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CONCERNING A RECENT INTERPRETATION OF CALDERONIAN COMEDY GERALD E. WADE Emeritus, University of Tennessee (Knoxville) This letter will be concerned with the meaning of comedy, a matter to which theorists have for a long time given much thought. There has been no agreement on what comedy is, nor is there likely to be one soon. Unfortunately, although the Comedia is mostly of comic texture , Hispanists have not had much to say on what its basic meaning (or function) is. There is no space here to review the efforts of the few Hispanists of our time who have written on the subject. There is, however, a quite recent expression that is greatly deserving of comment . This is Robert ter Horst's «The Origin and Meaning of Calderonian Comedy,» in Studies in Honor ofEverett W. Hesse, published in 1981 by the Society of Spanish and Spanish American Studies at the University of Nebraska (Lincoln). Although the title of the article implies that only Calderonian comedy is to be defined, it will be seen that the comedy of all times and places is under interpretation. Ter Horst refuses to accept «comic» and «comedy» as synonymous. For him the comic requires a degree of merriment, while comedy, although it may use elements of the comic as a part of its total picture, has a broader meaning. He names a number of the most famous writers of comedy from Aristophnes to Molière and insists that if the reader examines carefully any one of their most admired plays, he must conclude that the resultant effect is one of deep seriousness. When the author uses comic devices to amuse his audience , it is only so as to induce them to give thought to the un125 126Bulletin of the Comediantes fathomable depths of the basic problems of the human condition. For ter Horst an example is to be seen in the comic capers of Molière's Tartuffe, its author's play about hypocrisy. These cause the audience or reader to gauge the depths of credulity and sincerity, and invite him«into a bewildering meditation on the lack of correspondence between act and intention, between inner state of mind and outward behavior.» As one gives thought to the basic meaning of the play, he may agree that, since only God can read intention, the reader faces for himself the «rather frightening mystery of /the author's/ intentionality , an extraordinarily original subject for the drama, but a very natural one too.» Ter Horst does not explain just why the antics of Tartuffe and his fellow actors are funny, and is thus reinforcing his thesis that the comic in comedy is of minor importance for its basic meaning. Ter Horst affirms that all humor draws attention to our worries. He does not explain how humor, that is, the comic, can be funny when it causes us to worry. He asserts that comedy, unlike humor, «addresses itself to the causes /whatever they may be/ more systematically , using risibility as its cautious approach.» He continues by affirming that «the special note, the special quality of Calderón's theater, is its gravity.» He sees Calderón as not partial to farce, as preferring humor, often black, in his secular plays. And it is the secular plays that make up most of Calderón's canon. For ter Horst all are uncommonly serious. He deplores the «apparently wasteful tactic» whereby humor distracts from the seriousness of a situation that tragedy can approach undiluted by extraneous comic matter. It follows that for him tragedy is a more worthy preference for «moralists and other high-minded people.» It dwells on last things. Most people, he affirms , find tragedy intolerable. It often includes thoughts of death and so now ter Horst can give us what he takes as the essence of comedy: it is «in the nearly universal aversion to death that comedy finds its opportunity . Comedy is thus anti-tragedy in the sense that its prime instinct is to put dying out of mind. It is an absurd but endearing attempt to exorcise the inevitable.» Two things are at once apparent from the quoted sentences. One is that ter Horst sees comedy's prime...


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