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Reviews323 important reading not only for students of the Restoration and eighteenth century but for Shakespeare specialists and, more generally, all who are interested in the history of ideas and in how tastes and canons are formed. CLAUDIA THOMAS Wake Forest University Dana F. Sutton. Catharsis of Comedy. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 1994. Pp. vii + 126. $18.95. This book seeks to locate the pleasure peculiar to comic drama in a catharsis that is analogous to Aristotle's tragic catharsis through fear and pity. A view of ancient comedy possibly attributable to Aristotle serves as the cornerstone of this book. However, the author argues that the derivation of Western comedy from the classical tradition and his own emphasis on spectator psychology (which, he seems to assume, transcends culture) may give his theory wider utility. Sutton notes that although tragic catharsis is better known, the catharsis of comedy is in fact more intuitive and may be pinpointed in "the good honest explosive laugh." If Aristotle had written about comic catharsis, the work has not survived, but a tenth-century manuscript that may reflect an Aristotelian theory of comedy, the Tractatus Coislinianus , is extant. According to the Tractatus, comedy accomplishes "by means of pleasure and laughter the catharsis of such emotions." Tragedy and comedy appear to offer two different kinds of catharsis: the former purges the spectator of bad feelings; the latter induces a surfeit of good feelings which bubble over into laughter. Thus the Tractatus seems to say that comedy makes us feel good by making us laugh. Combining Aristotle's statement on tragic catharsis with that of the Tractatus on comedy, Sutton produces a definition of comic catharsis more complex than this solipsism. The definition depends on a reading of the ambiguous Greek at Poetics 1449b, ten ton toiouton pathematon katharsin, which Sutton takes to refer to a purgation not only of pity (which he understands as "anxiety") and fear, but of pity, fear, and other such feelings. In this reading he follows Jacob Bernays, who in Grundzüge der verlorenen Abhandlung des Aristotles über Wirkung der Tragödie (Breslau, 1857), describing the medical connotations of catharsis , suggested that tragedy provokes fear and pity in the spectator and induces a purgation of these and similar emotions much as an emetic causes a patient to vomit out both the emetic itself and the poison for which it had been taken. Thus, Sutton concludes, as tragedy employs pity and fear to achieve a catharsis of pity, fear, and similar feelings, so does comedy achieve a catharsis of pity, fear, and similar feelings, but through pleasure and laughter. In other words, though tragedy and 324Comparative Drama comedy use different means, their ends are the same, the purgation of negative emotions. Sutton overcomes the apparent paradox that comedy has the power to provoke bad feelings in his consideration of laughter. Herbert Spencer 's essay "The Physiology of Laughter," in Essays on Education Etc. (London, 1911), provides Sutton with the idea that laughter is the result of excess energy generated from extreme pleasure or pain which cannot be discharged physically. The source of this excess energy subsists in the psychic energy that, according to Freud in Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, was expended in repressing direct expression of taboo subjects such as sexual aggression and hostility. Sutton includes these feelings with Aristotle's pity and fear among the emotions that might be purged in comic catharsis; however, the energy released in laughter is invested in the bad feelings themselves rather than in the process of repressing them, as Freud maintained. Comic catharsis is characteristic of tendentious humor—that is, humor that makes reference to bad feelings. Comedy itself is a species of tendentious humor involving representation, and Sutton locates the specific workings of comic catharsis in comedy's mimetic nature. Comic mimesis is a process of ridicule in which the similarity of the comic surrogate to its real target evokes the bad feelings associated with the latter. The ridiculousness of the surrogate on stage brings about laughter that purges those feelings; furthermore, ridicule allows the spectator to feel superior to the real-life target and to limit the target's ability to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 323-326
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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