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Top Girls (Caryl Churchill) Comedy & Humour. “Humour is not predictable. In fact, it relies on surprise. It relies on logic being suspended in some way.

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Presentation on theme: "Top Girls (Caryl Churchill) Comedy & Humour. “Humour is not predictable. In fact, it relies on surprise. It relies on logic being suspended in some way."— Presentation transcript:

1 Top Girls (Caryl Churchill) Comedy & Humour

2 “Humour is not predictable. In fact, it relies on surprise. It relies on logic being suspended in some way. It is not familiar and thus comforting. It is confronting and because of this we shy away.”

3 How Humour Works Assumes shared values / knowledge Assumes shared values / knowledge What an individual finds funny is influenced by many things: the historical period in which we live, cultural and social experiences, age, gender, etc. What an individual finds funny is influenced by many things: the historical period in which we live, cultural and social experiences, age, gender, etc. Humour uncovers our biases and affiliations. Humour uncovers our biases and affiliations. Built on incongruity: the gap between what is expected and what is experienced or said. Built on incongruity: the gap between what is expected and what is experienced or said. (Understatement and exaggeration – most common methods of creating humour) (Understatement and exaggeration – most common methods of creating humour)

4 Purpose and effects of humour 1) An element of dramatic structure – comic relief 2) Characterisation 3) Develops relationships between characters 4) Critiques established authority 5) Reveals and challenges the audience’s assumptions & biases

5 Dramatic Structure Skilful manipulation of mood and audience response through the sequencing of the comic scenes. Skilful manipulation of mood and audience response through the sequencing of the comic scenes. Movement / contrast between moments of profound sadness and cacophonous hilarity Movement / contrast between moments of profound sadness and cacophonous hilarity Varies the dramatic pacing and contributes to the dramatic tension Varies the dramatic pacing and contributes to the dramatic tension

6 Dramatic structure Provides comic relief Provides comic relief - Eg. The bawdy speculations about the pierced chair after Joan’s account of her stoning - Eg. Marlene’s interview with Jeanine immediately after the end of Act 1 - Eg. The office banter of Act 2 Sc 3 follows the ominous ending of Act 2 Sc 2 Highlights key issues. Highlights key issues. - Eg. the change in tone and mood in Joan’s story forces the audience to reconsider the cost of Joan’s transgression of patriarchal norms. The message becomes even starker because the shift from farce to tragedy is so sudden and unexpected.

7 Characterisation Contributes to the presentation of the women as ‘clever girls’, self-aware and capable of banter and repartee. Contributes to the presentation of the women as ‘clever girls’, self-aware and capable of banter and repartee. Eg. p.5: Eg. p.5: Nijo: The first half of my life was all sin and the second / all repentance.* Joan: *And which did you like best? Eg. p.49 Eg. p.49 Win: We’re tactfully not mentioning you’re late. Marlene: Fucking tube. Win: We’ve heard that one. Nell: We’ve used that one. Eg. Joan’s self-mocking humour (eg. p.6: ‘Anyway I’m a heresy myself.’) Eg. Joan’s self-mocking humour (eg. p.6: ‘Anyway I’m a heresy myself.’)

8 Develops relationships between characters Creates an apparent sense of camaraderie / solidarity while masking underlying rivalries Creates an apparent sense of camaraderie / solidarity while masking underlying rivalries Fast-paced verbal exchange In the office scenes between the ‘top girls’ – wit, banter, flippancy Fast-paced verbal exchange In the office scenes between the ‘top girls’ – wit, banter, flippancy Subtly reflects the competition between the women – undercurrents of one-upmanship Subtly reflects the competition between the women – undercurrents of one-upmanship Prevents any real emotional engagement. Prevents any real emotional engagement.

9 Develops relationships between characters Eg. p.47 Eg. p.47 Nell: He’s just got to relocate. He’s got a bungalow in Dymchurch. Win: And his wife says. Nell: The lady wife wouldn’t care to relocate. She’s going through the change. Win.: It’s his funeral, don’t waste your time. Nell: I don’t waste a lot. Win’s quick grasp of the situation is matched by Nell’s assertion that she doesn’t ‘waste a lot’ of time on such job applicants Win’s quick grasp of the situation is matched by Nell’s assertion that she doesn’t ‘waste a lot’ of time on such job applicants Possibly defending her professional competence against Win’s perceived criticism. Possibly defending her professional competence against Win’s perceived criticism.

10 Develops relationships between characters Eg. p.49 Eg. p.49 Win: I spent the whole weekend at his place in Sussex. Nell: She fancies his rose garden. Win: I had to lie down in the back of the car so the neighbours wouldn’t see me go in. Nell: You’re kidding. Win: It was funny. Nell: Fuck that for a joke. Marlene: Anyway they’d see you in the garden. Win: The garden has extremely high walls. The comedy lies in the disjuncture between their matter-of-fact tone and the farcical situation. The comedy lies in the disjuncture between their matter-of-fact tone and the farcical situation. The humour masks the tawdriness of the affair, and maintains an emotional distance between the women despite the personal nature of what is being discussed. The humour masks the tawdriness of the affair, and maintains an emotional distance between the women despite the personal nature of what is being discussed.

