21L.021 | Spring 2022 | Undergraduate



Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week; 1.5 hrs / session


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Course Description

Comedy, that most elastic literary and performance mode, skewers artifice, topples authority, and reverses expectations, not with the fatal outcomes of tragedy but with laughter and festivity. This class examines both deep roots and current forms of comedy, with a particular focus on comic insubordination. And food.

We will revel in Greek, Roman, and Shakespearean drama; explore Aphra Behn’s eighteenth-century feminist rakes and sexual adventurers in The Rover; investigate social satire in Jane Austen, Herman Melville, and Oscar Wilde; peek under the covers of small-town family life in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home; and probe the uneasy relationship between farce and romantic love, violence and redemptive humor, satire and festivity in comic art. Discussion will draw on examples of popular and contemporary forms, including film  and sketch comedy.

As in other communications-intensive classes, students produce 5,000 words of polished writing in various assignments, with a required revision. They also have substantial opportunities for oral expression, through student-led discussion and in-class reports. The class has a low enrollment that ensures maximum attention to student writing and oral expression, with the help of a writing advisor.  

N.B. Taking this class will improve your writing and communications skills. By developing practices of reading, reflecting, and discussing texts, it will also help you become a happier and more successful writer. My pedagogy embraces both aims, as well as the varied experiences participants bring to class.

Required Texts

Print preferred, Kindle or Ebook acceptable, so long as laptops and cellphones can be used responsibly in class, i.e. for note-taking, close reading, peer review of essay drafts, sharing materials and links.

Aristophanes. Four Plays by Aristophanes: The Clouds / the Birds / Lysistrata / the Frogs. London: Plume, 1994. ISBN: 9780452007178.

Plautus. “The Two Menaechmuses” in Plautus. Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library. ISBN: 9780674996786.

Shakespeare, William. Four Comedies: The Taming of the Shrew ; A Midsummer Night’s Dream ; as You like It ; Twelfth Night. Penguin Publishing Group, 1995. ISBN: 9780140434545.

  • Free, online versions of Shakespeare’s works are available through MIT.

Behn, Aphra. The Rover and Other Plays. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780199540204.

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Edited by James Kinsley and Christina Lupton. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2019. ISBN: 9780198826736.

Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick. Herman Melville Electronic Library, 2008.

Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays. Edited by Peter Raby. Oxford England: Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780199535972.

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Mariner Books, 2007. ISBN: 9780544709041.

Annotation Studio: You can register, find texts, and annotate here.


Attendance, Participation, and Oral Communication (30%) 

This is a discussion class where your attendance and participation in classroom practices are vital.

  1. Attendance (10%) COVID restrictions permitting, you are expected to attend every class and writing conference. Please do not sign up for this class if you have a conflict with another class, recitation, sports commitment, or job. If you must miss class because of a medical or family emergency, please notify me beforehand if possible.
  2. Class Participation (10%) This class is designed to practice oral communication as well as writing skills. Be prepared to contribute to class discussion, not only by speaking but also by listening and responding effectively to others. Come to class even if you are tired, have not done the reading, or think you have nothing to contribute. You have a lot to contribute.
  3. Discussion Forum (10%) Topics in the Discussion Forum will be posted with each new author or director, or you may start your own. This writing supports class discussion, essay writing, and your growth as a critical reader and thinker. Plan to write a thoughtful post of 100-200 words on each of at least ten authors and film directors. Pace yourself and time your posts to coordinate with class discussion of a particular text (i.e. do not write about a text after we have moved on to another unless you are comparing two). You do not have to post on a day when an assignment is due.
Written Work (70%)
  1. Essay #1, Revision (10% each), Essays #2 and #3 (15% each) These draw on discussion posts, class discussions, and open-ended prompts listed below. You have the option of handing in essays (please use Microsoft Word format) via Canvas any time before midnight of the day assigned.
  2. In-Class Report (10%) Depending on class size, students will work alone or in pairs/groups to prepare and deliver a 10-minute in-class report on one day’s reading or film. This report should include research, drawing on materials from print and online sources and presenting a Works Cited list (MLA format), on a handout or slides to be shared with the class and submitted for a grade (250 words). It should 1) present brief, salient context, 2) consider a passage from the reading, and 3) raise questions for further thought and analysis. You will be graded on content, delivery, and ability to generate class discussion.
  3. Reflection (750 words or equivalent, 10%) At the end of the semester please submit an assessment of your learning in this class. You may use whatever medium communicates your ideas effectively.   

Conferences Students will meet with writing advisor to go over essays and revision; these meetings are required and will be scheduled as soon as possible. You will also meet with me to discuss topics for the final essay.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2022
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Instructor Insights