The tricky dynamics of laughter: audiences and comic performance from Homer to Stewart Lee

Pennington-Wilson, Oonagh Helen (2023). The tricky dynamics of laughter: audiences and comic performance from Homer to Stewart Lee. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis is an interdisciplinary study of comedy and satire. It explores how ancient and modern audiences can be encouraged to laugh through meta-theatrical devices, as well as consider how these same audiences, have and continue to be influenced into engaging with ‘serious comedy’. It also examines blends of misdirection and surprise, as well as audience enjoyment of such deception, which I will refer to as ‘consensual trickery’.

The structure is chronological and starts with examples of pre-dramatic divine farce in the Iliad and Odyssey. Following this the case studies move to Euripides’ Bacchae and Aristophanes’ Frogs to show how Dionysus is an ideal comic figure to demonstrate themes of laughter and threat. After this the study moves to Aristophanes’ political comedies: Acharnians, Knights and Wasps and then to Juvenalian satire and concludes with the British alternative comedian Stewart Lee.

Throughout the case-studies it is shown that laughter can engage ‘serious comedy’ across satirical platforms, and that self-referential laughter is encouraged as an appropriate response to often challenging ideas. Most of all, the thesis shows the balancing act of power between different audiences and comic performers, as it becomes clear that laughter is also a social response and active audiences are key to its success.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of History and Cultures, Department of Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology (CAHA)
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DE The Mediterranean Region. The Greco-Roman World


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