What is Comedy?
3 Short Comedies
Traditional eastern theatre, beginning with the ancient Greeks, was divided into comedy and tragedy. A tragedy typically ended with the death or destruction of a fictional or historical hero, whereas a comedy focused on the lives of middle to lower class characters and ended with their success. As the British writer, Lord Byron commented, "All tragedies are finished by a death, All comedies are ended by a marriage." The term "drama" was used to describe all the action of a play. Beginning in the 19th century, authors such as Anton Chekhov, George Bernard Shaw and Henrik Ibse blurred the line between comedy and drama, making comedy more mainstreem. Of course Shakespeare made the genre popular in his time as well. Although he wrote few comedies in comparison to his tragedies and histories, plays like The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Much Ado About Nothing have delighted readers and playgoers for centuries.
Welcome to the LibGuide page for the three relatively modern short comedies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Act Without Words, and Sure Thing. Navigate the page for resources to help you understand the elements of comedy.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Do you ever wonder what Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were up to while they weren't front-stage during the play Hamlet? How did they spend their time in between scenes until they were summoned to do the bidding of King Claudius? How were they to occupy their time while waiting to be thrust back on to the stage into the action of Hamlet? It turns out they did a whole lot of nothing--leading them to contemplate the very meaning of their existence and the trouble that comes with being trapped in someone else's play. This comical absurdist rendition of "what could have happened" during Hamlet is one of Tom Stoppard's masterpieces. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead explores existential themes while pushing the limits of fiction and theatre.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Take Home Quiz
Complete this take home quiz as you read Ros and Guil Are Dead. This is to help you understand the essentials of the absurdist play.
Indroductory PowerPoint to Rosenecrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Here is a supplementary introduction to the play if you want more information to help you with the Take Home Quiz or understanding Ros and Guil Are Dead.
Sure Thing by David Ives is a short comic play featuring a chance meeting of two characters, Betty and Bill, whose conversation is continually reset by the use of a ringing bell, starting over when one of them responds negatively to the other. This is comical because of the quick-witted characters in this comedy of manners. What makes this play amusing is the timing of the lines and the development of a story between Betty and Bill as their conversation continues to "reset" at the bell.
Failure of Language
This play is a great example of the "failure of language" in the comedy genre. Typically in a "failure of language," dialogue is reduced to a bantering game where words obscure, rather than reveal the truth. In a world that is defined by language, the loss of meaning and purpose is intimately linked to the breakdown of language. Dialogue becomes a mere game to pass the time.
Features of Failure of Language Include:
- simple mis-understandings
- repetitions of synonyms
- inability to find the right words
- "telegraphic style"
- collapse of rhetorical structures (a rhetorical question is answered, etc.)
- inability to remember what was just said
- absences of dialectical exchange
Act Without Words
"Desert. Dazzling light."
What does Samuel Beckett's Act Without Words mean? Don't ask me. All you can do is ponder the meaning of this short one act play with no spoken words. The beauty of this play is in the existential questions that arise as the single actor seems to struggle through the action of the play.
There is a graphic version of this play that you can view along with music as well as several YouTube versions of the play. So instead of asking me, what does it mean? Why don't you give it a shot? What does it all mean to you?
Other Questions to Ponder:
Why no words?
How does the character's state of being change as the play progresses? Why is this significant?
What or who is the superior force in this play? What evidence do you have to support this? What might this mean to us?
How do you interpret the end of the play? What might it mean?