For about three thousand years comedy has applied a welcome humanist perspective to the world's religious beliefs and practices. From the ancient Greek comedies of Aristophanes, the famous poem by Lucretius, and dialogues of Cicero to early modern and Enlightenment essays and philosophical texts, together with the inherent skepticism about life after death in tragicomedies by Plautus, Shakespeare, Moliere, and nineteenth-century vels by such as Dickens and Hugo, the literary critic and historian Alexander Welsh analyzes the prevalence of openness of mind and relieving good humor in Western thought. The Humanist Comedy concludes with close examination of a postmodern vel by the Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago.
Alexander Welsh is Emily Sanford Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Yale University. His many publications include The City of Dickens, Reflections on the Hero as Quixote, and Hamlet in His Modern Guises. He lives in Bethany, CT.