August 31, 2012

ISN'T LEAR TOO FOOLISH FOR IT TO BE ANYTHING BUT A COMEDY?:

Why Comedy Is Truer to Life Than Tragedy (Terry Teachout, 8/31/12, WSJ)

With all due respect to Messrs. Brooks and Simon, though, it was Donald Francis Tovey, the noted English musicologist, who best explained why comedy has the potential to express more fully than tragedy the fundamental truths of life. In an essay about Mozart, Mr. Tovey pointed out that the language of such "tragic" masterpieces as the G Minor Symphony is derived from the rush and bustle of 18th-century opera buffa, abstracted to the point of sublimity but still fundamentally comic. Listen to that dark and desperate symphony after coming home from a performance of "The Marriage of Figaro" and you'll see at once what he meant.

How can such a thing be? Here's how Mr. Tovey explained it: "Comedy uses the language of real life; and people in real life often find the language of comedy the only dignified expression for their deepest feelings." When I first read that sentence, it felt as though someone had switched on the lights in a musty basement. Yes, "King Lear" is charged with universal feelings--but it isn't real. Not only is it set in a far-off fairyland of kings and queens, but it ends, like most of Shakespeare's tragedies, with a mile-high stack of corpses, a horrific spectacle that precious few of us have had the misfortune to behold.

Because Shakespeare was a genius, he was capable of making us sympathize with Lear and his regal travails. If, on the other hand, the hapless hero of a comedy should trip over a rake, fracture his pelvis and bring the house down, we don't have any trouble identifying with his preposterous plight. We've all been there, more or less, and when it happens to us, we typically express our dismay not in iambic pentameter but in a fusillade of four-letter words.

All comedy is conservative.
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Posted by at August 31, 2012 5:26 AM
  

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