Reflective Journal Task 2
With close reference to your chosen play from List A, What the Bulter Saw consider the
• In what ways might the play contain characteristics of comedy, satire
• How might the theories of the comic explored below, be evidenced?
Now find precise examples from the text to support your arguments.
• character type and function
• stage direction
• audience complicity (what the audience knows but one or more of
the characters does not).
As previously mentioned, it is possible to have comic aspects in plays that are
not considered comedies. In fact, playwrights often incorporate comedy in
‘serious’ plays in order to provide the audience with a bit of relief. But how are
comic moments created? What makes people laugh?
If you have ever attempted to write comedy, you will know that it is, ironically,
serious business! Though it often feels quite improvisational, the majority of
comedy writers have spent time studying and perfecting the craft. It is
therefore worth considering what creates laughter in human beings and how
this can be incorporated into play making. Theorist Henri Bergson’s
Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic attempts to shed some light
on this, and although it was written over a hundred years ago, it is worthwhile
considering how applicable his observations are to performative writing.
I will highlight a few of his points, and, whilst reading, you should consider
whether or not you agree with them.
1. Bergson says that ‘the comic does not exist outside the pale of what is
strictly human’ (1911, 3). This means that we only laugh at things that
have human qualities. Landscapes may be beautiful or ugly, but not
funny. Things and animals are only funny when we detect a human
quality in them, for example, clumsiness in a cat, or an arrangement of
car headlights that makes it look angry (if, indeed, you would find those
2. There is an ‘absence of feeling’ which accompanies laughter (4). We
can only laugh at something if we have any emotional attachment to it.
For example, if we feel angry about a stage character (in the particular
moment of watching) we cannot laugh at him/her. The same goes for a
character we feel sorry for – we cannot laugh unless we have emotional
3. Laughter is a social mechanism. As Bergson says, laughter ‘appears to
stand in need of an echo’ (5). You will probably have heard the saying
‘laughter is contagious’, and Bergson thinks that we are unlikely to laugh
when we are on our own. Think about theatre audiences – do people
sometimes laugh because others are laughing, even if they don’t quite
get the joke? How often do you hear only one person laughing?
4. Bergson claims that laughter comes from observing ‘mechanical
inelasticity’ in others (10). What this means is an inability to respond to
an obstacle. He uses the example of a man walking down the street who
falls because he failed to notice or avoid a rock, or a person who ‘attends
to the petty occupations of his everyday life with mathematical precision’
(for example, Malvolio from Twelfth Night), but who, when it becomes
clear that a trick is being played on him, fails to adjust his behaviour and
therefore falls for the trick. Comedy emerges from a character’s
stubborn refusal/inability to change their behaviour in line with changing
5. Connected to point 4, the ‘comic character is generally comic in
proportion to his ignorance of himself. The comic person is
unconscious’. So, if a person is unaware of their flaw, and continues
blindly on a path thinking it is the correct way to proceed, they become