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Comic Devices in Shakespeare and Popular Culture

Year 10 English Unit

Angela Cash

on 25 February 2015

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Transcript of Comic Devices in Shakespeare and Popular Culture

Comic Devices in Shakespeare and
Popular Culture

What makes you laugh?
Who do you find the funniest characters in TV or films?

What kinds of things do they do that make you laugh? (physical humour)

What does he/she say that makes you laugh? (verbal humour)
Answer the following questions in
your group, and be prepared to share
the most interesting responses with the class.

1) Comic characters with certain exaggerated characteristics

2) The plot, as this generates complicated situations, often involving mistaken identities

3) The dialogue as it contains witty remarks , puns and other word play like innuendo, malapropisms, pomposity etc

4) Visual gags such as clowning around, and slapstick
There are four principle sources of humour;
1) Comic characters with exaggerated characteristics
2) plots with complications and confusions
3) witty dialogue
4) visual gags
List titles from theatre, TV or film that contain the principle sources, and include examples when you can.
In both Shakespeare's comedies and tragedies we experience humour in various forms. he makes us laugh through surprise, shock, incongruity, conflict, repetition, word play and the effect of opposite expectations. When has Shakespeare made you laugh?
Comic Device List - please make a
copy of these in your books.
Each device will use examples from
Shakespeare and Popular Culture.
In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the play the mechanicals perform is extraordinarily bad (or egregious - pronounced e-gree-jee-us) and, because of this, very funny. Much of the play's badness comes from the excessive use of poetic devices, such as alliteration and repetition. When used moderately, these devices can be effective; when used to excess, they don't work well at all.
Alliteration and Repetition
Alliteration is the repetition of the consonant sounds at the beginning of words. It can be used effectively to create a specific atmosphere or a certain mood. But when used excessively, it is comical.
In the Shakespearean play, the mechanicals want the audience to be moved by the play, but their over abundant use of alliteration does not achieve this.
eg. Line 144-45 from the Prologue -
"with bloody blameful blade/ He bravely broached his boiling bloody beast". Not only is it excessive, and thus ridiculous, but the audience is left with the impression that many of these words have been chosen simply because they begin with the letter 'b'.
of a sound, word, phrase, line or idea, when used moderately, can be very effective. However, in a play, words or phrases are often repeated in a way that is melodramatic or simply unnecessary, as in Pyramus' dying speech; "Now die,die,die,die,die (Act 5)
The Office UK clip. start at 11:11sec
In the British TV show The Office we laugh at the disaster that is Keith. His repeated 'I don't know' during his performance appraisal is an example of repetition to full comic effect. We start to laugh because his initial responses are incredibly bad and we continue to laugh because they do not improve; they get worse.
The same kind of comic effect is
achieved in The Merchant of Venice during the servant Launcelot Gobbo's soliloquy when he plays out a battle between the good and bad sides of his conscious.
He painstakingly repeats the phrase 'my conscious' as he recalls the two sides of the argument. He later speaks with his father and this too is a comic scene because their conversation goes round in circles and contains malapropisms.
Malapropisms involve unintentionally using the wrong word, often with humorous results. Watch the following clips and record as many as you can spot.
In this play, Mrs Malaprop says things like;
'He is the very pineapple of politeness" (pinnacle). Shakespeare's characters were using malapropisms many years before they were given this name. Perhaps the best known example is Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing.
The term malapropism comes from the name of Mrs Malaprop, a character in Richard Sheridan's humorous play, The Rivals (1775).
Good morrow, gentlemen. Can any of you tell me where I may find the young Romeo?
I am the youngest of that name.
If you be he, sir, then I desire some confidence with you.
She will indite him to some supper.
Malapropism occurs in Act 2 Scene 4 of Romeo and Juliet;
In line 52, the nurse says 'confidence' when she means 'conference'. When Benvolio says 'She will indite him to supper' instead of 'invite him to supper', he does this deliberately, in order to make fun of the Nurse's language. Later in the scene, the Nurse describes Mercutio's behaviour as 'a ropery', when she means to say 'a roguery'.
Can you think of any examples of malapropisms that people might use today? Have you heard a younger person use a wrong word with a totally different meaning from what they intended?
In Shakespeare's Twelfth Night there is a sense of incongruity created between who the characters appear to be and what they actually do. It is funny that the beautiful countess Olivia, whom we expect to be serious, is almost eccentric in her melancholy and Duke Orsino, whom we imagine could aspire to achieve great things, seems to revel in the role of unrequited lover.
Incongruity is achieved when actors do or say something out of place.
In Big Bang Theory the contrasting pair, Penny and Sheldon, create humour through their
interaction as Sheldon's clueless, scientific outlook clashes with Penny's social intelligence and straightforward common sense.
Hyperbole involves the use of a deliberately exaggerated statement to emphasise a point. It is a figure of speech and is not to be taken literally. Imagine something dreadful happens, so you exclaim "It's the end of the world!" It's not literally the end of the world, but we know what you mean; you are deliberately exaggerating to let us know you are upset.
Hyperbole (hy-per-bo-lee)
In A Midsummer Nights Dream Lysander and Demetrius both use hyperbole to describe Helena's beauty and their love for her. Demtrius not only calls her a 'goddess' but also states that the whiteness of her skin makes snow appear dark as a crow. Later in the scene, when Lysander is insulting Hermia, he calls her an 'acorn', referring to her shortness. Obviously both of these descriptions are gross exaggerations and, therefore, hyperbole.
Bathos (Bay-thos) can be described as a lapse into the ridiculous when aiming at an elevated expression. Where anticlimax can be a deliberate dramatic effect, bathos is an unintended failure. In the episode 'The Farnsworth Parabox' in 'Futurama' Farnsworth states: 'everything that ever was, is, and will be is contained in this box, and the actual box is probably worth something as well.'
Flight of the Conchords follows the lives of two New Zealanders, Bret and Jermaine, trying to make it big in New York. It's funny because they are so pathetic and hopeless and their songs are often unwittingly bathetic.
In their track 'Think About It', which is about the sad state of the world, Jermaine sings with noble sentiment about child slavery. This descends to ludicrous concern about the price of shoes and speculation on companies' overheads;
They're turning kids into slaves
Just to make cheaper sneakers
But what's the real cost?
'Cause the sneakers don't seem that much cheaper

