Ridikulus! A Comparative Study of Roman Comedy and Kyōgen Through Their Techniques of Fear-Alleviation

  • Kirsty Jenkins

Student thesis: Phd


There is a tendency amongst scholars to view comedic elements common to Roman Comedy, such as the tricky subordinate or the nagging wife, as part of a developing Western Comedic Tradition. The appearance of these characters in Medieval Japanese Kyōgen, a comedic art-form unconnected with Western Comedy, challenges this viewpoint and suggests that they are part of a wider comedic identity. This thesis compares and contrasts Roman Comedy and Kyōgen through their techniques of fear-alleviation, exploring the manner in which each culture addresses social anxieties. The first chapter explores the comedic master-slave/servant relationship through the medium of the tricky slave/servant. It examines how the motif of the tricky subordinate is used to alleviate contemporary fears of authority figures. Chapter 2 considers the other half of this relationship, focusing on authority's fear of rebellion and how this is addressed through the loyal and/or stupid slave/servant. Chapter 3 explores the depiction of religious and supernatural figures in the two comedic forms and examines the methods by which these awe-inspiring beings are portrayed humorously and rendered harmless. The fourth chapter reflects on the treatment of illness in Roman Comedy and Kyōgen. It discusses how contemporary social anxieties regarding blind men (Medieval Japan) and the stigma of insanity and epilepsy (Rome) are alleviated through the humorous comedic depiction of blind and insane/epileptic characters. Chapter 5 explores the comedic presentation of professional figures. This chapter contrasts the boastful character of the comedic soldier of Roman Comedy with the braggart priest of Kyōgen. In Chapter 6, the focus is on the misogynistic treatment of wives in both comedic art-forms. This chapter explores contemporary fear of wives and how this fear is alleviated through their negative portrayal in comedy.This thesis finds that there is a strong correlation between Roman Comedy and Kyōgen, both in the types of social anxiety which they seek to alleviate and the methods by which they seek to accomplish this. It also finds that the motif of the tricky subordinate and the nagging wife are not just Western phenomena but that they are also present in the Eastern Comic Tradition. The comparison of Roman Comedy with Kyōgen, an unrelated comedic form, leads to an enhanced understanding of the role which these characters play in alleviating social anxiety. It also enables the consideration of stock characters in Roman comedy from a wider viewpoint, presenting an opportunity for scholars to re-evaluate characters such as the tricky subordinate and the nagging wife as products of a wider, universal comic tradition.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAlison Sharrock (Supervisor) & Roy Gibson (Supervisor)


  • Fear-alleviation
  • Comparative
  • Kyogen
  • Roman
  • Comedy

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