HC221H - Gender and Identity in Comedy

Professor: Corinne Bayerl

4.00 credits

CRN 32921: Tuesday & Thursday, 12:00-1:20pm @ CHA 201

CRN 35740: Tuesday & Thursday, 8:30-9:50am @ CHA 201

In this seminar, we will explore the comic potential of gender, sexuality, and troubled or mistaken identity in theatrical plays and films. Which comical representations of these issues transcend time and space? Which ones differ according to cultural context? Our first focus will be the question of why and how power struggles between women and men occupy center stage in the very first Western comedies performed in 4th century BCE Athens. Which comedic conventions in the depiction of identity and gender are set up in classical Greek and Roman comedy, and how do later playwrights use these (often misogynist) conventions? We will also consider the modern and possibly feminist spin contemporary artists give to some of these ancient comedies, such as Spike Lee in his 2015 film CHI-RAQ. An in-depth look at classical non-Western comedies – short, skit-like Japanese plays written in the 14th century CE – will put our assumptions about ‘universal’ patterns of comedy to the test; these funny medieval Japanese plays will also allow us to discover unfamiliar models of identity and gender construction in different cultures and thereby question our own norms. In the second part of the class, we will make a jump forward in time and discuss the portrayal of gender norms and of visible and invisible identity markers in 20th and 21st century comedic films. Historical and critical secondary readings will enrich our understanding of how comedy reflects societal norms, and how critics and philosophers have attempted to define what comedy is, why it makes people laugh, and what its ultimate purpose may be. You will have ample opportunity to share and discuss your ideas, both serious and funny.