Why are we paying so much for sneakers?
When you got them made by little slave kids
What are your overheads?
Listen to Bret and Jermain's song 'The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room' and look for examples of bathos.
(You are looking for instances where an expectation is created or implied and is then undercut or reduced to a level that it is ridiculous or absurd.)
In Act Five of A midsummer Night's Dream the tradesmen perform their play before the three couples that make fun of the actors. The entire plot of Pyramus and Thisbe, being separated by a wall, agree to meet at Ninus' Tomb at night. thisbe arrives first but is scared away by a lion that tears apart the cloak she drops, staining it with the blood of another animal. Unaware of this, Pyramus arrives and, finding Thisbe's bloodied cloack, assumes she has been killed. Pyramus commits suicide and his body is discovered by Thisbe, who then kills herself with Pyramus' dagger. ( Sound familiar?)

Both Flight of the Conchords and A Midsummer Night's Dream create an expectation of romance and chivalry only to undercut this.
In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio and Romeo use many puns or plays on words. Read the passage and emphasise the words that are underlined.
A Pun - is an expression that achieves
humour or emphasis by creating two distinct meanings suggested either by the same word or two similar-sounding words.
: Give me a torch: I am not for this ambling;

Being but
, I will bear the
: Nay gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.
: Not I, believe me: you have dancing shoes
With nimble
: I have a
of lead
So takes me to the ground I cannot move.
: You are a lover; borrow Cupid's wings
with them above a common bound.
: I am too
enpiercèd with his shaft
with his light feathers, and so
I cannot
a pitch above dull woe...
First meaning
soles/ soul
(cc) image by anemoneprojectors on Flickr
Second meaning
weighed down with sadness
Torch to see their way
Bottom of someone's feet
Draw and complete this table in your book.
In the following passage, the word that is played with or punned on is used only once.

Romeo: I dreamed a dream tonight.
Mercutio: And so did I.
Romeo: Well, what was yours?
Mercutio: That dreamer's often lie.
Romeo: In bed asleep, while they do dream things true.

What word is punned? Explain the various meanings of this word. record your answer in your book.
Like malapropisms, puns are created through words of similar sounds having different meanings. A pun is an intentional play on words. It may play on the fact that a word has a double-meaning ('lie' as in lying down, or 'lie' as in not telling the truth) or it may play on the fact that two words sound similar, such as 'made' (meaning created) and 'marred' (meaning ruined).
While characters are ignorant of the malapropisms they create, puns are deliberate, and while malapropisms can reveal a character's lack of insight or intelligence, puns in Shakespeare are synonymous with (or go hand in hand with) wit ad intelligence. It is interesting that, while he is prone to malapropisms, Launcelot enjoys playing verbal games and punning on words.
Imagine your friend is making fun of someone and does not know (but you do!) that your principal is standing right behind them! How would you feel? Tense? Like diving across the room in slow motion and shouting 'Nooooooo!'? This is what DRAMATIC IRONY is all about. Sometimes while viewing a play, we are placed in the position of knowing more than the characters on stage. For example, we might know that around the corner is someone with a gun, but the characters are unaware and go to walk around the corner. This creates dramatic tension between the characters' limited knowledge and our greater knowledge.
Dramatic Irony
Shakespeare's plays, especially the comedies, contain a great deal of dramatic irony. We (the audience) often know things that the characters don't and this can create a sense of tension, as well as a desire to stop the characters from saying or doing things that might lead to harm. Sometimes dramatic irony can be harmless r even humorous and we experience mild amusement rather than tension. The television show, The Simpsons often employs this kind of humorous dramatic irony.
1. A type of humour based on using words to suggest the opposite of their literal meaning.
2. Incongruity, or inappropriateness between what actually happens and what might be expected to happen, especially when this disparity seems absurd or laughable.
e.g Bart being impaled on Lisa's Nobel Peace Prize
Or Bart saying to Lisa who is praying in church
"This is neither the time or the place'.
Dramatic Irony
A situation, or the irony arising from a situation, in which the audience has a fuller knowledge of what is happening in a drama than a character does
e.g When we know the quality of what Homer's about to eat from the Kwik-e-Mart.
Watch the following clip and pick out the incidents of Dramatic Irony. Can you also identify any of the other comedic devices we have discussed so far?
Full transcript