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Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631207535.1997.x


A form of dramatic or narrative plot that emphasizes social integration. Whereas tragedy typically leads to the isolation of a character by accentuating suffering or death, comedy brings about the assimilation of characters into a changed or renewed social order that celebrates marriage, new life, or communal stability. Unlike the theory of tragedy, which has a long tradition that extends back to Aristotle's Poetics , the theory of comedy is largely a product of twentieth-century thought. Although it is commonly assumed that what is comic is the object of laughter, this is not necessarily so. While comic in the shape of its plot -because it traces the journey of the lost soul through the terrors of hell and the cleansing of purgatory in preparation for the union with God – the narrative of Dante's Divine Comedy is rarely humorous. In his pioneering study “Laughter” (1900), however, Henri Bergson emphasized the dependence of humor on social organization. The typical object of laughter, he argued, is a human manifestation of mechanical inelasticity, or a rigidity of manner, belief, or personality. When the exposure of such inelasticity leads to laughter, two groups are immediately formed: those who laugh and those at whom the laughter is directed. Laughter is thus a form of social criticism or a force for social conformity, in which those who laugh see more or see differently ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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