Course description

In literature as in life humor often takes us by surprise. Why? Laughter in many ways is a mystery and literary criticism has always been more comfortable dealing with tragedy than comedy. Taking comedy seriously this course provides a broad investigation into the myriad functions of humor (psychological sociological philosophical and dramatic) and explores why what we find funny changes in relation to shifting social cultural and historical contexts. Topics include wit and wordplay; the differences between verbal wit and visual humor; the phenomenon of laughing; satire and irony; jokes and joking; sexual humor and the taboo; humor in performance; the roles of ethnicity race religion and gender in humor. Readings include literary works from Shakespeare to the present day as well as theater history performance film television stand-up and cartoons.


Associated Schools

  • Harvard Division of Continuing Education

  • Harvard Summer School

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