Women and Comedy: Rewriting the British Theatrical Tradition

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University of Michigan Press, 1991 - Literary Criticism - 388 pages
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The first comprehensive study of its kind, this book explores the contradictory connections between women and dramatic comedy. Women and Comedy shows how a genre that has been used historically to restrict women's behavior is being reconfigured to express women's triumphs. It thus redefines the assumptions with which both traditional comedy and contemporary women's plays are read and viewed.

Challenging a critical consensus that has seen comedy as a haven for female power, Carlson argues that traditional comedy is deeply sexist, welcoming strong women characters only because it can contain their power. Through an analysis of a range of comedies by Shakespeare, Congreve, Maugham, Shaw, and Ayckbourn, the author shows that even in these plays self-consciously about liberated females, women gain only a limited freedom, a freedom that the endings of the plays work to negate. This negotiation is seen to result in part from the comic structure itself, which privileges a merely temporary inversion and an ultimate return to the status quo.

Carlson then examines the transitional work of three writers - Aphra Behn, Henry James, and Ann Jellicoe - whose heroines follow an unorthodox trajectory through their comic worlds. While the work of these writers clearly remains within the mainstream comic tradition, the author notes in them a subtle departure, most notably in their description of the heroine as subject rather than object, which prefigures the full-scale transformations of women in comedy by contemporary women writers.

The book then examines contemporary comedy that revises traditional comic structure at the same time as it explores fundamental social change. In making her case for the difference of contemporary comedy by women, Carlson examines the reformulations of structure and character and considers issues of community, self, and sexuality in a broad range of plays by individual playwrights and by the new women's theater collectives.

Women and Comedy is an important work for students of British drama and will appeal to theater practitioners, critics, feminist scholars, and all those interested in the performing arts.
 

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Contents

Introduction
1
The Limits
11
The Strong Woman
43
The Endangered
69
The Reformers
93
Contemporary
113
Aphra Behn and the Possibilities for
127
The Need
159
Transformations
177
Further Restructurings
213
Self and Sexuality
245
Women
273
The Contexts of Contemporary Womens
303
Notes
343
Index
377
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