Harvard University Press
On Sale: October 30, 2003
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In a grand tour of comic theater over the centuries, Erich
Segal traces the evolution of the classical form from its
early origins in a misogynistic quip by the sixth-century
B.C. Susarion, through countless weddings and happy endings,
to the exasperated monosyllables of Samuel Beckett. With
fitting wit, profound erudition lightly worn, and
instructive examples from the mildly amusing to the
uproarious, his book fully illustrates comedy's glorious
life cycle from its first breath to its death in the Theater
of the Absurd.
An exploration of various landmarks in the history of a
genre that flourished almost unchanged for two millennia,
The Death of Comedy revisits the obscenities and raucous
twists of Aristophanes, the neighborly pleasantries of
Menander, the tomfoolery and farce of Plautus. Segal shows
how the ribaldry of foiled adultery, a staple of Roman
comedy, reappears in force on the stages of Restoration
England. And he gives us a closer look at the
schadenfreude--delight in someone else's misfortune--that
marks Machiavelli's and Marlowe's works.
At every turn in Segal's analysis--from Shakespeare to
MoliÃ¨re to Shaw--another facet of the comic art emerges,
until finally, he argues, "the head conquers and the heart
dies": Letting the intellect take the lead, Cocteau,
Ionesco, and Beckett smother comedy as we know it. The book
is a tour de force, a sweeping panorama of the art and
history of comedy, as insightful as it is delightful to read.
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