The Action of English Comedy - Studies in the Encounter of Abstraction and Experience from Shakespea

The Action of English Comedy - Studies in the Encounter of Abstraction and Experience from Shakespea

Product ID: 9583

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Author: A N Kaul
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2001
Language: English
Pages: 350
ISBN/UPC (if available): 0195655982


Concentrating on a selected group of plays and novels from widely separated periods of English Literature, Professor Kaul investigates the conflict and resolution characteristic of a particular kind of comedy and describes the values it enforces.

Although his overall purpose is partly the definition of one tradition of comedy – in the sense of literary conceptions shared as well as modified over a long period of time – his cogent objections to much of the currently fashionable generalizing about the genre of comedy reveal the necessity for grounding such a definition in analyses of specific writers and works. Hence his examination of the comic problems presented by abstract cultural ideals which have survived their own time and conflict with the harsh realities of practical living offers important insights into the artistic concerns of Shakespeare, the Restoration dramatists, Sheridan, Fielding, Jane Austen, Henry James, and Shaw.

The novels of Jane Austen are seen as the high water-mark of a tradition of modern comedy which began with Shakespeare’s treatment of the experiences and values of bourgeois society against the background of medieval culture, which was continued and altered by Etherege, Vanburgh, Wycherley, and Congreve, and which played an important role in Fielding’s foundation of the novel.

On the other hand, the analyses of James ‘Portrait of Lady’ and Shaw’s major comedies reveal the almost insoluble difficulties of extending such comedy beyond a certain point in the history of the culture which produced it.


Professor Kaul isolates one fundamental action, ultimately derived from Greek Old Comedy. In it, ‘abstraction’ is set against ‘experience’, ‘ideal imaginings’ against ‘intractable situations’, ‘theory’ (logos) against ‘fact’ (ergon). His book is a brilliant demonstration of the ways in which this action carries through, as a repeated and inescapable discernible in Renaissance and post-Renaissance English Comedy, reaching its climax in the novels of Jane Austen, and suffering a decline thereafter.
—Terence Hawkes, Yale Review

. . . .excellent and extremely important discriminations. The most starling and fruitful argument is that it is not so much with ‘society’ that comedy is concerned as with the cultural superstructure . . . an important qualification to comic theory in general. . . .brilliant . . . .lucid and original chapters on Shakespeare, Fielding, and Jane Austen . . . extraordinary practical criticism as well as a penetrating view of the rise and decline of a comic tradition.
—James R. Kincaid, journal of English and Germanic Philology