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What is the nature of comedy? How does it differ from tragedy? What can we learn from Shakespeare’s comedies that we might miss if we focus only on tragedies? In this Conversation, Paul Cantor presents a tour-de-force analysis of the nature of comedy—and explains how and why Shakespeare’s comedies exemplify it. As Cantor shows, comedy portrays human beings as worse than they are in order to puncture the sometimes unrealistic and destructive aspirations for ourselves and for our desires. Comedy is therefore meant to show us it’s a mistake to take too seriously things that do not necessarily deserve to be taken seriously. Too often our pride or self-importance leads us to make much ado about nothing. Cantor explains how Shakespeare’s comedies are a necessary complement to his tragedies—and as pointing to a workable middle way between the desires and even dreams humans have, and the conventions and accommodations they need to live together and flourish.
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