Playing the Fool: Comedy and the end of Everyman

Gill Plain

in John Mills and British Cinema

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print March 2006 | ISBN: 9780748621071
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748651092 | DOI:
Playing the Fool: Comedy and the end of Everyman

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Comedy is a form that facilitates the disruption of gender norms, both through the stereotypical inversions of the hen-pecked husband and the shrewish wife, and through more subtle manipulations of conventional gender roles. But what can the transgressions of comedy and John Mills's intermittent performances in comic roles tell us about the changing shape of English masculinity? While actors such as Terry Thomas, Richard Attenborough and George Cole became part of a cross-class gallery of English rogues, fools were perhaps most memorably embodied by Ian Carmichael and Norman Wisdom. In the post-war world it became increasingly impossible for the contemporary Everyman to be anything other than comic, because only from the fool's privileged position of social illiteracy could the fast-reforming boundaries of society be disrupted. In a hybrid decade of radical impulse and reactionary practice, misunderstanding the rules became the most ‘acceptable’ way of challenging them. This chapter examines three Mills comedies: The History of Mr Polly (1949), Hobson's Choice (1954) and Ryan's Daughter (1970).

Keywords: John Mills; comedy; Hobson's Choice; transgressions; masculinity; gender; fools; rogues; Everyman; Mr Polly

Chapter.  13321 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Film

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