Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/368
dience. The trial scene of Shylock perfectly illustrates the idea: to the friends of Bassanio, as to most of the Elizabethan audience, this Jew-baiting was highly delightful; to Shylock it was torture and heartbreak. The dramatist who presents such material so as to emphasize in it what would appeal to the friends of Bassanio, writes comedy. He who presents it to an audience likely to feel as Shylock felt, writes tragedy.
HIGH COMEDY, LOW COMEDY, AND FARCE
Comedy divides into higher and lower. Low comedy concerns itself directly or indirectly with manners. "The Alchemist" of Jonson busies itself directly with manners by means of characters varying from types of a single aspect to well-individualized figures. Comedy of intrigue, centering about a love story, deals in complicated situations arising therefrom, but indirectly paints manners as it characterizes. "The Shoemaker's Holiday" may perhaps stand as a specimen of this type, though Fletcher's "The Wild-Goose Chase" is a better example. High comedy, as George Meredith pointed out in his masterly "Essay on Comedy," deals in thoughtful laughter. This laughter comes from the recognition, made instantaneously by the author, of the comic value of a comparison or contrast. For instance, in "Much Ado About Nothing" it is high comedy at which we laugh when from moment to moment we contrast Benedick and Beatrice as they see themselves and as we see them in the revelatory touches of the dramatist.
Farce treats the improbable as probable, the impossible as possible. In the second case it often passes into extravaganza or burlesque. "The Frogs" of Aristophanes illustrates farcical burlesque. In the best farce to-day we start with some absurd premise as to character or situation, but if the premises be once granted we move logically enough to the ending.
SOCIAL BACKGROUND OF DRAMA
Yet, even if one understands these differences, one may find it difficult at first to appreciate the drama of a past time. Modern drama from 980 A. D. onward passes from the simple Latin trope, already
- H. C., xlvii, 469ff.
- H. C., viii, 439ff.