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Hobbes' Theory Of Laughter In Classic Comedic Plays

1413 words - 6 pages

Laughter and humor are ongoing topics amongst philosophers to ponder and to determine what makes one laugh, what’s funny? Thomas Hobbes’ theory, though short, is one that is a central point of reference, to date, when analyzing what makes us laugh. According to Hobbes “the passion of laughter is nothing but sudden glory arising from sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others” (Hobbes 458). Hobbes believes that it’s one’s superior feelings over another person’s inferiorities that the superior finds humorous, which result in laughter. He also theorizes on Wit. Wit, by the comedic definition, is natural aptitude for using words and ideas in ...view middle of the document...

He is the epitome of the Servus, the tricky servant. Plautus writes Pseudolus as more than a trickster, he is smart and quick thinking and in his wit he too laughs, and gets the audience to laugh, at the infirmities of others:
…as soon as we hear of someone striking it
lucky, we admire his shrewdness, and laugh at the folly of the poor
devil who’s having a run at bad luck. (Plautus 243)
Pseudolus does not miss a beat, he uses every opportunity to his full advantage and his wit is his tool to take full advantage of those opportunities:
By the gods, that little fib was worth its weight in gold…saying
I was Ballio’s slave…it just came to me on the spur of the moment.
Now with this letter I can hoodwink three people, my master, the
Pimp, and the chap who brought it. (Plautus 243)
In many comedies, the servus, like Pseudolus, is often given the best lines, the most witty. This is also true in The Comedy of Errors in the character Dromio of Syracuse (DS).
DS is Antipholus’ servant and companion in The Comedy of Errors, and although this comedy is based on mistaken identity and slapstick humor some of the funniest parts come straight from DS and his quick wit – that which is based upon pointing out the flaws, or infirmities, in others. When DS is mistaken for his twin brother Dromio of Ephesus by DE’s wife, he is horrified and dismayed but quickly releases his witty sense of humor when relaying the scene to Antipholus:
Marry, sir, she's the kitchen
wench and all grease; and I know not what use to
put her to but to make a lamp of her and run from
her by her own light. I warrant, her rags and the
tallow in them will burn a Poland winter: if she lives
till doomsday, she'll burn a week longer than the
whole world (3.2.103-109).
DS’ description of the kitchen maid is witty with its metaphors and is humorous in the Hobbesian tradition as he is focusing on her physical infirmities. DS’ wit is not limited to the use of metaphor but also in his quick thinking and ability to double-talk his way out of harm:
Was there any ever man thus beaten out of season,
When in the “why” and the “wherefore” is neither
rhyme nor reason?
Well, sir, I thank you.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Marry, sir, for this something
that you gave me for nothing (2.2.50-53, 55-56).
His wit in this occasion pokes fun at his own infirmities as a servant yet still makes him look the eminent one.
The two most Hobbesian plays we have read are The Country Wife and The Importance of Being Earnest. Both works are verbal, clever and witty. The wit is in the dialogue; the humor derived from exposing the infirmities in society in a satirical manner. In The Country Wife, the self-proclaimed “wit,” Sparkish is one of the characters that is most laughable. Sparkish’s ridiculous view of marriage and a wife reveal how stupid he is both morally and socially: “I love to be envied, and would not marry a wife that...

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