This morning I finished Peter Leithart’s illuminating work Deep Comedy. I say “illuminating” because never before have I seen Solomon, Derrida, Homer, Shakespeare, & Jesus compared & contrasted in such a way as Liethart does in this book! A wonderful amalgamation of philosophy, poetry, literature, & theology, Deep Comedy explains just why all of these categories ultimate play off one another.
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“Deep Comedy,” according to Leithart, is something that can only be achieved in and through the Christian worldview. What is “deep comedy?” it is the world that the Bible says that we inhabit. The Bible, through the communication of the Trinitarian God, teaches that creation (the world we inhabit) need not be a perpetually decaying world.
The Greeks believed that anything that comes from a source must necessarily be lesser in quality than the source itself. The philosophical term for this is “supplication.” Any supplication must be (of necessity) lesser than the source. This gives rise to Plato’s theory of forms where there is a perfect world or “originals” that the reality we inhabit can only poorly mimic.
Moreover, this view of diminishing supplication gave rise to the world of Greek poetry (the Odyssey, Oedipus, etc.) where even comedic endings (happy endings) take place in a world that is doomed to supplicational deterioration. Even when Odysseus returns home safely he is still inhabiting a world where he will die never to rise again. Even the comedy is tragic.
Leithart shows that the world created by the Trinitarian God is not this world. Moreover, he proves that only the Trinitarian God can have a world that is deeply comic down to its roots (even in tragic stories). Leithart shows this by pointing out the Trinitarian truth that the Son (the second person of the Trinity) is co-eternal with the Father (the first person of the Trinity). Because the Father & the Son are coterminous the there is no problem of supplication. The fact that the Son is begotten of the Father does not diminish (supplication) his glory because He is eternally begotten of the father.
This has deep implications for the Christian view of the creation. Rather than seeing the world in a perpetual state of decay, the Christian conception of the world is a comedic one! When Jesus took on flesh in the incarnation and rose again in the resurrection all ideas of supplication are thrown out the window. The history of the world is comedy. Regardless of what evil happens (even regardless of the greatest evil [death]) the final scene of history is one of resurrection and eternal joy!
What’s more is that the over-arching comic view of the world serves to put tragedy in sharper contrast. Rather than doing away with tragedy altogether, “deep comedy” enhances tragedy proving that it is not necessary and heightening the tragic flaws of the tragic characters who dig their own pits to be buried in.
Looking at two of Shakespeare’s plays, one a tragedy (King Lear) and the other a comedy (Twelfth Night), Leithart shows how the soil of deep comedy enhances both the story that ends “sadly” (Lear) and the story that ends joyfully (Twelfth Night).
Deep comedy makes the story both more tragic & more comedic because the world that King Lear inhabited was not a world doomed to decay and the untameable forces of fickle gods or the cruel machinations of fate. Rather, the tragedy of Lear is highlighted by the fact that it need not be so. There is an element of waste and human sinfulness highlighted in all the tragic occurrences. Contrastly, Lear has truly comedic elements because the virtuous characters are vindicated and can inhabit a world where even the tragic events will be remembered no more and the tears will ultimately be wiped from their eyes.
Again, deep comedy makes the story of Twelfth Night truly comedic and tragic. The comedic elements of reunion in the final scenes between Viola and Sebastian are seeped in eschatological imagery where tears are wiped away. This allows the characters to not only rejoice in thier comedic happy ending to Twelfth Night but also points them to the fact that these feelings are the ultimate end to which the world is pointing. Again, tragedy is also highlighted in the world of Twelfth Night because it is a world of deep comedy. The wickedness of Malvolio is highlighted because even thought the world he inhabits is the world of deep comedy (the world of resurrection) he refuses to join the party. The tragedy of Malvolio is highlighted in a deeply comic world because it is not the fault of the gods or fate or stars that keeps Malvolio from joy, it is his own ill will and sinful selfishness. Like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, Malvolio will not enter into the feast. The tragedy of this fact is highlighted by deep comedy because he could have entered in.
In conclusion, Deep Comedy is a short and wonderful volume that sheds light on the world we inhabit be shedding light on the stories we wright. While chapters 3 and 4 are a dense breakdown of the post-modern philosophies of Derrida, they are necessary to show how only a truly Trinitarian God can make the world comic.
I recommend this book to anyone who likes literature, theology, and philosophy and would like to learn a little more about how they all feed off each other.