laff tracks : avoiding the food for worms fate

The essence of comedy is the triumph of “la forza di natura,” or nature over intellect, laughing matter over mind, what is livelier in the flesh over what is nobler in the mind. Who needs intangibles. And the happiest tale of all is the odyssey that ends with…Laughter in the house…

The tragic hero prefers death to loss of name, the comic hero prefers life, however anonymous. Odysseus, Lord of Ithaca, Trojan War hero, sacker of many cities and renowned adventurer, forswears these titles and tells the hungry anthropophagus Cyclops he is no heroic morsel. In fact, he insists, “my name is Nobody.” Better to be shamefully hors de combat than famously someone’s hors d’oeuvre. Thus Falstaff retreats shouting “give me life,” while Hotspur stands fast and becomes “food for worms.”

Falstaff. Robert Smirke. 1795—as the rebels squabble, Hotspur exalts in his father’s absence and his opportunity to seize the glory for himself, and Falstaff mocks the whole idea of war and battle with his so-called army. “A mad fellow met me on the way, and told me I had unloaded all the biggest and pressed the dead bodies.” But indeed, what’s the point of having better, as he tells Prince Hal, “Tut, tut! Good enough to toss; food for powder, food for powder. They’ll fill a pit as good as better. Tush, man, mortal men, mortal men.” It is in such moments, I think, that Falstaff reaches the heights.—Read More: image:

Comedy’s happy ending is exclusively human. The notion of a “divine comedy” is a contradiction in terms. Thus it is impossible to accept Dante’s argument that his poem is a commedia because it begins in Hell and ends in Paradise. The joy he extols is of the mind, il ben de l’intelletto, with a characteristically medieval renunciation of the physical world. Even in his amorous poetry women are incorporeal, as, for example, in the canzone “Donne ch’avete intelletto d’amore,” “Ladies that have the intellect of love.” Only mind matters.

In direct and deliberate contrast, Boccaccio’s Decameron is the “human comedy.” In fact, its opening words are umana cosa e…Dante’s inspiration was “la gloriosa donna della mia mente.” Boccaccio’s inspiration was also feminine, but in thre plural- and in the flesh. He addresses his Decameron to the graziosissime donne to whom he is grateful for “loving kisses, lovely hugs and delightful gettings-to-gether.”

—Davide di Tommaso Bigordi, called Davide Ghirlandaio (Italian, Florentine, 1452–1525). Scene from the Tale “Nastagio degli Onesti” in Boccaccio’s Decameron, after 1483. Tempera on wood panel. Brooklyn Museum…
Ghirlandaio depicts the first half of the story of Nastagio degli Onesti, which Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) tells in his Decameron. Nastagio, spurned in love by a lady from an aristocratic family, broods upon his fate in the woods outside Ravenna, where he spies a horrifying scene: a mounted knight and his hounds pursue a naked woman, ultimately capturing her and tearing out her heart. The knight then explains that they are forced to enact this scene weekly as punishment for his suicide—precipitated by her rejection.—Read More:

Gloriosa? Si. Della mente? No. In fact, the Decameron contains a charming defense for true- i.e., human- comedy in the form of a little tale, the only one told by Boccaccio in propria persona. The story not only illustrates the contrasting mentalities of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance but also demonstrates the basic action of comedy.


(see link at end)…First picking up Goddard’s final thoughts on Part One:

“’Give me life,’ cries Falstaff on the field of Shrewsbury. ‘Die all, the merrily,’ cries Hotspur. That is the gist of it. The Prince killed Hotspur in the battle, and Falstaff, with one of his most inspired lies, claimed the deed as his own. But Falstaff’s lies, scrutinized, often turn out to be truth in disguise. So here, Falstaff, not Prince Henry, did kill Hotspur. He ended the outworn conception of honor for which Hotspur stood. The Prince killed his body, but Falstaff killed his soul – or rather what passed for his soul.

The dying Hotspur himself sees the truth. The verdict of his final breath is that life is ‘time’s fool’ and he himself dust. And the Prince, gazing down at his dead victim, sees it too, if only for a moment.

Ill-weav’d ambition, how much art thou shrunk!

When that this body did contain a spirit,

A kingdom for it was too small a bound,

he exclaims, and, turning, he catches sight of another body from which life has apparently departed:

What, old acquaintance! could not all this flesh

Keep in little life? Poor Jack, farewell!

I could have better spar’d a better man. …Read More:

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