Comedy- Not Just for Laughs

Home/ Comedy- Not Just for Laughs
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Discipline CoreSUS1EN2484

Semester and Year Offered: IV semester

Course Coordinator and Team:Gunjeet Aurora

Email of course coordinator:gunjeet[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None

Course Objectives/Description:

Drama is one of the oldest and most dynamic of literary genres and finds its place in not just literary studies but performance studies as well. The oldest dramatic traditions are found in Greek, Roman and Sanskrit literature and have origins in religious beliefs, rituals and festivals. Within drama we find the existence of two main forms, those of comedy and tragedy which share a common origin yet have a clear demarcation in terms of their style, dramatic structure and hierarchy. The present course is designed to introduce students to the genre of comedy which has often been marginalized on account of its apparent flippancy and humour and thus relegated to an inferior status in contrast to tragedy and more ‘serious’ literature. This does not do justice to a genre which is a potent means of satirizing, commenting and criticizing society, personages and issues whether religious, social, political or cultural, through the means of humour, the absurd or the incongruous. The present course will study comedy in terms of its structure as well as from the perspectives of tone, language, body, gender, sexuality, character, politics and laughter through some representative plays and critical essays written on comedy. The course will also refer to some films in order in help students understand the performative and visual aspects of comedy as well. Comedy as a genre has been studied quite extensively so a vast body of critical work exists on the subject. The course will give students a wider perspective in understanding the nuances and underlying themes and issues in comedy as they encounter the form not just in literature but in popular culture as well.


The objective of this course is to undertake a more ‘serious’ analysis of the genre of comedy. While comedy by definition falls in the realm of the comic or the ridiculous, yet comedy is much more as it can be highly political, powerful, subversive and a potent tool of resistance. Since it is meant to arouse laughter, therefore comedy uses this as its strength for launching scathing attacks and comments on society, systems and people. However, at the same time the comic can also work to reinforce negative stereotypes sometimes. The flippant and potentially subversive nature of comedy has often made it prone to controversies and censorship. Comedy manifests itself in a multitude of forms whether it is in literature or more popularly today in visual culture (sitcoms, films etc). Since humour and comedy are an integral part of our day to day life not just through literature but also jokes, pranks, mass media, TV and films, understanding this genre is important as we often tend to lose track of the subtext of the comic, caught as we are in the guffaws of the surface laughter.

Course Outcomes:

At the end of the course students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a systematic, extensive and coherent knowledge and understanding of the genre of comedy specificallyin the context of drama studies.
  • Differentiate the theoretical differences between comedy and tragedy as well as identify various sub-genres within the comic tradition.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of history and development of the comic genre in both Western and Indian contexts.
  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of the established theories of the comic.
  • Understand how the comic as a form channelises social and political critique.
  • Demonstrate the analytic skills and techniques in understanding specific texts that are studied in detail in the class.
  • Apply research skills to source materials for class presentations and assessment tasks.


Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

  • The course will follow a chronological development of comedy starting with classical Greek and Roman comedy to tracing its subsequent growth in English literature. It will study comedy from the perspectives of tone, language, gender, sexuality, character, politics and laughter through a few representative plays. It will also discuss the hierarchy between the genres of tragedy and comedy, the forms of comedy (high/low, burlesque, dark comedy, romantic comedy, slapstick) and the importance of comedy in literature and society.Select plays will be discussed alongside some critical works pertaining to comedy in order to help students undertake a more nuanced study of these texts. Since comedy is more visible and popular today in the visual media most prominently through the television and cinema, the course will study a few films and refer to some sitcoms in order to help students understand comedy and its many facets as it exists in their more immediate world.
  • Contents (brief note on each module; indicative reading list with core and supplementary readings):The course has been divided into four modules. The first looks at the origins of comedy through classical Greek and Roman comedy. The second module engages in a more sustained and in depth analysis of the comedy in terms of structure, theme and forms. The third module discusses comedy in Indian drama and the fourth will discuss comedy in popular culture and mass media through films.Each module will have a few plays and some critical readings which will help students read and critically analyse these texts and in the process understand how the comic works to humour, satirise, subvert, stereotype, resist, politicize, or simply poke fun at contemporary issues, people, institutions and cultures.


Module 1

The Beginnings: This module will undertake a historical and literary overview of the beginnings of drama and the two genres of comedy and tragedy. As recommended by the BOS it will also involve extensive discussions on the nature of tragedy and comedy, their differences and their relative positions in literature. It will discuss the Old and New Comedy in Greek drama as well as Roman comedy through some representative texts.

