38 Pages

The Ends of Renaissance Comedy

WithJonathan Hart

Criticism has often emphasized the happy ending of comedy and the movement from order through disorder to order. The pleasure principle of comedy may predominate in the happy marriage that ends New Comedy and becomes popular in the romantic comedy of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, but, the agonistic principle, to use Harry Levin’s phrase, pushes the ends of comedy towards Freud’s reality principle. The Horatian satire of romantic comedy often yields to Juvenalian satire in satiric comedy. The magnitude of sin or treachery or deceit is so great in Volpone, Mosca, and Tartuffe that they almost become larger than the play. The happy end of comedy may be more mixed than Molière can admit publicly. He is like all of us who defend education and the arts publicly, in that we may be caught in our own rationalizations and hypocrisy.