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Elements of a Shakespearean Comedy
Transcript of Elements of a Shakespearean Comedy
Shakespeare's comedies all have common characteristics that make it easy for us to identify them. I will be exploring five of the traits that he used.
1. Mistaken Identity
Perhaps the most common theme in Shakespeares's comedies, as well as the most unbelievable. This either happens when people get separated or if one character purposely
For example, in Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck confuses Demetrius with Lysander. This causes some of the inciting action that takes place in the play.
This also happens in Twelfth Night, when Viola decides to dress as a man in order to work for a wealthy Duke. This proves difficult when she starts to fall in love with the Duke and is unable to reveal her true identity.
In Merchant of Venice, Portia and Narissa dress as male lawyers in order to save Antonio from Shylock's bond. Apparently the disguises were so effective, their own husbands could not recognize them.
The audience was required to humour the Bard a little, considering it is a bit of a stretch that Olivia would fall in love with another woman and never realize it. Or get married to said woman's brother and still not be able to tell the difference.
This ploy is an opportunity for confusion, as well as clever and ironic dialogue.
2. Happy Endings
Unlike the tragedy plays, majority of the main characters get to have happy endings. Sure there are many obstacles to overcome, but with the exception of one or two people, the characters get to ride off into the sunset.
In the end of Midsummer, there are four happy couples. Theseus and Hippolyta, Lysander and Hermia, Demetrius and Helena, and Oberon and Titania. The only bitter character left in the end is Egeus, Hermia's father. His orders were overruled, so he drew the short straw in this play.
In Twelfth Night, Viola and the Duke eventually end up together, and Olivia and Sebastian stay married after the big misunderstanding. Even Maria and Sir Toby get married. Unfortunately for Malvolio, he gains nothing in the end of Act 5. He storms out claiming revenge on the pack of them...
There are also three happy couples in Merchant of Venice. Portia and Bassanio, Narissa and Gratiano, and Jessica and Lorenzo. Antonio's life is saved and he is awarded a very large sum of money, but he does not seem completely happy by the end. Shylock gets off much worse though. He was forced to give up almost all his belongings and convert to Christianity.
The happy ending gives the audience amusing closure to the comical confusion.
3. Multiple Plot Lines
There are usually several story lines that cross and eventually converge near the end of the play.
There are three plot lines in Midsummer. There is the fairy world, with Titania, Oberon and Puck. There are also the Mechanicals, who are rehearsing a play that will performed for the final group, which consists of The young lovers and wealthy Duke of Athens. Their paths occasionally cross, sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better.
There are three plot lines in Twelfth night as well. There is the love triangle between Viola, Duke Orsino and Olivia. Then there is Sebastian and Antonio's story, and finally, Sir Toby, the servants and Malvolio. There is great confusion when Viola and Sebastian cross paths, as I'm sure you can imagine.
In Merchant of Venice, there are two major story lines. Portia and Bassanio and her marriage crisis, and then Shylock and Antonio's bond. These plots are closely knit, as they rely on each other in order for the play to progress with the conflict.
4. Obstacles for the Young Lovers
"The course of true love never did run smooth." Very true, and as the lovers in the comedies find, there will be many obstacles to overcome in order to escape the antagonist.
In Midsummer, Lysander and Hermia plan to run away to escape her father's rule. They plan to live with Lysander's widowed Aunt, who could marry them. Later on, Puck complicates things further when he makes Lysander fall in love with Helena. One could argue that Helena has a number of obstacles to face when she tries to get Demetrius to love her. And Oberon and Titania are at a stalemate when she will not give up the changeling boy.
In Merchant of Venice, Jessica is forced to run away from Shylock so she can be free to marry Lorenzo. She escapes during a parade while Shylock is out. And the whole reason for the conflict in the first place is because Bassanio needs money to marry Portia. This is how Antonio becomes entrapped in Shylock's bond.
The situation is one big love triangle. Viola is trying to help the Duke win Olivia over, when she herself is in love with him. Olivia meanwhile is trying to fend off the Duke, Sir Andrew and Malvolio, while trying to convince Cesario that they should be together.
5. The Clever Servant
Enter the comic relief. The clever servant makes fun of the pompous characters, while offering cloaked advice to the main roles. They make general mischief and relieve some of the tension in the scenes.
Puck is the jester in Midsummer. He serves Oberon and amuses himself by messing with mortals, such as Bottom and the Mechanicals. He also assists in creating another comical crisis in the play when he mixes up the lovers.
In Merchant of Venice, Launcelot is the comic relief in Shylock's house. He makes living with the old man a little less miserable for Jessica, and relieves some tension in the home. He also cracks jokes more than the other characters.
In Twelfth Night, a fool named Feste amuses and travels between Olivia's household and the Duke's. He tries to offer Olivia helpful advice, and often sings for the Duke. He also seems as though he is the most intelligent character in the play.
There are other traits that could define Shakespearean Comedy as well. They include things like different styles of humour, a controlling father-figure, polar opposites, separation and unification and a philosophical aspect.
After seeing several aspects of comedy, you can see that these things define Shakespeare's lighter works well.