This study examines the complex cognitive effects of comedy on audience members through literary and psychological theory. Based primarily on Bruce McConachie's audience response theory, this study examines the metacognitive elements of the comedy in A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, and Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley. In order to prove that comedy is not intellectually inferior to other genres just because it is humorous, as its current societal stigma implies, each chapter analyzes the complex layers behind the humor in each play. Metacognition appears in each play in various forms in order to provide audience members with new understandings of familiar concepts including: metatheatrics and metacomedy in Midsummer, metatextuality in Earnest, and a metacognitive paradox in Crimes. Ultimately the complex and sophisticated nature of the cognitive processes that comedy stimulates in audiences debunk current societal stigmas that prevent comedy from appearing more frequently in academic settings.


Hayward, Jennifer




English Language and Literature | Literature in English, British Isles | Literature in English, North America


comedy, metacognition, theater, Shakespeare, Wilde, Henley, audience response theory, rhetorical analysis

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2014 Chelsey Porter