Northrop Fryeâ€™s Formula for Comedy
In his essay, "The Mythos of Spring: Comedy," Northrop Frye describes his formula for constructing a comedy. He says that most plot structures in comedies are based on the same specific formula. The storyline usually revolves around a boy-wants-girl scenario where there is some sort of blocking character, like a father or superior figure, that stands in their way. In the end, however, the guy always gets the girl. In the beginning of a comedy the blocking characters have power and are in charge of society. At the end of a comedy, the events that bring the boy and girl together form a new society.
In keeping with this formula, many comedies involve a party or wedding. Pairing off of other characters happens as well. A modern example of this occurs at the end of the movie Clueless, when the pairing of Cher and Josh, and Ty and Travis coincides with the marriage of the two teachers. Resolutions at the end of a comedy come from the audience, from their understanding and involvement in finding a happy ending. As the hero overcomes the various obstacles with which he is presented, the audience begins to anticipate a resolution that will fulfill its idea of how things ought to be. A resolution of conflict is symbolized by a coming together at the end.
The obstacles the boy overcomes throughout the play form the plot, and his successes bring about comic resolution. You know the ending of a comedy before it starts, but the events are what make it interesting. The blocking characters in the play contribute to the excitement and humor of the plays. Usually parental figures, these blocking characters cause disharmony which arises from the differences of intent between father and son. Because of this, older audiences find something rebellious about comedy. This does in turn contribute to social persecution in drama. Moviemakers find it difficult to appeal to older audiences beca