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170 Reviews Nelson, Tim G. A., Comedy: the theory of comedy in literature, drama, and cinema, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1990; paper; pp. 197; R. R. P. AUSS15.95. Several years ago I submitted an article to an august Shakespeare journal. Before returning it to m e for thefirstof many wearisome rewritings, the editor had ineffectively tried to erase from its first page the reader's penciUed verdict: 'This writer has forgotten that A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy - it is supposed to be funny'. It is to this impasse that Mr. Nelson addresses himself. In other words, how do academic commentators extricate themselves from the ludicrous position whereby they write with unintentionally comic ponderousness on clowns belabouring one another with pigs' bladders, on jealous befuddled elderly cuckolds gulled by quickwitted fornicators, and on pratfaUs and bathroom humour yet still locate within them the neo-Platonic solemnities and profundities of the scholarly critic's craft? They are more at home with tragedy. It is more serious. Nelson's response is to locate literary and cinematic comedy within a continuum whose conflicting extremes are laughter and harmony. Laughter is discordant, maUcious, or vindictive, directed at the outsider, the nonconformist, the foolish, the deformed, the socially disadvantaged, and those of lower status. Yet comedy may plainly have a more dignified, a more serious, function. It demonstrates the transition from misunderstanding and alienation between individuals and social groups to a higher integration within the individual and within society. In doing so, it celebrates a large scaleriteof passage which we are compeUed to take seriously as an earnest attempt to assert that w e ultimately inhabit an ordered Boethian universe where a higher and sporadically intelUgible moral pattern governs our ways and days. After considering theoretical accounts of the nature of laughter by Umberto Eco, Freud, Bergson and Bakhtin, Nelson considers the various genres of dramatic comedy from Aristophanes and Menander to Feydeau and Stoppard, and continues with an account of the various major comic topoi. There are discussions of marriage and procreation as examples of the progression from laughter to harmony, utilizing the social and mythopoeic paradigms of Northrop Frye and Helen Gardner. Tragedy dlustrates our atrabdious view of the world as a complex of issues which cannot be mediated, symbolized in the extinction in Unear time of the tragic individual, whde comedy celebrates the cyclical nature of time and society through the endless renewal embodied in the succession of the generations. Discussions of more localized topoi ensue, with especially successful chapters on the trickster, the gull, and the professional Fool. However, one misses a detailed discussion of comic structure at the narrative and denotative level. Also, the section on death as a comic ingredient, basing itself on the tale of the Ephesian matron in the Satyricon, is limited to the motif of Reviews 111 the maltreated orridiculedcorpse. There is no consideration of the immanent philosophical presence of death and mutilation; for example, in Shakespearian comedy w e do not encounter Mercade in the deerpark or the deathshead in Arcadia. There is no section on pastoral. O n the whole, however, the book is outstandingly successful, lucidly and unpretentiously written, learned but never pompous, always diverting but never facetious or laboured. It constitutes a sensitive and discriminating account of all the varying and conflicting elements which w e conjure up when w e invoke the apparently monolithic concept of comedy. The laughter/harmony d d e m m a is resolved in the lastfiveand a half lines of the book. David Ormerod Department of EngUsh University of Western AustraUa Newth, M. A., trans., The Song of Aspremont (La Chanson d'Aspremont) (Garland Library of medieval literature, Vol. 61, series B), N. Y., Garland, 1989; cloth; pp. xxx, 271; 1 map; R. R. P. US$42.00. In the Preface of the General Editors to this volume, it is stated that the purpose of the Garland series is 'to make available to the general reader m o d e m translations of texts in editions that conform to the highest academic standards' and 'to render the foreign works in a natural idiom that remains faithful to the originals'. Not only general readers...


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