About the Book
A comparative study of classical Indian and Western drama with special reference to comedy reveals interesting similarities and differences between the two in respect of aesthetic theory, theatric practice and elements of dramatic composition.
The common ground between Western and Sanskrit theatre relates to the use of stage-devices like pantomime, off-stage voice, soliloquy and play-within-the-play, as well as histrionic elements like dance and music, and the exaggerated costume and make up of the characters. But apart these, Indian drama, as outlined in Natya Sastra and maintained by stage performances through the centuries is markedly different from the Western, because while the mostly depends on realistic devices the former is basically a stylised mode of theatre which caters to an idealised audience. In Western drama, the interest of the audience in watching a play lies in the effective rendering of the dialogue, so that the verbal text is of primary value. But in traditional Sanskrit dramatic practice, the actor is encouraged to resort to an elaborate method of improvisation, using vocal and/or gestural expression, supplemented by the appropriate movements of the face and other part of the body as well as by musical accompaniment, The written text has therefore only a minimal importance here. The method of dramatic composition of the comedies in both Western and Sanskrit traditions also bears striking similarities and divergences. These may be seen in the methods of employing plot, situation and themes as well as in the creation of character and the use of language. In the present study, the comedies of Shakespeare and Bhasa have been selected for closer analysis, because they seem to encompass within their respective spheres a wide variety of levels and interpretation of Western and Indian comedy. The two dramatists also seem to share a common underlying philosophy of comedy, namely, a joyous involvement in the process of living.
About the Author
Dr. Sudha Gopalakrishnan (b. 1954), a Ph. D from the University of Kerala, has worked extensively in the areas of comparative drama, classical Indian theatre, and Indian and English literature. She is also a trained dancer in Kathakali.
Dr. Gopalakrishnan is currently working in Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts as Project Officer, Encyclopaedia of the Arts. Earlier she was in Sahitya Akademi as Assistant Editor, Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature.
This Book is an attempt to compare the theory of classical Indian drama with that of Western drama insofar as they relate to the modes of comedy. At an elementary level, the theory of comedy in the two traditions may be considered similar n the ground that it operates primarily through laughter. The laughter in comedy produces a particular kind of response often characterised by carefree and irresponsible mirth. At a higher level, however, Indian and Western theories accept the fact that comedy is an attempt to transcend the cares and anxieties of life while presenting an affirmative approach to experience. Beneath the establishment of an atmosphere of celebration, an attitude that goesfar beyond the temporality of life is visible in both the comic traditions.
In this discussion, the works of Bhasa and Shakespeare are taken to represent the dramatic theories of classical Indian and Western comedy respectively. Since dramatic theory is usually grounded on theatrical practice, the devices of enactment in comedy are examined in some detail. Modern experimental drama in the West which moves closer to the non-illusionistic theatre of the Orient is not taken up for discussion here. The theatric from of Kutiyattam is given a special mention because it seems to be the only form of extant Sanskrit theatre.
The introductory chapter of this book tries to explore the similarities along with the differences between Western and Sanskrit aesthetics. On a comparative analysis, the differences between the two are as striking as the similarities. Chapter II, “The Aesthetics of Comedy”, is a comparative study of the classical Indian and Western theories of comedy. The discussion is based on a comparative analysis of the nature of laughter, the classification of the comic modes and the different levels in the experience of comedy in both the traditions. Chapter III, “The Theatre of Comedy”, analyses the stage devices employed in the Western and Indian theatre of Comedy and these are explained in relation to the origin and evolution of comedy in the two traditions. Chapter IV, “The Themes of Comedy”, is an examination of the themes that seem to recur in both Western and Sanskrit comedies. The continuity of the cycle of life and the part played by fortune in it are taken up as the most persistent themes in comedy. Chapter V, “The Situations in Comedy” is an analysis of the comic element involved in some of the basic situations in the plays, as well as the devices employed to enhance them, while chapter VI, “Characterization in Comedy”, is devoted a discussion of the methods of characterization employed in both dramatic form. The different manifestations of the comic protagonist in drama are examined in some detail. The next chapter, “Imagery in Comedy”, seeks to bring out the significance of imagery in projecting the comic element in a play. Chapter VIII, “The Comic Use of Language”, underscores the importance of language in comedy. Both Indian and Western comedies display similarities in the blending of prose and verse, the use of dialectic variation suit the occasion and the use of common linguistic devices. The last chapter, “The Comedic Vision of Life”, deals with the philosophic dimension of comedy. The ultimate end of comedy seems to be a state of serene calmness which both the comic traditions have aspired to achieve this is a state of blissful repose which may be defined to achieve this is a state of blissful repose which may be defined as “medic”.
A glossary of the terms in Sanskrit used in this thesis is given at the end.
I would like to acknowledge my gratitude to the University of Kerala which offered me a research fellowship to undertake this study. I am grateful to Dr. K. Ayyappa Paniker, my professor and guide, for his invaluable help and suggestions. I am indebted to Shri Satkari Mukhopadhyaya, the members of his family and Shri S. Jithendra Nath for their help in bringing out this book. It would be audacious on my part to attempt to thank Shri D. Appukkuttan Nair who provoked and sustained my interest in classical theatre with parental care.
A comparative study between Western and Sanskrit theatre seems relevant in the present situation, when writers and commentators in the field of aesthetics in general and drama in particular are attempting to establish many points of correspondence between them. At a superficial glance, the differences between the two are more striking than the similarities. Sanskrit drama, unlike the Western, is not today a live mode of expression. Montgomery Schuyler records that “the age of Sanskrit drama may roughly be given as extending from A.D. 400 to 1100. This period does not, of course, include the earliest efforts at dramatic composition, nor take in a large number of late and inferior plays.” It does not take into account the possible dates of dramatists before Sudraka, like those of Asvaghosa and Bhasa. Bhasa’s plays came to light as late as 1912 with Ganapati Saastri’s publication in Trivandrum of the thirteen plays ascribed to him. A.B. Keith comments that “the first century B.C. can with fair certainty be assumed to be the very latest period at which the very latest period at which the appearance of genuine Sanskrit drama can be placed.” Thus, according to the data available today, the best of Sanskrit drama seems to have been written approximately during the first thousand years of the Christian era. In the West, drama had its origin from ancient Athens, and developed as a full-fledged branch of literature by the association and infiltration of various cultures and systems of thought. As a result, the religious, moral and aesthetic precepts of associated with classical Western drama have tended to be greatly diversified. Even today, Western drama is being subjected to be a lot of experimentation and transformation, through the use of new forms and precepts, thus reflecting the conflicting drives and struggles of Western thought. But in Sanskrit theatre as well as in ancient Indian society, there seems to have been an accepted code of dhama or moral and ethical code. J.A.B. Van Buitenen observes that in the classical drama of India, “there is a curious intermixture of the simplicities of dharmic life and the complexities of courtly or urban life.” The dramatist thus draws his plot and characters out of the hierarchic scheme of this society. But, in spite of these differences in age and culture between the dramatic traditions, there are striking similarities which, according to Henry W. Wells, “mark the essentials of all good drama.” The similarities may be observed in the areas of aesthetic theory, theatrical practice and elements of dramatic composition.
The Aesthetics of Comedy
The Theatre of Comedy
The Themes of Comedy
Situations in Comedy
Characterization in Comedy
Imagery in Comedy
The use of Language in Comedy
Comedic Vision of Life
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