Monday, February 3, 2014

Comedy and the Oblique

In his essay, An Apology for Poetry, Sir Philip Sidney describes many of the beneficial qualities of poetry in educating the population even rating it superior to other esteemed educational processes in that the poet has the ability to group together areas of history and philosophy in order to create a broader, more influential lesson. I think that all of Sidney's points apply beyond poetry into literature as a whole as well and as I was reading, I began to wonder why, if they're such influential tools, so many books and poems are banned from the public eye and my first thought was that maybe it is the material presented, because not all subject matter in literature is "virtuous," but Sidney's explanation of comedy answered this inquiry of mine.

Sir Philip Sidney cites comedy as the lens through which vice can be presented in a way that still educates and enlightens society. “Comedy is an imitation of the common errors of our life, which [the poet] representeth in the most ridiculous and scornful sort that may be, so as it is impossible that any beholder can be content to be such a one” (94). It is through the humorous representation of others' follies that people can learn to avoid the same vices and mistakes in order to gain a more virtuous life. It is because it was comic that Lysistrata's lewd language and imagery is tolerable and it is this same concept which makes Chaucer's The Miller's Tale an educational tool. An audience's understanding of the lens through which a work is meant to be seen allows for learning and improvement rather than a continuance into a misunderstanding of the work as a realistic virtuous piece.

The audience's mishandling of a piece is also accounted for by Sidney in his essay. He says that any "undesirable" effect of poetry, or for our class's understanding, any piece of literature, should not be traced directly back to the poet, but instead, to the misuse of it by the reader/listener. If one were to read The Miller's Tale and think it to be a serious romantic story, one can easily be offended as well as lead astray in the true goodness of courtship and love, whereas, in understanding the tale as a comedic story, one is able to see the faults of the characters and set his/her own views aright. It is important in the broadening of one's views and knowledge, especially through literature, that "the oblique must be known as well as the right" (Sidney 94), but in order to determine the "oblique" versus the "right," it is also crucial to understand the lens through which the information is being received, because perception is key.

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