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Title:The Saturnalian Spirit: Hazlitt, Lamb, and Hunt on Restoration Comedy
Author(s):Harrington-Lueker, Donna
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, English
Abstract:The British Romantic writers are not known for their ability to produce or appreciate the comic. Committed to a high seriousness that is at odds with the comic spirit, the writers of this period generally prefer the tragic to the comic, the sublime to the ridiculous, the lofty to the absurd. Such preferences, however, did not prevent Hazlitt, Lamb, and Hunt from developing a coherent and sophisticated apologia for Restoration comedy. Influenced in part by the stage productions and editions of the period, the three critics advance the claim that the much maligned comedy is best understood as a saturnalian comedy--a comedy that purges the unsettling energies and drives that civilization must normally repress. Hazlitt begins the argument in his Lectures on the English Comic Writers while Lamb enunciates it most clearly in his often-misunderstood essay, "On the Artificial Comedy of the Last Age." There, in language that Freud and modern literary critics would duplicate, Elia argues that the comedy is a dream world, i.e., a world in which unconscious drives are allowed free play. Moreover, he asserts that such release is salutary: man's psychic health depends upon his ability to enter into this dream world and surrender momentarily to the impulses it brings into play. Finally, the more sentimental Hunt sees in Restoration comedy a world of festive abandon that allows man to imbibe nature's salutary and vital energy and return to civilization refreshed and reinvigorated. Far from being the idle ramblings of airy escapists or incompetent critics, the theory antedates Freud on wit, Frye on the saturnalia, and Langer on comic rhythm. It anticipates the modern emphasis on comedy as a salutary release of unconscious drives and deserves to be recovered rather than dismissed.
Issue Date:1983
Description:240 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1983.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8309951
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-15
Date Deposited:1983

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