Common Elements in Shakespearean Comedy

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Last updated: February 17, 2019

Two most popular comedies of Shakespeare, Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing have much in common in their plot, narrative, characters, conflicts, settings, themes.

Some similarities are also observed in the sources of humor and  “very tragical mirth”(5.1.57).

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The dominant theme of these two  comedies is the folly, delusion and the irrationality of love which is best illustrated by Theseus’s most well-known speech: “Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends./ The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,/ are of imagination all compact:” (AMND. 5.1.

4-8) In Midsummer Night’s Dream the ludicrous behavior of the pairs of  lovers – Hermia-Lysander, and Demetrius-Helena – proves to be a kind of wild goose chase to fulfill their passion. The highly intriguing love between Hermia and Lysander takes a serious turn when Hermia is threatened with dire consequences for deserting Demetrius. (“The course of true love never did run smooth.” 1.1.123) All the four plots in the play only reinforce the absurdity of love as an emotion.

Comedy, according to OED is: “A stage-play of a light and amusing character, with a happy conclusion to its plot. Such are the comedies of the ancient Greek and Latin writers, and of the modern stage. But in the Middle Ages the term was applied to other than dramatic compositions, the ‘happy ending’ being the essential part of the notion.

”The plot in Midsummer is original in the sense that it based on folklore and superstitions, not borrowed from others. The earthly lovers, Theseus and his queen Hippolyta are related to the passionate young lovers – Lysander, Demetrius, Hermia and Helena. The supernatural couple, Oberon and Titania, are linked to the lovers and Bottom. In both the comedies the characters say silly things and behave in irresponsible ways only to realize their stupidity in the end. The play within the play “Pyramus and Thisby” also underscores the irresistible force of youthful love. In Much Ado About Nothing the plot of Benedick-Beatrice charge the atmosphere with the wit and mirth, while the action of Hero-Claudio plot  makes the story  move forward.

Added to these is the sub-plot of Dogberry-Verge who not only provide the low comedy with malapropism, (“Our watch, sir, hath indeed comprehended two aspicious persons.” 3.5.49) but also help unmasking of the evil characters. Having no supernatural agents to aid them, they resolve their complications with the help of wit and intelligence.In A Midsummer the darkness of the forest constitute the dream world in which the lovers indulge in extravagant demeanor under the magic influence of love potion administered by mischievous Puck.

It seems true that “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.” (1.1.234) The audience too finds it easy to accept their strange behavior in this make-believe world. In Much Ado About Nothing it is the darkness is provided by Don John hatching a heinous conspiracy  against the innocent Hero to spite her and ruin her marriage. The conflict reaches its climax when she faints at the marriage altar and announced dead. Another incident of tragic content is Beatrice’s request to Benedict to kill Claudio in a duel. There is no supernatural power here to set the complications right.

Quarrels and conflicts are realistically shown in both the comedies to be a part of marital life. It is the  presence of mind of Dogberry and Verges which lead to  Don John’s indictment.The tragic elements which threaten the comic mood of the play are solved before they can spoil the comic spirit. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream Hermia and Lysander escape Egeus’ wrath by eloping into the forest. Later the sudden and love for the wrong persons due to wrong administration of love potion is corrected before Demetrius and Lysander get involved in fighting.

In Much Ado About Nothing the friends, Claudio and Benedick, head for a duel for wrongful slandering of  Hero’s reputation and her consequent “death”. The dark conspiracy of Don John is defeated by the efficient constables, Dogberry and Verges.The humor in A Midsummer Night’s Dream revolves around the unnatural behavior of the lovers both at the court, more so in the magic atmosphere of the forest. Shakespeare shows in both the plays how  love-at-first-sight conquers the very logical and reasoning abilities of otherwise sane individuals. Even the fairies are not exempted from its abnormal impact as is evident from the funny infatuation between Titania and Bottom with ass-head. With the special kind of humor is associated   the new epithet “puckish” which according OED (Online) means: “Of the nature of or characteristic of Puck; impish, mischievous, capricious”.

Pranks also play a significant role in these comedies. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream Oberon complicates matters by ordering  Puck to drop magical flower’s juice on the eyelids of  Demetrius and Helena to revive their old love, but Puck puts it on Lysander by mistake leading to further complication. Now  both Demetrius and Lysander madly chasing Helena. In A Much Ado About Nothing, however, there is more wit than puckish humor, more verbal duel than slapstick humour.

