UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The comic contest in Molière and Goldoni Brunoro, Mary-Ann


This thesis attempts a definition of comedy by analyzing the comedies of Molière and Goldoni. Although a century apart, these two playwrights have analogous roles in redefining and in raising the standard of comedy in their respective countries. Frye says that the basis of the comic action is the contest between eiron and alazon figures; in traditional comedy, the young lovers and their trickster friends are eirons; blocking father figures are typically alazons. This is the case in many of Molière's and Goldoni's comedies, but in order to say that the eiron-alazon contest forms the basis of all of their comedies, the definition of eiron and alazon figures must be expanded. This is where Bergson and his essay on "Le Rire" are helpful. Bergson says that characters are comical essentially because they react mechanically and automatically. It thus becomes clear that the overriding characteristic of the alazon, whether he is in a traditional comedy or not, is his rigid behaviour, due for the most part to a lack of self-knowledge. Conversely, eirons are distinguished by their flexibility which they demonstrate through their ingenuity and adaptability. The deceptions and dissimulations which occur over and over again in comedies are the theatrical manifestations of this flexibility. Because the blocking character is usually in a position of authority, eirons are often required to resort to trickery out of sheer necessity. Chapter One discusses Molière and Goldoni comedies where the eiron-alazon contest is expressed solely in terms of youth versus age and the young lovers are unaided in their attempts to resist the blocking figure. Some interesting situations arise, however, in comedies where young lovers are left to fend for themselves; for they take on alazon-like characteristics. In many comedies, more important than the young lovers as an eiron figure is the trusty servant who helps them. But when servants, whether male or female, are called in to help the young lovers, as is the case in the comedies analyzed in Chapter Two, they invariably bring into play another contest, that of servant versus master. In the final chapter, comedies are discussed where the role of the servant figure has been replaced by that of the wife, who in 17th and 18th century Europe was very much in a subordinate position vis à vis her husband. In the two final comedies studied in the third chapter, the wife-husband contest gives way to that of women versus men, and it can be said of both Molière and Goldoni that they raise feminist issues. Depending on the comedy, the youth-age contest is not always the predominate one, and as other contests take precedence, the less tied is the comedy to the traditional comic plot. But basic to all of Molière's and Goldoni's plays is that when more than one contest is present within the same comedy, they can be superimposed one on top of the other so that the eirons are always distinguished by their dedication to the cause of love and liberty and their expertise in trickery and the alazons, by their rigid and mechanical behaviour and total lack of self-knowledge.

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