Is "The Divine Comedy" Supposed to be Funny?

Stuart 102

Dante refers to his poem twice as a comedy within the Commedia itself (the modifier Divina is the legacy of a 16th-century publisher) and once more in a semi-private letter. Yet this characterization has long frustrated readers, from his contemporaries to today. It fails to cover the range of the poem’s subject matter and does not correspond to its tone. This talk will examine what is comic in Dante’s Comedy, both in his explicit theory of the genre and in his immanent poetics, and what the author meant with his title. Two primary questions will be addressed: What is different between modern and medieval conceptions of comedy? And, how does Dante understand the role of genre as a mediation between individual artistic freedom and collective conventions?