History of Comedy

Ancient Comics: (Around 800 BCE – 753 BCE)

Ancient Comedy

Comedy is said to have originated from rituals, such as Phallic processions, performed for the Greek God of vegetation, Dionysus.These comedies were called the “Old Comedy” and according to Evolution of Comedy, it was a mix of “farce, fantasy, satire, and parody, the series ending in a lyrical celebration of unity”. After the “Old Comedy”, “New Comedy” was born and the “New Comedy” was more about romance and less sarcastic or critical. However since comedy was for making people laugh, it was not taken seriously, so the origin of comedy is not defined. In Ancient Greek, Aristotle thought “that it first took shape in Megaris and Sicyon, whose people were noted for their coarse humor and sense of the ludicrous” (Origin of Comedy). Aristotle believed that comedy was a positive impact on the society but there were others like Plato who thought it was a negative impact and preferred tragedy over comedy. Comedy was very popular among Athenians and in 425 BCE, Aristophanes wrote many comedies.When the Romans took over Greece, a Roman version of comedy was born. In Roman comedy, everything was set in Rome, not Athens, and Roman dramatists adapted it so that it fits the Roman culture. It was not only Greeks and Romans who had comedy. Ancient Egyptians has comedy as well, though it was different from Greek and Roman comedy. Egyptian comedy was more religious and royal. As you can see there was comedy from old time, even though it was not taken seriously at the time.

Medieval Comics: (476 AD – 16th Century)

Medieval Court Jester

In Medieval times, churches tried to keep the comedy to minimum, but it was still performed in festivals and ceremonies and survived for the next period, Renaissance. In Medieval times, by the 14th century, more clowns and Court Jesters started to appear, as the records start getting better. Court Jesters were people who provided amusement to households and Royal families. In Egypt, there were people whose job was to entertain the Royal family, who imitated Egyptian Gods. These people were start of clowns. In Rome, there were many types of clowns. Sannio, a clown who did not wear any masks and who made people laugh with their funny body and face. Stupidus, who made people laugh with mimicking and was famous for slapsticks. Scurra was good at jesting while Moriones, Stulti and Fatui were funny for their retardedness. As you can see, these Court Jester and clowns were main parts of Medieval comedy.

Renaissance Comics: (14th Century – 17th Century)
In Renaissance times, a new type of comedy, called realistic comedy, was born. It was a mix of Latin comedy and comedy developed by John Heywood. This comedy was mainly expressed in plays by Ben Johnson and William Shakespeare. Shakespeare was very good at writing tragicomedy plays as well as romance comedy plays. On the other hand Heywood wrote plays that were more classical. During this time, there was another type of comedy called Commedia dell Arte, which originated in Italy. This is a comedy with masked characters who improvise their dialogues. This later influenced France to the pantomime comedy. In 17th century, a classical comedy and Commedia dell Arte combined together to make a play called Molière. Renaissance was a period in which new types of comedy was born and when comedy started to get popular.

Commedia dell Arte

Melodramatic Comics: (18th Century – 19th Century)

A melodramatic drama is a drama in which the plot and the characters are exaggerated to appeal to emotions, using stereotypes. It was written in 18th to 19th century and was usually accompanied by music. It is also centred on the idea of good vs. evil. It was the most written theatre in 19th century and was very popular by 1840. In melodramatic comedy there were 6 characters called stock characters and they were the hero, the villain, the heroine, an aged parent, a sidekick and a servant. These characters were used in plots of murder and love. Melodrama is still present in the present day.

Circus Comics: (18th Century)

Circus is a performance of acrobatics, comedy, and equestrian, which has existed since 18th Century. The first ever circus to be performed was by Philip Astley in London. In circus, there are clowns, whose job is to entertain the audience and to make them laugh. There are three basic types of clowns in circus: the whiteface clown, the auguste and the character clown. Circus clowns perform gags. As more people went to and performed in circuses, more types of circus comedy and more types of clowns were born.

Cinematic Comics: (20th Century)
Cinematic comics are films that focuses on the humour part. These films are to amuse and entertain the audience and it is made funny by using exaggeration of real life characters. It started with silent films. Silent films are films without any words used, and therefore it is a comedy of physical action, such as slapsticks. An example of a silent film is “City Lights”. Famous comedians from this time are Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Charlie Chaplin is a comedian, silent actor and pantomimist. He is very famous. There are many classics from Charlie Chaplin such as “The Tramp”, “The Floorwalker” and “The Kid”. Buster Keaton was famous for his “stoneface” and acrobatic gags. His works include “The Butcher Boy” and “One Week”. Harold Lloyd was a popular silent clown who was called the “third genius” after Chaplin and Keaton. Some of his works are “Just Nuts” and “Safety Last”. After silent films, T.V comedy shows became popular. An example of that is Mr. Bean.

 

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