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By Ben La Farge

Relocating without problems from Greek to Shakespearean tragedies, to 19th and twentieth-century British, American and Russian drama, and fiction and modern tv, this research sheds new gentle at the artwork of comedy.

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Extra resources for The Logic of Wish and Fear: New Perspectives on Genres of Western Fiction

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In the opening scene, the nameless “Note Taker” (Henry Higgins) is seen to be a masterful linguist who proposes a game, which is the premise that structures the rest of the play: Higgins: You see this creature with her kerbstone English: the English that will keep her in the gutter to the end of her days. Well, sir, in three short months I could pass that girl off as a duchess at an ambassador’s garden party. I could even get her a place as a lady’s maid or shop assistant, which requires better English.

We fully expected she would object to his being found in a handbag, but it wasn’t the handbag so much as the cloakroom she objected to. And even so her reaction is surprising. We expected she would dismiss him then and there, but she did not. This reversal of expectation is of course ironic. Such comic ironies abound throughout the scene. One might suppose that to a woman of Lady Bracknell’s position a young man’s parentage would be crucial, like pedigree in a racehorse or provenance in a painting, but she introduces the subject as a “minor” matter.

97. , 101. George Meredith, “An Essay on Comedy” in Comedy, ed. Wylie Sypher (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 14–15. Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion (London and New York: Penguin Books, 1988). The two quotations are from Act One and Act Five, respectively. But cf. Erich Segal, The Death of Comedy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), chapters 1–8. Segal makes the dubious argument that comedy is killed when it becomes overly intellectual, as he thinks it is in G. B. Shaw, Ionesco, and Beckett, but his thesis that great comedies refuse to obey social conventions is convincing and his account of individual classic comedies is often brilliant.

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