There may be few things more foolish than trying to explain a joke, but this course aims at something dangerously similar: exploring some basic problems of literary analysis by thinking and writing about stories meant to make us laugh. “Comedy” is the name we usually give to such stories, but historically comedy has been defined in other ways as well: as leading to a happy ending, often to marriage or some other kind of social harmony; or as being concerned with everyday life, with characters we recognize as amusingly or disturbingly like ourselves. In this course we’ll examine how and why these different features have gone together in texts from the Greeks to Groundhog Day. We¿ll also consider the ways in which comedy’s power might arise from the tensions between them. Comic laughter can show our potential for solidarity, reconciliation, and forgiveness, and also for indifference, aggression, and exclusion. We’ll explore comedy’s insights into both possibilities, and the fine line between them, in texts by Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Austen, and Wilde, and films from the Marx Brothers to the present.
The Class: Type: seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: 3 papers totaling 20-23 pp.; class participation
Enrollment Preference: none
Distributions: Division I; Writing-Intensive;
Distribution Notes: WI: This course will involve explicit instruction in written argument, including essay structure and clarity. Writing assignments will build in complexity over the semester, incorporating skills learned in previous units.