The proud and argumentative lovers, Benedick and Beatrice steal the show. Though they are made for each other and secret love each other, none would confess his/her love for the other. So again, a prank is played by Claudio, Hero and Antonio on this warring couple. When falsely reported about their deep love for each other, the proud lovers fall madly in love and fail to see through the tricks.Both the comedies end happily after the conflicts are resolved.

The handling of comic situation in A Midsummer Night’s Dream shows considerable skill and its theme of the power of infatuation between two members of opposite sex is universal and eternal. Likewise, the repartee and display of wit in Much Ado About Nothing make Benedict and Beatrice two immortal comic characters.Part II: My Own “Shakespearean” Comedy:Synopsis of  Chasing Miss WrongIn New York John Warne, the young bachelor boss of a successful software company vows to avoid women after his fiancée and Secretary Miss Julie jilts him for a baseball player. Efficiency is a must in his office; he asserts it as he fires an old security officer named Braithwaite for sleeping on duty. The sacked man vows revenge.  Though the boss resolves to recruit  the most efficient and experienced woman for the vacant post, he finally is attracted to a young buxom whose skill and testimonials are  dubious and appoints her rather impulsively.

Some of his serious subordinates are surprised, but others smile it away as the influence of the Cupid or biology getting the better of commerce. His sister Lucy, a fitness-freak, hates doctors because of their busy schedule and preoccupation with diseases. But Doctor Brown who treats her for bone fracture with great care  falls in love with her and is now depressed as his love is not requited. As a novice secretary, Lina gets nervous and makes more and more mistakes; then she has to stay back to complete her work. She tries to win her boss by taking extra care of his needs, like coffee, appointment; but in figure work she cuts a sorry figure. The boss tries to gloss over her mistakes as he realizes he cannot live without her. So he tries to get intimate with her but is spurned by her.

She rather prefers his quiet accountant and tries to go out with him, but he shows no interest. He is infatuated by a singer at a bar which he visits to unwind. To please his boss the accountant says nice things about him and begins to act as a go-between. He advices the boss to raise her salary and make her job more comfortable. After much pretence, and protestations of his sister, the boss proposes to her and finally a date of marriage is fixed.

On the day of wedding John is surprised when he discovers that the man who would give away the daughter is none but his sacked security officer, Braithwaite.CAST:John Warne: The bachelor boss of a software company.Lucy Warne: The highly fastidious sister of John hates doctors as lover.

Doctor Brown: While treating Lucy he falls in love her and feels frustrated.S.Braithwaite: The sacked security officer who vows revengeLina Braithwaite: The pretty, buxom daughter who conceals her identity.

Peter Martin: The cool accountant  agrees willingly to help his boss win Lina to get rid of her.Office staff.Plot of  Chasing  Miss WrongAct I:  The play begins with John’s sacking of a security officer for sleeping on duty.A pretty secretary with dubious skill is appointed by the same boss.Act II: A doctor falls in love with his fussy sister who went to an orthopedic for fixing a bone fracture.Act III: The plot thickens when Lina is infatuated by quiet accountant Peter Martin.

The doctor implores to John to persuade his sister not to be so heartless.Act IV: Peter Martin dislikes Lina and diverts her attention to the boss as a more eligible suitor.Act V: With Peter’s help John proposes to Lina and their marriage is fixed up. On wedding day he discovers Braithwaite to be Lina’s father.

Lucy agrees to marry the romantic doctor in spite of his busy schedule.Part III: Elements of Comedy in My Play: In my comedy Chasing Miss Wrong I have endeavored to absorb some elements of Shakespearean comedy. I have shown the inexplicable force of infatuation between man and woman which is universal and eternal. Confirmed bachelor like John falls in love against his will and against all the principles he believes in. Men love the company of pretty women and prefer them in office to men – a truth few admit. Romantic girls like Lucy dislike doctors as husband, but often they give in to persuasion. Even cool accountant like Peter is fascinated by a singer at bar. All these prove that love is an irrational and absurd emotion beyond the control of lovers.

And lovers always behave foolishly like Hermia and Demetrius. Moreover, like Beatrice, fussy women like Lucy always end up with  the type of men they profess to detest. Dismissed and disgruntled Braithwaite has his revenge without doing harm; he dominates his ex-boss now as father-in-law. Though lovers’ paths are not always smooth, true lovers ultimately have happy ending.


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