by Kim Pederson…….
“Surely we’re all mad people, and they whom we think are, are not.” This line from Thomas Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy (TRT) appears on the title page of Joe Orton’s play What the Butler Saw.
TRT was first performed in 1606 and then published in 1607. It has been described as a subversive black comedy. Orton’s play is one also, as are his other works Loot and Entertaining Mr. Sloane. Some examples of SBCs in film are Nurse Betty, Pink Flamingos, They Live, Life of Brian, and The Great Dictator.
So what, you may wonder, is an SBC? Well, let’s break it down. “Subversive” is an adjective meaning “tending to subvert: having a tendency to overthrow, upset, or destroy.” Following the lexographic trail, “subvert” means, among other definitions, “to bring to nothing, destroy, or greatly impair the existence, sovereignty, influence, wholeness of, especially by insidious undermining.”
“Black comedy” is defined as “comedy that employs black humor.” Going further down this rabbit hole, “black humor” is “humor marked by the use of morbid, ironic, grotesquely comic episodes.” And “black” in this context refers to the quality of being “outrageously wicked: deserving unmitigated condemnation.” As an example of all this, in TRT, the lead character Vindice disguises himself as a panderer (a “pandar” in the play) to get closer to the Duke, who poisoned Vindice’s wife on their wedding day because she would not submit to his, the Duke’s, lustful advances. On the way to getting his revenge, Vindice tries to pimp his sister, which fails, and then convinces his mother to sell her, the sister, for gold. From there, he goes on to get various people close to the Duke executed and ends by covering his dead wife’s skull in poison, disguising the skull (somehow) as a living woman, and convincing the perpetumescent [always horny] Duke to kiss the skull. Goodbye, Duke.
So why this topic now? Last night on The Daily Show Trevor Noah spoke about the woman arrested yesterday for leaking NSA documents on Russian hacking of the 2016 election. With a look of incredulity, he announced that the woman’s name was Reality Winner and then asks “How is this real life? Did God quit his day job to make a web series?” He’s definitely on to something. We must have fallen through a rift in the time-space continuum and landed in our own SBC version of House of Cards. Either that or we surely are all mad, which means, of course, “disordered in mind” or, better yet, “completely unrestrained by reason or judgment.” We all know where this started. Unfortunately, it seems to be spreading exponentially. This might make the Republicans happy since it proves their trickle-down theory of wackonomics really works. Then again, it might not.
Visit Kim Pederson’s blog RatBlurt: Mostly Random Short-Attention-Span Musings.