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Dramatic Comedy: History and Types

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  • 0:06 A Happy Ending
  • 0:40 Origin & Definition
  • 2:50 Characteristics
  • 3:43 Types
  • 6:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Heather Carroll

Heather teaches high school English. She holds a master's degree in education and is a National Board Certified Teacher.

Everyone loves to laugh, and sometimes it's at the most inappropriate times. Even the ancient Greeks loved a dirty joke or two! Learn more in this video about dramatic comedy, its history and types.

A Happy Ending

I want to start this video out with a little test. I'm going to make a statement. You see how you react.

The only thing the main character in a dramatic comedy needs is a happy ending.

If you didn't laugh, good for you! You are a high-minded, serious individual who is ready for a high-minded, serious explanation of dramatic comedy.

If you did snicker, even if to yourself, then you probably need to get your head out of the gutter, even though you are well on your way to understanding ancient Greek dramatic comedy.

Origin and Definitions

While historians aren't exactly sure about the origins of dramatic comedy, it is probable that it's linked to ancient bawdy plays where men dressed up as satyrs - half-man, half-goat beasts - to get drunk, sing, and entertain the crowd with their sexual innuendos.

Now, that's just plain silly.

But this probably isn't too surprising, given that much of today's dramatic comedy on television and film utilizes sexual undertones (or blatant sexual references) to enhance the comedic effect. Over time, though, comedy has become more than just an exaggerated view of human sexuality.

In the literary sense, dramatic comedy is a drama where the characters experience a change for the better and work things out with hope for the future. And yes, that happy ending is part of hope for the future. The Poetics, written by philosopher Aristotle, is the leading resource for defining tragedy. Unfortunately, the portion of the text that explains comedy has been lost, but we still can derive some definition from the earlier parts of Aristotle's famous work. In the simplest terms, whereas Aristotle saw tragedy as portraying humans better than they are, he saw dramatic comedy as portraying humans worse than they are. That doesn't mean that dramatic comedy sees humans as evil. Instead, dramatic comedy shows us our flaws and often portrays us as base, meaning ignorant or of low social class.

Within the dramatic comedy sub-genre, we can explain the humor in two different ways: high comedy and low comedy. High comedy uses social satire, wit, and subtle characterizations that are geared toward an educated group. The television show The Big Bang Theory is a good example of high comedy today. It is expected that the audience will understand the cultural references and subtle humor, which make the show entertaining. Low comedy, on the other hand, uses bawdy jokes, physical humor, drunkenness, and silly visuals for the sake of getting people to laugh. The Three Stooges, with its head-bops and foolish characters who make odd noises, is a more modern example of low comedy.

Characteristics of Dramatic Comedy

So, what should you expect if you go to the theatre for a comedic play? Well, dramatic comedies mostly will focus on ordinary people and their lives. As a result, the characters are typically everyday-people from lower to middle class families. The comic hero isn't a hero in the sense that he or she is indestructible. Actually, the hero in a dramatic comedy just needs to be likeable in some way so that the audience will hope his or her success will be found in the story. In fact, the characters that do come from high society are often pompous instead of noble when it comes to their role in a comedy.

These ordinary characters fall into ordinary plots that focus on ordinary problems. These problems are solved without too many real complications. The plot itself is mostly predictable, with the audience feeling a sense of approval as the comedic hero finally has his happy ending.

Types of Comedy

That being said, as with any form of entertainment, there are various ways in which a dramatic comedy can be written. The humor, plot, and characters all contribute to the comedy type.

To begin, the farce, which will be discussed in more detail in a separate video, is a low comedy that uses base characters and improbable circumstances to entertain the audience.

Romantic comedy, probably the most popular of all the comedy types, can sometimes qualify as a low comedy, depending on the development of the characters, but focuses more on the situations surrounding the characters than the use of horseplay and slapstick that we see with a farce. Just as it sounds, the plot in a romantic comedy focuses on finding or fixing love. The two likeable characters are being kept apart by something or someone and spend the majority of the plot fighting to be together. In the end, they finally are able to overcome all obstacles and may even end up married. Several of William Shakespeare's comedies fall into this category, including 'Much Ado About Nothing', where two pairs of lovers end up married after a good deal of gossip and trickery has threatened their relationships.

Satirical comedy is a style of high comedy that uses irony, a literary technique where the author uses the characters or even plot to imply an idea that is actually opposite of what is being stated, to exaggerate flaws in people or situations to make them look ridiculous or reveal corruption. The characters in a satirical comedy are often criminals or fools who lack obvious morals or sense. As they move through the plot, their faults become more and more noticeable with each event. Many satirical comedies take a political stance that sarcastically mocks policies to show their flaws.

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