Indicative reading list for this module out of which two plays will be chosen:

  • Aristophanes. The Frogs
  • Lysistrata
  • Menander. Dyskolos
  • Plautus. Casina
  • Terence. Phormio


Module 2

Understanding Comedy:This module will introduce the students to the comic tradition in English literature through some representative plays. The structure as well as the main characteristics of comedy in terms of stock characters, stock situations, humour and language will be discussed in this module. It will examine the many forms of comedy (high/low, burlesque, dark comedy, romantic comedy, comedy of manners, farce, commedia dell’arte, slapstick), themes (politics, personages, sexuality etc) as well as the aspects of tone, body and language through select plays. It will also look at the theatre of the absurd and its relation to comedy. The module will also undertake a theoretical discussion of comedy through some critical readings.

Indicative reading list of plays for this module out of which four texts will be chosen:

  • Shakespeare, William. As You like It
  • A Mid Summer Night’s Dream
  • Ben Johnson. The Alchemist
  • Volpone
  • Behn, Aphra. The Rover
  • Wycherley, William. The Country Wife
  • Congreve, William. The Way of the World
  • Gay, John. The Beggar’s Opera
  • Goldsmith, Oliver. She Stoops to Conquer
  • Sheridan, R.B. The School for Scandal
  • Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest
  • Shaw, G.B. Pygmalion
  • Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot
  • Pinter, Harold. The Birthday Party
  • Stoppard, Tom. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
  • Orton, Joe. Loot
  • Fo, Dario. Accidental Death of an Anarchist


Module 3: Comedy and Indian Drama

This module will look at the presence of the comic in the Indian theatre: classical as well as folk and contemporary by taking up plays which exhibit elements of the comic through comic stock characters and situations. It will also take up the differences in the nature of the comic as evinced through Indian and Greek comedies. As recommended by the BOS it will discuss the manner in which comedy was also used as a mode of subversion of the colonial power during the pre-Independence years in India. These plays will be discussed alongside selections from the Natyashastra and critical essays on the folk theatre of India.

  • Alekar, Satish: Mahanirvan (The Great Departure)
  • Sudraka: Mricchakatika (The Little Clay Cart)
  • Tanvir, Habib: Charandas Chor


Module 4

Comedy in Popular Culture: This module will look at comedy as depicted and presented in the realm of the popular through films, popular sitcoms, jokes, slapstick and social media. This section will involve the participation of students to cull out texts and instances from their everyday life in order to understand how humour and the comical also operate at more informal levels, in order to see how popular discourses and stereotypes are built, reinforced, subverted or furthered through the causal use of humour.

Apart from primary texts the course will also include select critical readings from

  • Reader in Comedy: An Anthology of Theory and Criticism edited by Magda Romanska and Alan Ackerman(2016)
  • Bharata’s Natyashastra


Supplementary readings:

  • Balducci, Anthony. The Funny Parts:A History of Film Comedy Routines and Gags. Jefferson: McFarland and Company, 2012
  • Billig, Michael. Laughter and Ridicule: Towards a Social Critique of Humour. London: Sage, 2005
  • Bowie, A.M. Aristophanes: Myth, Ritual and Comedy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994
  • Cavaliero, Glen. The Alchemy of Laughter: Comedy in English Fiction. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000
  • Crichtley, Simon. On Humour. London: Routledge, 2002
  • Demastes, William W. Comedy Matters: From Shakespeare to Stoppard. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008
  • Janko, Richard. Aristotle on Comedy: Towards a Reconstruction of Poetics II. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984
  • McMillin, Scott. Ed. Restoration and Eighteenth Century Comedy. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1997
  • Neale, Steve and Frank Krutnik. Popular Film and Television Comedy. London and New York: Routledge, 1990
  • O’Bryhim, Shawn. Ed. Greek and Roman Comedy: Translations and Interpretations of Four Representative Plays. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001
  • Smith, Emma. Ed. Shakespeare’s Comedies: Blackwell Guides to Criticism. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003
  • Sommerstein, Alan. H. Talking about Laughter and Other Studies in Greek Comedy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009
  • Stott, Andrew. Comedy. New York: Routledge, 2005
  • Styan, J.L. The Dark Comedy: The Development of Modern Comic Tragedy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968


Assessment Details with weights:

  • Assignment: 30%
  • Mid-term exam: 30%
  • End semester exam: 40%

The pattern of assessment is subject to revision depending on the composition and size of the class.


Gunjeet Aurora

Signature of Course Coordinator(s)