Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Melpomene & Thalia

In the world of Shakespeare, comedies and tragedies are defined by their progression and resolution of story. A tragedy starts at a high point and progresses to a low point while a comedy starts low and ends high; a tragedy ends in a funeral, a comedy ends with marriage. This classical approach to the essence of comedy and tragedy are symbolized in the smiling and crying faces of Melpomene and Thalia, the twin masks that are emblematic of theatre. While the days of Shakespearian theatre are long past, these ideas persist in modern entertainment. Perhaps the most iconic of these modern art forms is the television sitcom. Likewise with the Shakespearian comedy, sitcoms are about finding true love and happiness through the tribulations of their everyday lives. But, just because these stories are moving towards marriage, this does not explain what makes these situations funny.

Thomas Hobbes writes, "Men laugh at the infirmities of others, by comparison wherewith their own abilities are set off and illustrated” and in this observation we may observe the techniques of humor illustrated by modern and classical comedy. Empathy plays a large role in these comedic situations as it is the effectiveness of empathy that will allow the audience to relate to a character and their struggles. Often times you will see a character be put into an awkward or uncomfortable situation and laugh as they fumble their way out of it, all the while thinking, "Thank God that isn't me" or "I would put myself in that kind of situation" and hoping that they make it through. This is fundamental in understanding how humor works. You have to get the joke and this is only possible when you get the person telling the joke.

All in all, comedy and tragedy are both approaches to the reality of life and living. There is humor and tragedy to be found in every moment, if we as audience are receptive to them. Søren Kierkegaard writes, “The comical is present in every stage of life… for wherever there is life, there is contradiction, and wherever there is contradiction, the comical is present. The tragic and the comic are the same, in so far as both are based in contradiction” and in this we again see the relationship that Melpomene and Thalia hold in the world. Comedy comes from the unexpected. Nothing we expect to happen is comical precisely because it is expected. We laugh the hardest when we don't see it coming, we cry the loudest when we do not see it coming.

Dying is easy, comedy is hard. Everyone dies eventually and adds to the sadness and wallow of the world. The bright side of this is that darkness needs balance. Tragedy needs Comedy or else they cannot exist. There is joy to be found in life despite the inevitable end, and it is in these moments of happiness that comedy thrives. There are funerals and there are marriages, and any rational person would chose the later to spend their day. 

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