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An Introduction to Comedy (10 credit points)

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

During this course, students will be encouraged to think critically about the purpose of dramatic comedy and its historic role in society. We will examine a wide range of plays, from ancient to modern, and consider theoretical analyses of the genre.

We will start with a theoretical examination of what consitutes comedy as a genre. We will read extracts from Aristotle’s Poetics to examine the origins of Comedy and critically assess its importance within societal and cultural structures. Theories about humour and laughter and Bergson’s ideas as presentend in Le Rire will be further explored.

We will cover a variety of plays from different periods and countries. Starting with Aristophanes, we will travel through the centuries to explore the social, political, sexual and cultural issues on display. We will critically approach and question family, gender and class dynamics as well as racial (mis)presentations. We will also acknowledge and address the silenced, unheard or suppressed voices within and outwith the texts.

Most, if not all, of the plays we will discuss have been reinvented and reinterpreted on stage and on film or the TV. And our approach to Comedy will include and actively encourage the critical reflection of those reinterpretations as they can provide us with further ways of understanding, enjoying and including comedy in our realities.

Course Details

Content of Course

Week 1: Introduction to some theories of Comedy, starting with Aristotle and including the ideas of Bergson in Le Rire (Laughter). Is laughter a ‘sign of our baser nature’ as Aristotle claimed?

Week 2: The origins of Comedy in the ancient Greeks: Lysistrata by Aristophanes. We will study the original comedy, issues around gender roles, politics and societal structures and discuss some examples of re-imagining the play for contemprary audiences.

Week 3: Shakespearean comedy: The Comedy of Errors, mistaken identiy, word play and slapstick.

Week 4: Restoration Comedy: Aphra Behn’s The Rover. Study, from a female perspective, the social, political and sexual conditions of the 17th century along with the theatrical traditions of carnival, disguise and misrule.

Week 5: The Importance of Being Earnest: Oscar Wilde’s comedy of doubles and double standards.

Week 6: Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi and avant-garde comedy: parodying tragedy, overturning cultural norms and conventions and shocking the audience.

Week 7: Zora Neale Hurston’s De Turkey and De Law: An American perspective on comedy from a female African-American literary icon.

Week 8: Absurdist comedy: Waiting for Godot by Becket – comedy re-defined.

Week 9: Comedy of Manners and social critique: Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party.

Week 10: Comedy for the 21st century: Fleabag.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  1. Identify the chief ingredients of the dramatic comic genre, drawing on drama theory ancient to modern

  2. Analyse recurrent comic situations and character types in a wide range of plays

  3. Apply theories of comedy to the plays, and demonstrate awareness of social and political contexts.


Core Readings

Essential (any edition):

  • Aristophanes, et al. Lysistrata and Other Plays. Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Alan H. Sommerstein. Revised edition., Penguin Books, 2002.

  • Shakespeare, William. The Comedy of Errors. Edited by Charles Whitworth. Oxford University Press, 2008. (Accessed online through DiscoverEd)

  • Behn, Aphra. The Rover. Edited by Robyn Bolam. Bloomsbury, 2012. (Accessed online through DiscoverEd)

  • Jarry, Alfred. The Ubu Plays; Edited, with an Introduction, by Simon Watson Taylor. Methuen Drama, 1993.

  • Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest, and Other Plays. London: Penguin, 1986.

  • Hurston, Zora Neale., et al. Zora Neale Hurston Collected Plays. Edited and with an Introduction by Jean Lee Cole and Charles Mitchell. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2008 (Accessed online through DiscoverEd)

  • Becket, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

  • Leigh, Mike. Abigail’s Party and Goose Pimples. London: Penguin, 1983.

  • Wallace-Bridge, Phoebe. Fleabag. London: Bloomsbury, 2015 (Accessed online through DiscoverEd)


  • Merchant, W. Moelwyn. Comedy. London: Methuen, 1972.

  • Bevis, Matthew. Comedy: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: OUP, 2013 (Accessed online through DiscoverEd)


10 credit courses have one assessment. Normally, the assessment is a 2000 word essay, worth 100% of the total mark, submitted by week 12. To pass, students must achieve a minimum of 40%. There are a small number of exceptions to this model which are identified in the Studying for Credit Guide.

Studying for Credit

If you choose to study for credit you will need to allocate significant time outwith classes for coursework and assessment preparation. Credit points gained from this course can count towards the Certificate of Higher Education.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.