11 Critiques established authority Undermines / undercuts the hierarchical structures upon which power and status depend, deflates pomposity, creates a leveling effect Undermines / undercuts the hierarchical structures upon which power and status depend, deflates pomposity, creates a leveling effect Especially significant in a play that critiques capitalism, socialism, patriarchy, and feminism. Important to be able to mock convention and authority. Especially significant in a play that critiques capitalism, socialism, patriarchy, and feminism. Important to be able to mock convention and authority. Mostly directed at the religious establishment. Mostly directed at the religious establishment.

12 Critiques established authority Eg. Comic juxtaposition of Gret’s first word in the play, ‘Pig’, and Pope Joan’s entrance  undermines the authority of the office as well as the individual Eg. Comic juxtaposition of Gret’s first word in the play, ‘Pig’, and Pope Joan’s entrance  undermines the authority of the office as well as the individual Eg. The interweaving dialogue about Joan’s chamberlain lover has Gret making comments that emphasise Joan’s humanity (needs a lover to ‘keep you warm’) and her sexuality (her lover has a ‘big cock’) Eg. The interweaving dialogue about Joan’s chamberlain lover has Gret making comments that emphasise Joan’s humanity (needs a lover to ‘keep you warm’) and her sexuality (her lover has a ‘big cock’) Eg. The description of the pierced chair together with the subversive picture of clergymen looking up the pope’s skirts  comic undermining of male religious authority Eg. The description of the pierced chair together with the subversive picture of clergymen looking up the pope’s skirts  comic undermining of male religious authority

13 Critiques established authority Provides relief from rigid social codes Provides relief from rigid social codes Emphasises the communcal and the universal Emphasises the communcal and the universal Eg. Gret’s base, bawdy humour – focuses attention on food, the body, bodily functions – emphasises the commonalities that mark our shared humanity Eg. Gret’s base, bawdy humour – focuses attention on food, the body, bodily functions – emphasises the commonalities that mark our shared humanity

14 Reveals and challenges the audience’s assumptions & biases Nijo’s repeated references to love poetry and clothing strike us as faintly ludicrous & out-of-context Nijo’s repeated references to love poetry and clothing strike us as faintly ludicrous & out-of-context But they also invite us to rethink our own conventional expressions of romantic love & the meanings we invest in clothing / fashion But they also invite us to rethink our own conventional expressions of romantic love & the meanings we invest in clothing / fashion and to see them as social constructs and to see them as social constructs Contributes to the larger pattern of questioning that the play engages in Contributes to the larger pattern of questioning that the play engages in Are there any aspects of human experience that are not social constructs? Implications? Are there any aspects of human experience that are not social constructs? Implications? LINK to issues encountered in P5? LINK to issues encountered in P5?

15 Reveals and challenges the audience’s assumptions & biases In the Marlene / Jeanine interview Eg. Jeanine: I thought advertising. Marlene: People often do think advertising. I have got a few vacancies but I think they’re looking for something glossier. Jeanine: You mean how I dress? / I can dress different. I Marlene: I mean experience. Eg. Jeanine: What is it they do? Marlene: Lampshades. / This would be my first choice for you. Jeanine: Just lampshades? Marlene: There’s plenty of different kinds of lampshades…

16 Reveals and challenges the audience’s assumptions & biases The humour is located in the gap between the audience’s knowledge of interview protocol, and Jeanine’s naiveté The humour is located in the gap between the audience’s knowledge of interview protocol, and Jeanine’s naiveté Marlene’s use of comic understatement; the wry tone Marlene’s use of comic understatement; the wry tone When we laugh at Jeanine’s interview faux pas, we do so from a position of power and knowledge that we share with Marlene When we laugh at Jeanine’s interview faux pas, we do so from a position of power and knowledge that we share with Marlene As the play proceeds and Marlene’s value system is laid open for critique, we are forced to consider if we too share Marlene’s bourgeois capitalist values As the play proceeds and Marlene’s value system is laid open for critique, we are forced to consider if we too share Marlene’s bourgeois capitalist values

17 Reveals and challenges the audience’s assumptions & biases Eg. p.64: Angie: Do you work here? Win: How did you guess? Angie: Because you look as if you might work here and you’re sitting at the desk. Have you always worked here? Win: No I was headhunted. That means I was working for another outfit like this and this lot came and offered me more money…… etc. Angie’s unsuspecting, matter-of-fact response to Win’s sarcasm induces our uncomfortable laughter Angie’s unsuspecting, matter-of-fact response to Win’s sarcasm induces our uncomfortable laughter but also exposes our prejudices and, by contrast, accentuates Win’s later kindness but also exposes our prejudices and, by contrast, accentuates Win’s later kindness Provokes the audience into reconsidering our own values and allegiances Provokes the audience into reconsidering our own values and allegiances


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