The Ways of the World

The Ways of the World : Comedy and Society

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In this book Robert Bechtold Heilman adds another study to the influential analysis of generic forms begun in Tragedy and Melodrama: Versions of Experience and continued in The Iceman, the Arsonist, and the Troubled Agent: Tragedy and Melodrama on the Modern Stage. In the words of the author, "It is impossible to explore tragedy (as the conflict within the moral nature of man) and melodrama (as the external conflict between different men and groups) without also developing some ideas about the territory of comedy in the wide human terrain occupied by these dramatic types.

Probing some of the major traditional theories of comedy, Professor Heilman reveals their limitations as comprehensive generic views, and differentiates comedy from other forms, such as satire, which are sometimes confused with it. Although comedy, like melodrama, is concerned primarily with the world itself rather than with inner life, there is a fundamental distinction in the attitude toward the world that typifies each genre. The comic attitude -- affirmative, conciliatory, accepting the disparate, and acknowledging the habitual and incurable ironies of life in the world -- is examined in detail.

Working from the assumption that the idea of genre is a way into the play, and at the same time all the plays provide a way into the genre, the author not only advances major theoretical points about comedy but also offers practical criticism of a broad spectrum of individual plays -- ranging from farce to high comedy to black comedy and from the time of Aristophanes to the present. Especially notable are new analyses of Synge's "Playboy of the Western World" and of three quite different Shakespearean plays, including the problematic "Measure for Measure." Professor Heilman also identifies the comic attitude in plays not generally considered as comedy, such as Gorky's "The Zykovs" and Giraudoux's "Electra."

In conclusion the author moves his theory of comedy into the range of nonliterary life, sketching the kinds of attitudes that are hostile to comedy and canvassing the profound issue of comedy as both a symptom and agent of civilization.

A series of valuable appendixes survey studies of comedy since the 1930s, summarizing each work and noting the similarities and differences between them.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 400 pages
  • Seattle, United States
  • English
  • 0295744685
  • 9780295744681