mirth seems both plausible and appropriate, since for most of its history--from Aristophanes to Seinfeld--comedy has involved a high-spirited celebration of human sexuality and the triumph of eros. As a rule, tragedies occur on the battlefield or in a palace's great hall; a more likely setting for comedy is the bedroom or bathroom.
On the other hand, it's not true that a film or literary work must involve sexual humor or even be funny in order to qualify as a comedy. A happy ending is all that's required. In fact, since at least as far back as Aristotle, the basic formula for comedy has had more to do with conventions and expectations of plot and character than with a requirement for lewd jokes or cartoonish pratfalls. In essence: A comedy is a story of the rise in fortune of a sympathetic central character.
The comic hero
Of course this definition doesn't mean that the main character in a comedy has to be a spotless hero in the classic sense. It only means that she (or he) must display at least the minimal level of personal charm or worth of character it takes to win the audience's basic approval and support. The rise of a completely worthless person or the triumph of an utter villain is not comical; it's the stuff of gothic fable or dark satire. On the other hand, judging from the qualities displayed by many of literature's most popular comic heroes (e.g., Falstaff, Huck Finn) audiences have no trouble at all pulling for a likeable rogue or fun-loving scamp.
Aristotle suggests that comic figures are mainly "average to below average" in terms of moral character, perhaps having in mind the wily servant or witty knave who was already a stock character of ancient comedy. He also suggests that only low or ignoble figures can strike us as ridiculous. However, the most ridiculous characters are often those who, although well-born, are merely pompous or self-important instead of truly noble. Similarly, the most sympathetic comic figures are frequently plucky underdogs, young men or women from humble or disadvantaged backgrounds who prove their real worth--in effect their "natural nobility"--through various tests of character over the course of a story or play.
Traditionally, comedy has to do with the concerns and exploits of ordinary people. The characters of comedy therefore tend to be plain, everyday figures (e.g., lower or middle-income husbands and wives, students and teachers, children and parents, butchers, bakers, and candlestick-makers ) instead of the kings, queens, heroes, plutocrats, and heads of state who form the dramatis personae of tragedy. Comic plots, accordingly, tend to be about the kind of problems that ordinary people are typically involved with: winning a new boyfriend (or reclaiming an old one), succeeding at a job, passing an exam, getting the money needed to pay for a medical operation, or simply coping with a bad day. Again, the true hallmark of comedy isn't always laughter. More often, it's the simple satisfaction we feel when we witness deserving people succeed.
Types of Comedies
Comedies can be separated into at least three subordinate categories or sub-genres--identified and briefly characterized as follows:
Current: Anglo Saxons
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