“Plethoras of witty verbiage” and “heathen Greek”
Ways of reading meaning in English comic drama
This paper draws upon Horn’s reworking of Grice’s conversational maxims as Q- and R-principles in order to provide a rich pragmatic reading of British comic drama, from the London comedies of Ben Jonson, to the restoration comedy of William Wycherley to the late twentieth-century London comedy of Steven Berkoff. I demonstrate that short-circuited implicatures (SCIs) as well as conventional and conversational implicatures operate to illuminate comic meaning for readers, both knowledgeable and unfamiliar with the historical code and the cultural milieu in which these plays may be set. I conclude that two kinds of pragmatic work are involved in reading comic drama: conversational implicature is situation- rather than code-based, and depends upon our ability to construe pragmatic acts in the dramatic text. The other kind of pragmatic work involves the inference that the meanings intended are conventional and cannot be reconstructed or calculated from what is being said.
Published online: 25 January 2002
Cited by 3 other publications
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