As comedy gets uncomfortable experiences under control by a detachment that can itself be disquieting, it organizes its presentation of social life through a stylization that reduces it to a system of clear signals. A gesture, an item of clothing, the choice of a word, will tell us how to place a character: a winner or a loser in the social game, in or out. The transactions of social life are likewise reduced to a few clear signals in the plots of comedy, as characters, at some cost to their full humanity, become counters in games played for money and property. In both cases the reductiveness has a paradoxical double effect: it aids the detachment of comedy, yet makes us uneasy at seeing humanity so reduced. Jean-Christophe Agnew has argued that in the early modern period theatre became a way of dealing with the anxiety of seeing identity and personal relations reduced to commodity transactions.1 Comedy, with its interest in the material level of life and its willingness to stylize, is the natural medium for such anxiety. It allows us to watch people in the social arena, losing and establishing credit, trading in money, goods and each other. To have the right style is, we have seen, a way of establishing credit in formal terms within the special world created by comedy; it can also establish credit in the social world that comedy reflects. Watching comedy at work is watching society at work; and this dual process taps our anxiety, and our amusement, at watching social life reduced to the signs and systems in which comedy itself trades.