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Comic Elements in Shakespeare

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    Comic Elements in Shakespeare      KET[7184]

    Comedy, the very term evokes the sense of mirth and laughter in the readers and the audience, as the case may be. Perhaps a picture of amusement pops up before our mind’s eye. Opine Kathleen Morner and Ralph Rausch that, “In general any literary work that aims to amuse by dealing with humorous, familiar situations involving ordinary people speaking everyday language. In particular, a PLAY written primarily to amuse or entertain and usually having a happy ending. While TRAGEDY often begins in happy circumstances and ends in disaster, comedy often begins with CHARACTERS in difficult but amusing situations that are happily resolved at the end. While the characters of  tragedy tend to be idealized ,noble or almost godlike, the characters of comedy are –more realistically –average [or worse] human beings.”[Dictionary of Literary Terms]

     Shakespeare’s Comedies mainly open with disturbingly tragic scenes but in most cases the element of Romance creeps into the matrix of the play to give it a meaningful, interesting direction. Cross-dressing on Elizabethan stage also characterizes most of the Shakespearean comedies. It is actually the guise taken by women, appearing as men. It was a favorite comic devise of Shakespeare. As critics like Stephen Greenblatt prefers to call Shakespearean comedies as Greenworld comedies .

     Charlton has cogently pointed out that “Shakespearean comedy is not finally satiric, it is poetic. It is not conservative, it is creative. The way of it is that of the imagination rather than of pure reason .It is artist’s vision, not a critic’s exposition.” An essential requirement in Shakespeare’s comic universe is the climate of romance, love, humor, laughter. It is strangely taken into account that romantic love is the principal element of Shakespearean comedies. It is almost an established convention that all the lovers should love at once and love absolutely. It goes without saying that true love alone can never make a comedy.

      Shakespeare makes compromise between romance and comedy. In romantic comedy, laughter and sighs co-exist, on one condition that neither shall  be excess and emulate the other to supersede.  The solemnity of love is relieved by the generosity of laughter and the irresponsibility of laughter by the seriousness of love. Thus, Shakespeare’s comedy is high comedy.

     Love is the central theme of Twelfth Night , As You Like It and Much ado about Nothing. The Duke who is enraptured by music falls head over heels in love with Olivia. The conceited Olivia is entangled by the modest and insinuating messenger of the Duke. Duke’s love for Orsino is true, unalloyed. Shakespeare makes romantic love immensely interesting with the help of cross-dressing or disguise. In As You Like It, the wooing of Orlando by Rosalind in disguise is highly entertaining as comedy. It, at the same time, brings to the open the seriousness of Rosalind’s love for Orlando.

     Shakespeare even regales the audience with a dramatized story of courtship. In instructing Orlando to woo her in masquerade , Rosalind charts a new direction of love-making. This camouflaged wooing is a great experience for the lovers. For the comicality of the situation , the audience gets a taste of the comic immediately. The realistic and satiric elements in this comedy are supplied by deception of Malvolio, the salt humor of Touchstone and Dogberry, the sentimental excesses of Sylvius and Phoebe. Again, in Much Ado about Nothing a great delight in the wooing of Beatrice by Benedick comes from the contrast in their consideration of  the situation as tragic while actually it has been begotten of the plotting of Don Pedro , Claudio and Leonato. For those who fail to enjoy the contrast which induces thought-provoking laughter are unfortunate.

      Dr. Samuel Johnson in his Preface to Shakespeare claims that, “…in his comic scenes ,he seems to produce without labor ,what no labor can improve ………..His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy instinct.” Johnson, perhaps, intended to say that either Shakespeare was a natural comedy-writer or his vision of life was comic. Henri Bergson made three different observations on the comic spirit. Firstly, comic does not stay anywhere outside the realm of what is strictly human. Secondly, laughter is generally devoid of any touch of feeling ,its appeal is straight to the intelligence, pure and  simple. And thirdly, the comic laughter evokes that of others in a social group. It thus has a social purport. George Meredith simply believed that comedy must “awaken thoughtful laughter.” When these views are applied to Shakespearean Comedies, we find to our utter surprise that they evade the observations of Bergson and Meredith.

      Shakespearean comedies abound in the generous application of humor. The humorist is generally amused by certain individual foibles, which he not only condemns but also laughs at. When dramatists like Shakespeare ridicules them in is comedies , such works may be entitled as Comedies of Criticism. Or, the humorist may like to escape the drudgery and sordidness of everyday world and may even love to take refuge in the world of fancy instead. This comedy might easily be termed as Comedies of Escape.

      Thus, considering all the comic elements of  Shakespearean plays it may be finally observed that Comedy is no futile attempt to color life through drama, in a shoddy or immature manner. But it is an inseparable part of LIFE: even on stage. In the best of Shakespearean Comedies, a tinkering with philosophical issues are what we come across . “All the world a stage…”are lines from As You Like It, which happens to be a Shakespearean comedy of high order.

                                                 Works Cited

    1.     Charlton, H.B.: Shakespeare’s  Comedies, Macmillan, UK, 1973.

    2.      Wilson, J.D.: Shakespeare’s Happy Comedies, Routledge, UK,1965.

    3.     Evans.B: Shakespeare’s Comedies, Orient Longman, UK, 1960.

    4.     Palmer,J &Bradbury, M: Shakespearean Comedy,Faber &Faber, Uk, 1972.

    5.     Muir, Kenneth: Shakespeare: The Comedies,Routledge, UK,1965.

    6.     Morner, Kathleen &Rausch, Ralph: A Dictionary of Literary Terms,NTC Publishers, Illinois, USA, 1998.


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