Confronted by the kind of confusion which prevails at the beginning of The Marriage of Figaro, we may not be surprised to find still more complicated and further souces of misunderstandings, such as:

-character donning disguises or swapping identities
-men dressing up as women, or vice versa
-secret assignations when the 'wrong person' turns up
-scenes in which characters are hastily concealed in cupboards or behind furniture, only for the presence to be inevitably and embarrassingly discovered.

The general chaos of misunderstanding is likely only to get worse, until the knot the characters have tied themselves and each other up into seems almost unbearable. But finally, and to universal relief, everyone and everything will get miraculously sorted out, bringing a happy ending.

In fact Comedy is a very specific kind of story. It is not simply any story which is funny. Some very funny stories have quite different kinds of plot.

The Birdcage

A gay cabaret owner and his drag queen companion agree to put up a false straight front so that their son can introduce them to his fiancé's right-wing moralistic parents.


Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot, Richard Curtis's Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mike Nichol's The Birdcage, Henry Fielding's Tom Jones

Comedy cannot be summarized in quite the same way as the other basic plots, because the very nature of the plot requires it to cover such a range of variations. But the essence of the story is always that:

1) we see a little world in which people have passed under a shadow of confusion, uncertainty and frustration, and are shut off from one another;
2) the confusion gets worse until the pressure of darkness is at its most acute and everyone is in a nightmarish tangle;
3) finally, with the coming to light of things not previously recognized, perceptions are dramatically changed. The shadows are dispelled, the situation is miraculously transformed and the little world is brought together in a state of joyful union.

The key to Comedy is thus the transition between two general states. The first which persists through most of the story is a kind of twilight in which nothing is seen clearly; where people's true nature or identity may be obscured; and where they may be uncertainty as to who should end up with whom. The chief cause of the twilight is usually come central dark figure, who is in some way acting blindly and heartlessly.

It is his (or her) egocentricity which is throwing everyone else into the shadows, and setting people at odds with one another. And nothing symbolizes this state of division more powerfully than that it is keeping apart the hero and heroine of the story.

The second state arrives with the 'recognition' and 'unknotting' when, at the climax of the story, the dark figure is in some way caught out, and all is at last seen clearly. Everyone's true nature and identity is revealed; everyone recognizes who is his or her proper 'other half'; and the story ends, with darkness and division at an end, on the image of a great coming together. What was dark is now light. What was divided is now whole. And nothing symbolizes this more completely than the union of hero and heroine.

The Birdcage

The Birdcage
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