Issue 5.2

Beyond Sympathy and Ridicule: Re-visiting Frye's Comic Catharsis

Andrew Sofer


Last fall, when I was teaching The Winter’s Tale, I picked up Northrop Frye’s A Natural Perspective, whose sparkling, epigrammatic prose had supplied a refreshing break from the minatory theory making the rounds when I was an undergraduate.  As I re-read Frye’s third essay, “The Triumph of Time,” one sentence jumped out: “Comedy, like tragedy, has its catharsis, sympathy and ridicule being what correspond to pity and terror in tragedy.”  I did not remember this apparent non sequitur, and it got me wondering.  Does comedy in fact purge emotions (never mind if Aristotle got it right about tragedy)?  If so, why privilege sympathy and ridicule?  Following this thread led me back to Anatomy of Criticism and Frye’s intriguing notion of comic catharsis.


Refusing Resonance: On the Whiteness of Edmund Kean

Lauren Eriks Cline


In some ways it is harder for me to imagine a timely review of Edmund Kean’s Othello than an untimely one. This is not only because Kean reprised the role off and on from 1814 to 1833, for almost the full duration of his Drury Lane career. Nor is it only because many nineteenth-century spectators made a practice of seeing the same production multiple times. (William Hazlitt and Henry Crabb Robinson, for example, both wrote about the experience of watching Kean play the same role on successive nights.) It is also because of the way Kean’s Othello entered cultural memory as an event already marked by a sense of inconstancy and incompletion. Literally, of course, Kean did not complete it. In an act that quickly became the stuff of stage legend, he collapsed in the middle of a performance of Othello shortly before his death. And even before that most terminal disappearance, it was Othello that seems to have inspired the most famous description of Kean’s acting as a kind of irregular ephemera. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was thinking of Othello, the story goes, when he said that to watch Kean act “was to read Shakespeare by flashes...