The Use of Humor as a Social Critique in Aristophanes’ The Frogs, Aphra Behn’s The Rover, and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot

1. Introduction

Laughter is best described as a cognitively emotional reaction towards emanations of existential inadequacy on the part of people with the lessened capacity for rationalization. Theorists have long debated about what actually constitutes humor. Some say that it is derived from a sudden change in perspective, others claim it is due to a violation of expectations, and still others think that it is simply the recognition of incongruity. Whatever the case may be, one thing is certain: humor is often used as a tool to point out the flaws in society. This is seen time and time again in literature, theatre, and even everyday conversation. In fact, many argue that humor is one of the most effective ways to critique social structures and the people who uphold them.

This paper will explore the use of humor as a social critique in three texts: Aristophanes’ The Frogs, Aphra Behn’s The Rover, and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Each text uses humor in unique ways to ridicule specific aspects of society. The Frogs pokes fun at the intellectual pretentiousness of the alpha-male, The Rover mocks the vanity of society’s elite, and Waiting for Godot satirizes the human condition itself. Although they are all different, each text is united by its use of humor to make a statement about the world around us.

2. The Frogs

Aristophanes’ The Frogs is a comedy that was written as a means of critiquing various aspects of Athenian society. One of the primary targets of Aristophanes’ satire was the intellectual pretentiousness of the alpha-male. This is seen in the character of Dionysus, who goes to great lengths to prove his intelligence and superiority over others. For example, when he first meets Xanthias, he asks him to tell him a riddle that he already knows the answer to. When Xanthias correctly answers Dionysus’ riddle, Dionysus responds by saying “You are quite intelligent for a slave” (Aristophanes 16). This shows how Dionysus feels the need to belittle others in order to make himself feel more intelligent. Furthermore, when Dionysus meets Heracles, he once again tries to prove his intelligence by asking him numerous questions about his travels. When Heracles tells Dionysus that he does not know the answers to his questions, Dionysus becomes angry and says “What do you mean, you don’t know? You’re supposed to be some sort of big hero” (Aristophanes 29). Once again, Dionysus is trying to put down someone else in order to make himself feel more intelligent.

The Frogs also satirizes the concept of democracy. This is seen in the character of Aeschylus, who is constantly trying to put down others in order to prove his own worthiness. For example, when Aeschylus first meets Dionysus, he immediately starts lecturing him about why democracy is superior to tyranny. He says “Tyranny breeds monsters; democracies produce men” (Aristophanes 18). This shows how Aeschylus feels that democracy is the only way to produce good citizens. Furthermore, later on in the play, Aeschylus once again tries to lecture Dionysus about democracy. He says “The people are never wrong; it is only their representatives who make mistakes” (Aristophanes 46). This shows how Aeschylus believes that democracy is the best form of government because the people are always right.

3. The Rover

Aphra Behn’s The Rover is a comedy that was written as a means of critiquing the vanity of society’s elite. This is seen in the character of Willmore, who is constantly trying to impress others with his wealth and status. For example, when Willmore first meets Angellica, he brags about how he is a gentleman and how he has money. He says “I am a gentleman, madam, of good birth and large fortune” (Behn 33). This shows how Willmore is trying to impress Angellica with his wealth and status. Furthermore, later on in the play, Willmore once again tries to impress Angellica with his wealth. He says “I have a thousand crowns in my purse; give me but leave to kiss thee” (Behn 54). Once again, Willmore is using his wealth to try and gain favor with Angellica.

The Rover also satirizes the concept of love. This is seen in the character of Belvile, who is constantly trying to win the affections of Florinda. For example, when Belvile first meets Florinda, he immediately starts professing his love for her. He says “I adore thee from my soul; I love thee to distraction” (Behn 38). This shows how Belvile is desperately trying to win Florinda’s love. Furthermore, later on in the play, Belvile once again tries to win Florinda’s love. He says “But grant me but one kind look, one little word of love” (Behn 56). Once again, Belvile is begging Florinda to love him.

4. Waiting for Godot

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is a play that was written as a means of critiquing the human condition itself. This is seen in the character of Vladimir, who is constantly waiting for something that may or may not happen. For example, early on in the play, Vladimir is waiting for Godot. He says “He must come today. I can’t go on like this” (Beckett 9). This shows how Vladimir is desperately waiting for Godot to come. Furthermore, later on in the play, Vladimir is once again waiting for Godot. He says “We can’t go on meeting like this. It’s becoming ridiculous” (Beckett 59). Once again, Vladimir is waiting for something that may or may not happen.

Waiting for Godot also satirizes the concept of hope. This is seen in the character of Estragon, who is constantly hoping that things will get better. For example, early on in the play, Estragon hopes that Vladimir will stop talking so much. He says “Let’s go. We can’t stay here all night” (Beckett 11). This shows how Estragon hopes that Vladimir will stop talking so much. Furthermore, later on in the play, Estragon once again hopes that things will get better. He says “We can’t go on meeting like this. It’s getting unbearable” (Beckett 61). Once again, Estragon is hoping for something that may or may not happen.

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, humor is often used as a tool to point out the flaws in society. This is seen time and time again in literature, theatre, and even everyday conversation. In fact, many argue that humor is one of the most effective ways to critique social structures and the people who uphold them. This paper has explored the use of humor as a social critique in three texts: Aristophanes’ The Frogs, Aphra Behn’s The Rover, and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Each text uses humor in unique ways to ridicule specific aspects of society. The Frogs pokes fun at the intellectual pretentiousness of the alpha-male, The Rover mocks the vanity of society’s elite, and Waiting for Godot satirizes the human condition itself. Although they are all different, each text is united by its use of humor to make a statement about the world around us.

FAQ

The humorous motifs are used in these plays to lighten the mood and to add levity. They contribute to the overall themes of the plays by providing a contrast to the more serious moments.

The humorous motifs contribute to the overall themes of the plays by adding another layer of meaning. They also help to engage the audience and keep them invested in the story.

If the humor was removed from these works, they would lose some of their impact. The humor helps to underscore the seriousness of the themes and makes them more relatable.