READ: Northrup Frye: Anatomy of Criticism

3 Relating Frye's Catagories to Comedy

Frye's categorizations work best with comedy, because the "rules" seem to apply all the way from Aristophanes to Chaplin.

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Frye likens the movement of comedy to the action of a lawsuit in which plaintiff and defendant construct different versions of the same situation, one finally being judged as real, the other illusory. Shakespearean comedy often begins with some irrational law which will usually be overruled by the end.

Comedy has a drive towards a happy ending, so much so that characters become functions of the plot, rather than having a psychological depth. In comedy, emphasis can fall either on blocking characters or on the forces of reconciliation. Blocking is comic irony, satire, and realism, (Importance of Being Earnest), and forces of reconciliation is romance, (As You Like It).

Frye says that there are four types of comic characters: Alazon - the imposter, Eiron - the self-deprecator, Bomolochos (Buffoon) - the clown, and Agroikos - churlish or rustic character.
When looking at the different categories of fiction, we can classify these characters according to the roles that they play in each genre.

Myth: there isn't really a degree of realism in myth, it is a total dreamworld of desire. The Alazon, would be characters who see themselves as greater than they actually are. (Think Satan). The Eiron, see themselves as less than they are, (Think Christ). The Buffoons would be present merely to help intensify the mood, while the Agroikos would serve to break the mood and help direct the plot back to reality.

Romance: there is very little realism present in romance. The characters are often divided into good or bad and serve to illustrate the conflict of the plot. Let's take a look at Star Wars, as an example for this category. The Alazon would be the enemies of the quest, (Think Darth Vadar). The Eiron would be the helpers of the quest, (Think Obi Wan Kanobi). The Buffoons would be spirits of nature and characters that serve to increase the sense of wonder and magic, (Think R2D2 and C3PO). Agroikos would by companion characters that would serve to call attention to fear, or jesters who defeat romantic ideals held by other characters, (Think Han Solo).

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Tragedy: based on reality, there is an attempt toward realism. In this genre the characters are realistic and we can identify with them as being part of the "real world." The Alazon would be hero's who are self-deceived, arrogant, or too proud, (Think Macbeth or Oedipus). Eiron would be a nemesis or perhaps fate, a soothsayer or another agent of perhaps a vengeful god, (Think Tiresius). The Buffoon would be a character who provides a picture of unmitigated suffering and helplessness, (Think Jocasta or Ophelia). Agroikos in this genre would be a character who is a critic of the tragic action and who resists the tragic movement of the play, (Think the Porter in Macbeth, the Fool in King Lear).

Comedy: also based on reality with an attempt toward realism. The characters are often realistic and we can identify with them as being part of the "real world." The Alazon would be a blocking figure such as a heavy father, or a character driven by one purpose, (Who do you think this could be??) Eiron is either a hero or heroine, often a scheme hatcher or a trickster that helps the Alazon, (Think Puck or Duke in Measure for Measure). Buffoon in this genre would be clowns who serve to increase the mood of festivity, (Think Falstaff). The Agroikos in this case would represent a simple man, who would walk away from festivity, (Think Jacques in As You Like It).

Frye, H.N. (1957) Anatomy of Criticism, Four Essays, Princeton University Press.