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Low Comedy: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

This lesson analyzes two forms of comedy with emphasis on low comedy. Examples, ranging from classic to modern, are also examined to illustrate the concepts.

What is Comedy?

Think of your favorite sad movie. Why did you like it? Maybe it helped you deal with some of your own problems, or gave you an escape from your daily life. But do you always want to watch that sad movie? That's doubtful. Most of us choose movies based on our particular moods at a particular point in time. Sometimes you may want a sad story to make you cry, or an action-packed one to entertain you, or even a comedy to make you laugh.

But comedy doesn't just exist in the movies and on TV--it exists in literature as well. A comedy in literature can be summarized as any written work where there is a happy ending. Usually there is also humor and laughs along the way. As there are many different situations that can make people laugh, there are many different forms of comedies. However, the two main types of comedy in entertainment are high comedy and low comedy.

High comedy includes any verbal wit and is usually considered more intellectual. Low comedy, on the other hand, involves some sort of lewd comment or humorous physical act to bring about laughter. Low comedy is also often called slapstick humor.

Low Comedy in Popular Culture

Low comedy has been a common trait in popular culture since the ancient Greeks. Playwrights during that age believed the common people, or low people, would not always understand the complexity of high comedy, so they included many instances of low comedy in their pieces to appeal to the masses.

Classic Example

This tradition continued into Shakespeare's time, as well. In his comedies, he often involved a character whose sole responsibility was to make lewd jokes or commit some physical ridiculousness in order to bring some comic relief. In one example, Shakespeare actually uses low comedy to make a point of undermining that character's beliefs or ideals. In the play Twelfth Night, the character Malvolio is pompous and egotistical. In order to undermine his highly esteemed personality, Shakespeare has Malvolio tricked into wearing bizarre clothing and behaving like a fool in an attempt to win Olivia's heart. In this way, his whole inflated ego seems more ridiculous. On the whole, you could even infer that Shakespeare is trying to make a larger statement about the hazards of pretentiousness.

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