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Comparative Literature
Sally Lawall

315 South College
Tu-Thu 11:15
Office Hours: M 2:00-3:00,
T 1:30-3:00, and by appt.
Machmer W-24


Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds, tr. Sommerstein
Plautus: Four Comedies, tr. Segal
Shakespeare: The Comedy of Errors
Molière: Tartuffe, tr. Wilbur
Beaumarchais: The Marriage of Figaro
Gogol: The Inspector General, tr. Seymour and Noyes
Dürrenmatt: The Visit, tr. Bowles
Howe: The Art of Dining
Soyinka: The Lion and the Jewel
Ionesco: Rhinoceros, tr. Derek Prouse
Commedia dell'arte scenario, lazzi (duplicated material)


One term paper (7 pages, 30%; choose topic in consultation with instructor), 6 quizzes (lowest two dropped, so no make-ups; 5% each: total 20%), participation in two class performances of selected scenes (10% each; graded on degree of contribution), midterm exam (20%), attendance and class participation (10%). Students wishing to use this course for Comparative Literature major credit must do some work in foreign language texts: see instructor for details.


To examine a series of international comedies from the ancient Greeks to modern Greeks to modern Europe, Africa, and America, focusing on comic strategies and traditions, on theatrical representation of comic effects, and on the kind of laughter provoked... which often reveals their and our assumptions of what is funny.

Jan. 27 Introduction: aims, method of course. Performance requirement. Overview: comic texts/comic theater/laughter in context. Four elements to keep in mind throughout the semester.
Feb. 1 Ancient Greek comedy ("Old Comedy"): staging and acting tradition. Aristophanes' The Acharnians (war,peace,politics, and partying); Lysistrata (war, peace, and gender politics). Intellectual satire together with broad physical farce.
The Acharnians, Act I (pp. 47-81).
3 The Acharnians, Act II (pp. 82-104).
8 Lysistrata, Act I (pp. 180-209).
10 Lysistrata, Act II (pp. 210-35).
15 Roman comedy: the beginnings of commercially successful popular theater.
Plautus, The Haunted House. The clever valet tricks and swindles his master with a coverup ghost story.
17 The Haunted House.
22 Plautus: The Menaechmus Brothers. A comedy of errors and mistaken identities.
24 The Menaechmus Brothers.
29 Commedia dell'arte (improvisational popular theater): Lazzi.
March 2 Commedia dell'arte, scenario.
March 7 Shakespeare: Comedy of Errors.
9 Shakespeare: Comedy of Errors.
21 Molière: Tartuffe. More cultural contexts: censorship and the satire of religious hypocrisy; psychological characterizations; humor and terror combined.
23 Tartuffe. Comic effects: verbal play, physical farce, stage effects.
28 Midterm exam in class.
30 Beaumarchais, The Marriage of Figaro. New comic types and double-edged cultural laughter. The social roles of women and of the servant class.
April 4 The Marriage of Figaro.
6 Gogol: The Inspector General. Social satire and bitter comedy in Czarist Russia. Dilbert would like this one: it's about bureaucrats.
11 The Inspector General.
13 Dürrenmatt, The Visit. Tragicomedy of murder, revenge, get-rich-quick schemes, and the grotesque.
April 18 The Visit.
20 Monday class schedule followed.
25 Ionesco, The Rhinoceros.
27 The Rhinoceros.
May 2 Soyinka: The Lion and the Jewel. Clash of cultures, of generations, and of genders.
4 The Lion and the Jewel. Verbal play, dramatic spectacle, fantasy and reality interwoven in a many-leveled romantic farce that is bound to offend some spectators.
9 Howe, The Art of Dining. Contemporary American comedy set in a restaurant: psychological sketches and lots of fun with food.
11 The Art of Dining.
15 Term paper due on Monday May 15, 2000.


These texts are available at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library on a two-hour loan. Check at the UMASS/Amherst Library System web site for information such as hours of operation, the Q & A program "Ask a Librarian" (UMass Amherst Library System Electronic Reference Service), and other useful information.

Catalog number Author Book title
Aristophanes, tr. Sommerstein Lysistrata, The Acharnians, The Clouds
Beaumarchais, Pierre-Augustin Caron de The Marriage of Figaro
PN 1942 .B4 1982 Bermel, Albert Farce: A History from Aristophanes to Woody Allen
PA3201 .B52 1961+ Bieber, Margarete The History of the Greek and Roman Theater
PA3161 .C7 1968 Cornford, Francis M. The Origin of Attic Comedy
PQ4155 .D82 1966 Duchartre The Italian Comedy
PT 2607.U493 B43 1977 Dürrenmatt The Visit
PG 3333 T3 1962 Gogol The Inspector General
Gordon, Mel Lazzi: The Comic Routines of The Commedia Dell'arte
PS 3558 O894 A73 Howe The Art of Dining
PQ2617.06451960 Ionesco, Eugene Rhinoceros and Other Plays
PQ 1837.A485 1965 c.4 Molière, tr. Wilbur Tartuffe
PN2101 .N3 1959 c.2 Nagler, A. M. A Source Book in Theatrical History
PN6149 .P5 P3 Paulos, John A. Mathematics and Humor
PA 6570 .A3 S4 1996 Plautus, tr. Segal Four Comedies
PQ4236 .S313 Salerno, Henry F., ed. Scenarios of the Commedia dell'Arte
PQ4236.S313 Scala, Flaminio Teatro delle favole rappresentative (English)
PR 9387 9 S6 L5 1963 Soyinka The Lion and the Jewel
PQ1858 .W33 Wadsworth, Philip Molière and the Italian Theatrical Tradition

Appendix: Interesting URLs

Theater Study:

Greek Theater:


Greek Comedy:

Roman Comedy:

Commedia dell'arte:









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