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City comedy, also called Citizen Comedy, is a common genre of Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline comedy on the London stage from the last years of the 16th century to the closing of the theaters in 1642. The recognition of city comedy as a distinct genre is chiefly indebted to English Renaissance academic Brian Gibbons and his book Jacobean City Comedy: A Study of Satiric Plays by Jonson, Marston and Middleton. Some usual meanings of the term include:
- Any English comedy, typically written during the reign of James I (1603–24) set in London and depicting ordinary London life.
- London comedies that are specifically satirical in nature, depicting London as a hotbed of vice and folly; in particular, some of the comedies of Ben Jonson (Epicoene), Thomas Middleton (A Trick to Catch the Old One, A Chaste Maid in Cheapside) and John Marston (The Dutch Courtesan').
Among the earliest City Comedies are Ben Jonson's "Every Man Out of His Humour" and Thomas Dekker's "The Shoemaker's Holiday," both dating from 1598. . The genre soon became very popular; the intricately plotted romantic comedies of Shakespeare and John Lyly that had been in vogue on the public and private stages until this point were largely superseded by plays which were set in a recognizable contemporary London, and which dealt with, in Ben Jonson's words, "deeds and language such as men do use" (Prologue to Every Man in his Humour).
Other notable examples of the genre are [John] Chapman, Marston and Jonson's "Eastward Ho!," Dekker's "The Honest Whore, Parts 1 and 2," and [Phillip] Massinger's "A New Way to Pay Old Debts."
Some, such as Verna Foster, have successfully argued that John Ford's "'Tis Pity She's a Whore" utilises a uniquely-Fordian adapted style of city drama to offer a parallel to life in London.
The city comedy can be considered a forerunner of the comedy of manners.
- Foster, V: "'Tis Pity She's a Whore as City Tragedy", 1988.
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