Is tragedy intrinsically a higher art form than comedy? I know we’ve all been awake at night wondering about this. Really, all my life, but especially since retirement, I notice that I want to laugh more and that I try hard to avoid tragedy in movies, theater and yes, sometimes even in music–(I really hate the plot of Rigoletto).
Yet, critics, writers and even the general public accord more respect to authors of so-called serious works than comic. Why is this? do we like to be lectured or do we really feel better after the fatal flaws of our heroes are exposed? (see schadenfreude).
I like Lear as well as the next person, but honestly don’t we already know everything there is to know about our children without someone rubbing it in?
This is not to say that I don’t like artists to make serious points but I prefer to take in the wisdom painlessly. If we don’t know by the end of Sullivan’s Travel’s that we have learned something, then Preston Sturges has been wasting his time on us. As have Woody Allen, Moliere, and even Wagner.
And when Woody felt himself obliged to produce some serious films, many of us found them dismally boring and were relieved when he returned to his true metier–making us smile.
As for catharsis, there’s nothing like a good laugh to make our troubles recede. Tragedy, Aristotle tells us, is about and for high and mighty folks, while comedy is for the low–that being the case, I cheerfully take my place among the low.
Comedies are supposed to end with a marriage, so I will end with Da Ponte’s words at the end of the second act in the wisest comedy I know with the best music in the world, Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro: “In theatrical tradition, let us have a happy ending with a wedding celebration when the final curtain comes.”