(Source) Is this true, or had Chaplin fallen for his own mythology? Does a talent for comedy necessitate a tragic life? Are comedy and happiness truly incompatible? Common sense says no—there are countless comedians who have lived normal, well-adjusted lives without succumbing to depression, insanity, or suicide. So why is it so hard to think of one? It would seem that Chaplin, like the many who followed in Grimaldi’s wake, found it hard to resist the powerful narrative that set expectations for his happiness. The comedian’s split personality reveals what we ultimately believe comedy to be. Whereas in the Middle Ages fooling was seen as an expression of the cosmic absurdity of being alive, the modern world views it as a symptom of personal distress. In Grimaldi’s day, misery was the grit in the oyster that grew the pearl and gave substance to the otherwise trivial world of pantomime. Suffering ennobles, and when comedians suffer, we are more willing to see their work as flowing from the same font as the profoundest art. We want our comedians to be tortured; only then can we really laugh.
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May be you will understand the idea of the sentence if you separate it into the parts.For example:
The powerful narrative set expectations for Chaplin's happiness.So Chaplin found it hard to resist this powerful narrative.He was like the many people who followed in Grimaldi's wake.Because they found it hard to resist the powerful narrative as well.
The author employs the term narrative here in a sense which has become fairly widespread over the last ten years or so (Oxford Dictionaries Online):
- a representation of a particular situation or process in such a way as to reflect or conform to an overarching set of aims or values:
the coalition’s carefully constructed narrative about its sensitivity to recession victims
In older LitCrit the usual term was myth, which you see represented in the first sentence of the quotation.
The author suggests that Chaplin's chronic unhappiness was at least in part a compulsive ‘acting out’ of a trope which had been established in the public reputation of the famous 19th-century clown Joseph Grimaldi: the notion that great comedy is rooted in the artist's private suffering.