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High Comedy

  • By: Jessica Milner Davis
  • In: Encyclopedia of Humor Studies
  • Edited by: Salvatore Attardo
  • Subject:General Media, Communication & Cultural Studies, Sociology of Culture

In both literary criticism and general usage, high comedy probably emerged as the antithesis to low comedy, a term of earlier origin. Both are descriptive terms for types or styles of performative comedy. Hence they identify not only subject matter—characters, actions, and dialogue—but also performance style and are often regarded as subgenres of comedy or perhaps genres in their own right. The broad distinction between the two is that in what has come to be called high comedy, dialogue plays a particularly important role, requiring well-wrought scripts or play-texts and naturalistic acting of fully rounded characters, whereas in low comedy, physical acting predominates, allowing more improvisation and favoring the use of stock characters.

High comedy is also regularly applied to other literary and narrative forms such ...

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