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comic figure, comic literature, Renaissance literature


A common impulse in studies of the comic figure, in the Renaissance as well as more recently, has been to seek a single feature which marks all such characters. Most sixteenth-century theorists agreed that both ugliness and surprise play major roles in the success of a comic figure, but their concern on the one hand with the rhetorical powers of laughter and on the other with the moral effects of comedy led them to accept principles which do not actually reflect the experience of comic literature. In their search for a single consolidating feature of all comic figures, the Renaissance critics failed to recognize that surprise is less important to the comic character than to the orator and that at least four types of comic figures are to be found regularly in Renaissance comic literature. These four types of comic figures, natural fools, affected fools, wits, and fool-makers, or "comic catalysts," share some features, but they are sufficiently different in their actions that they may be individually examined. Furthermore, by distinguishing between the types, we may increase our awareness of those characteristics which mark the more clearly successful and satisfying comic figures.