Comic Theater – Characteristics, Concept and Exponents


What is the Comic Theater?

The historical origins of this theater are complex, because it is a freer theater in its form, rooted in the political news of the moment, the comedy seeks through laughter to highlight and denounce the shortcomings of contemporaries.

The farce, the buffoonery, the recourse to fairy tales, the provocative satire, the grotesque characters of old people imbued and rolled up by young people, it is also about showing the spectators that they are not exempt from what makes them laugh; from this point of view, comedy pursues the same objectives as tragedy with different means.

Comedy seeks to correct society through laughter, it is the comic translation of catharsis. It is useful to know that this term was the motto of the Italian comedians to whom Marivaux entrusted most of his plays. Indeed, in all of Marivaux’s plays one can concede this principle which is clearly stated there because if the author composes an entertaining play its purpose is also to educate. Likewise, the comic theater gives the spectators a lesson of life with the help of comic situations.

Definition of Comic Theater 

Comic theater, also called comedy, is an entertainment consisting of jokes intended to make the audience laugh. For the ancient Greeks and Romans a comedy was a play with a happy ending. Thus, Screwball comedy derives its humor largely from strange, surprising and also improbable situations or characters.

In the Middle Ages, the term was expanded to include narrative poems with a happy ending and a lighter tone. In this sense Dante used the term in the title of his poem, the Divine Comedy.

Similarly, comedy contains variations on the elements of surprise, incongruity, conflict, repetition, and the effect of opposing expectations, but there are many recognized genres of comedy, including satire which uses ironic comedy to portray people or social institutions as ridiculous or corrupt, thus alienating its audience from the object of humor.

How did Comic Theater develop?

Classical comic theater, found in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, is distinguished by a theme taken from everyday life, with ordinary characters, with lively and rhythmic action that has many twists and turns. Therefore, the classic structure has three or five acts, exposition, knot, and denouement.

Comic theater has always sought to entertain by showing society, denouncing vices and correcting customs. Molière’s Les femmes savantes (1672) is a satire of women’s intellectual circles and preciousness, while the misanthrope (1664) addresses the question of the sincerity of the court.

The comic theater of intrigue, based on a large number of twists and turns, also makes use of romantic devices, of recognition, making use of theatricality, i.e. the theater within the theater, with typical characters, such as the candy bearer, the braggart, the deceitful valet.

On the other hand, the comic theater of the situation, is based on misunderstandings, the unexpected intervention of a character and, in general, all the signs that create a gap between what the spectator knows and what the characters know.

Whereas, character comedy, is created using stereotypical characters, such as the harlequin, found in Molière and Marivaux. Likewise, the gesture comedian, shows the character when he mimes to imitate his masters, gesticulates in all directions while clowning.

One can also evoke pantomimes and whipping. There is also the comic theater of words, in which puns, double entendre words, a mixture of language levels, voluntary interruptions, impertinence in language, and insults are made.

What is the Comic Theater

Characteristics of the Comic Theater

The comic theater, shows a common humanity, in the poetics, Aristotle defines comedy as the imitation of men of inferior moral quality in the realm of laughter. The characters of comedy belong to the people, to the bourgeoisie, sometimes to the petty nobility.

The plot is inspired by everyday life, laughing at the imperfections of the character, therefore, the purpose of comedy is moral and didactic, since it unmasks the imperfections of men and encourages them to correct themselves. Therefore, comic theater corrects morals, not laughter, Molière recalls in the preface of Tartuffe, in order to provoke laughter, it uses a variety of comic methods.

There are different modalities of comic theater, such as farce, which is a short play with a crude comedy, uses visual processes (gestures, mimicry), misunderstandings, and trivial language. The characters are stereotyped. Therefore, the comic theater came from Italy in the seventeenth century, and is based largely on improvisation. The types (harlequin, pants), recognizable by their costumes and masks, embroider the dramatic material according to their inspiration.

This theater influenced the authors of comedies (Molière, Beaumarchais, Marivaux). In this sense, the comedy of characters (Molière) studied morality and staged types whose vices were the driving force of the plot (the sa-vante woman, the imaginary patient, among others).

Likewise, in the comedy of manners, beyond the central character, he was interested in the manners of a society (debauchery, hypocrisy). Meanwhile, the great comedy was born in the 1630s, with five acts, in verse, respects the rules of classical theater and aims at a human truth (the comedies of Corneille).

Vaudeville developed in the 19th century, mixing situation comedy and comedy of words, characterized by a plot rich in twists and turns.

Legacy of this Theater 

Commedia dell’Arte began in Italy in the early 16th century and quickly spread throughout Europe, creating a lasting influence on Shakespeare, Molière, opera, vaudeville, contemporary musical theater, situation comedies and improvisational comedy.

The legacy of the Commedia includes the first incorporated theater company, the first European actresses, and many of the themes and plots still enjoyed by audiences today.

The origins of comic theater have not been conclusively determined, and scholars have demonstrated a variety of possible factors in its development, so, in its legacy are the masked and improvised comedy of the Roman farce tradition of Atellan, the mime theater of the Byzantine world, the jugglers and traveling theaters of medieval Europe, the market culture of early modern squares featuring performers, charlatans, and festivals, and the Renaissance rediscoveries of Plautus and Terrence by the Academies of theater and the tradition of scholarly comedy.

Whatever its origins, by the 1520s, performers such as Angelo Beolco (il Ruzzante) and early practitioners of the Zanni character type were entertaining audiences in a style that appears to be that of the ancient Commedia, with some of the earliest references to this style including names such as commedia all improvisa (the improvised theater) and commedia zannesca (the Zanni-esque theater).

Representatives of this theater 

New comedy, Greek drama from about 320 B.C. to the middle of the third century B.C. offers a mildly satirical view of contemporary Athenian society, especially in its family and domestic aspects.

Unlike the old comedy, which parodied public figures and events, the new comedy presents the citizens as fictitious mediums and has no supernatural or heroic overtones. Thus, the chorus, representative of larger-than-life forces, loses importance and becomes a small band of musicians and dancers who periodically provide light entertainment.