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386 Comparative Drama played upon a stage in the presence of an audience." He also insists that "it would be snobbish and self-depriving to ignore non-literary comedy, whether in the cinema, the circus, the puppet-show, the night-club, the music-hall, or the opera house, so long as it is acted--or, for that matter, danced and sung." Levin divides his book into two parts. The first and more important part, about two-thirds of the book, is called "Playboys and Killjoys." The second part has several "Supplementary Essays" in which Levin deals with materials that overlap with those of "Playboys and Killjoys" but are more diffuse and fanciful or have different emphases--e.g., the long essay, indeed a kind of fantasia, "From Play to Plays," originally published in Comparative Drama (1982). Levin's most important "point of departure" is the notion of the ridiculous and the ludicrous, between which there is a fundamental, perennial "dialectical interplay." Ridicule makes us laugh at a person. The ludicrous causes us to laugh with a person. Drawing much on Huizinga's Homo Ludens, Levin associates the ludicrous with play and the pleasure principle. (Among the other commentators on or explorers of comedy whose influence Levin generously acknowledges are Cornford, E. K. Chambers, C. L. Barber, and Northrop Frye.) The pleasure principle essential to comedy is seen most spectacularly in the spirit of carnival, whether the spirit is present in periods of licensed revelry and misrule or intrudes, with its zaniness and antinomianism, into workdays, i.e., into or against Lenten restrictions. These opposites, Carnival and Lent, help give Levin the polarity for his felicitously named categorical characters, the Playboy and the Killjoy. (On the book's dust jacket is a reproduction of Breughel's prunting "Battle Between Carnival And Lent," which is one of Levin's many "texts.") Levin subtitles his book "An Essay on the Theory and Practice of Comedy." There is-gratifyingly, to me-much more about the practice than the theory. Although Levin says he intends "to sketch a theory of sorts," which he calls "a paradigm compounded of many simples,"· he is more interested in the "simples" than in the listing and explication of principles. Consequently, the best parts of Levin's book are those where he exemplifies his ideas. His range of reference is huge-from Aristophanes to Beckett, from commedia dell' arte to Woody Allen. However , the ideas are cogently developed. Levin begins with a discussion of what he calls comedy's argument-a comic agon between some kind of playboy, who won't permit "a constriction of his freedom of action" or a spoiling of his pleasurable "fun and games," and some kind of killjoy, who has in common with all other killjoys "that they are agelasts. They cannot make a joke; they cannot take a joke; they cannot see the joke; they spoil the game." Levin continues with chapters on the relations, sometimes the identity (TartuiIe is one of his main cases-in-point here), between playboys and killjoys, with their various masks and duplicities. There are instructive discussions of the commedia dell' arte and its influences; familial situations in comedy; and comedy at its extremities, where it tends toward transformation of its materials into "metacomedy "-into "black," "absurd," "cruel" comedy and so forth. At these extremities, Levin says, "we have traveled a long way from those halcyon Reviews 387 days when comedy set out in pursuit of happiness" by fonowing the pleasure principle. Such widely different and problematical modern comedians as Brecht and Weill, Beckett, and Woody Allen, who seem to "press beyond the pleasure principle . . . toward that broader and darker conception formulated by Freud as the reality principle," make us ask, Levin says, if, finally, "tragedy is truer than comedy, the avenging killjoys were right all along, and the capering playboys must sooner or later be put in their place?" Despite such worries, Levin still puts his hopes on comedy. He ends his essay with an eloquent passage in which he celebrates (as he does through the book) comedy's, as the clown's, ability to bounce back, to display its "protean aspect . . . for transcending itself, for responding to...


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pp. 387-390
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