English R1B

Reading and Composition: Comic Relief

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Fall 2018 Chiang, Cheng-Chai
MWF 10-11 78 Barrows

Book List

Bechdel, Alison: Fun Home; Fielding, Helen: Bridget Jones's Diary; Wilde, Oscar: The Importance of Being Earnest

Other Readings and Media

We’ll screen two films, Some Like It Hot and To Be Or Not To Be, as well as selected episodes from Arrested Development and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Additional readings will be made available on bCourses, including selections from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter, Pu Song Ling’s Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, and poems by Wislawa Szymborska.


In this course, we’ll consider the varied uses of comic relief in literature and popular culture, from the therapeutic effects of frivolity to the ingenuity with which comic intelligence brings what has been interpretively foreclosed into stark relief. To that end, we’ll examine a range of comic genres and impulses, from stand-up to sitcoms, from comedies of manners to comedies of menace.

Some of the questions we’ll consider along the way include: what is the relation between comedy and tragedy, and what happens when a comedy that engages with historical trauma refuses its spectators comic relief? How might we understand the exclusionary and reparative effects of comedy? Do stand-up and sitcoms offer different ways of conceptualizing the relation between art and life? We’ll also examine comedy as an agent of political intervention across various literary and cultural settings, considering how the cultural contingencies of comedy as an aesthetic form intersect with questions of gender, race, and sexuality in texts ranging from Classical Chinese tales to contemporary Polish poetry. 

Although we’ll be looking at all kinds of funny business, we’ll also take seriously the course’s primary aim of building on the critical reading and writing skills learnt in R1A. Students will develop their research capacities and work towards a substantial research paper by rigorously peer-editing and revising their work throughout the semester.

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