Volume 14, 1988/1989
Cavell and the Comedy of Remarriage
This paper deals critically with Stanley Cavell’s Pursuits of Happiness, a study of seven film comedies from the 30’s and 40’s, among them The Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday, Adam’s Rib, and It Happened One Night. Negatively, I argue that Cavell’s interpretations of the films he deals with are often extravagant, if held to any objective standard; that his conception of the genre of the comedy of remarriage is highly arbitrary, both in its inclusions and exclusions, and in its contention that the genre does not have a history; and that the philosophy of marriage implicit in Cavell’s criticism is unsatisfactory in implying the illegitimacy of most existing marriages. Positively, I support his contentions that the genre has its roots in Shakespearean comedy and that the films often (sometimes quite consciously) raise the very difficult philosophical questions Cavell takes them to raise. Though I find much to disagree with, I contend that Cavell is writing criticism of the highest order.