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Elegiac comedy


Elegiac comedy was a genre of medieval Latin literature—or drama—which survives as a collection of about twenty texts written in the 12th and 13th centuries in the liberal arts schools of west central France (roughly the Loire Valley). Though commonly identified in manuscripts as comoedia, modern scholars often reject their status as comedy. Unlike Classical comedy, they were written in elegiac couplets. Denying their true comedic nature, Edmond Faral called them Latin fabliaux, after the later Old French fabliaux, and Ian Thomson labelled them Latin comic tales. Other scholars have invented terms like verse tales, rhymed monologues, epic comedies, and Horatian comedies to describe them. The Latin "comedies", the dramatic nature of which varies greatly, may have been the direct ancestors of the fabliaux but more likely merely share similarities. Other interpretations have concluded that they are primitive romances, student juvenilia, didactic poems, or merely collections of elegies on related themes.

Some elegiac comedies were adapted into vernacular language in the later Middle Ages, and retold by major vernacular writers such as Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Gower. The poem Pamphilus has Venetian and Old French versions.

These comedies were composed in a high style, but they were typically about low or unimportant subject matter; lyric complaints only sometimes mixed with amorous content. They combined the plot and character types of the Greek "new comedy" practised by Terence and Plautus, but the greatest influence on them was Ovid. His Ars amatoria, Amores, and Heroides were highly influential. Plautus, though less widely read in the Middle Ages, was also an influence, as were the Scholastic debates concerning the nature of universals and other contemporary philosophical problems, with which the elegiac comedies often dealt, always humorously but no doubt sometimes to a serious end.



  • Elliot, Alison Goddard (1984). Seven Medieval Latin Comedies. Garland Library of Medieval Literature, Series B, Volume 20. New York: Garland Publishing. .
  • Roy, Bruno (1974). "Arnulf of Orleans and the Latin 'Comedy'." Speculum, 49 2: 258–66.
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