Skip to main content

Shakespearean Comedy / Characteristics of Shakespearean Comedy

Muhammad Rafiq is a freelance writer, blogger, and translator with a master's degree in English literature from the University of Malakand.

Characteristics of a Shakespearean Comedy

Characteristics of a Shakespearean Comedy

Definition of Shakespearean Comedy

Shakespearean Comedy is a kind of romantic comedy, which ends on a happy note through a matrimonial relationship between various characters. Marriage plays a vital role in a typical Shakespearean comedy. Any comedy, which follows the pattern of comedy modeled by Shakespeare in his comedies, would be termed as Shakespearean comedy. It is totally different from classical comedy, wherein the classical rules are observed strictly. A typical Shakespearean comedy shows the following characteristics, which differentiate it from other forms of comedies:

Love in Shakespearean Comedy

Love is the crux of the matter in a typical Shakespearean comedy. Every Shakespearean comedy, predominantly deals with the theme of love. The very beginning lines of Twelfth Night show us how Duke Orsino is expressing his love for Olivia. Look at the following lines:

If music be the food of love, play on;

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken, and so die.

(Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare)

J. W. Lever in his book, Elizabethan Love Sonnets, remarks that, “in Shakespearean comedy love is the means of all human fulfillment. This orientation comes about without a spiritualizing of love’s physical basis. Shakespeare’s heroines are lacking in the saintly qualities of the Petrarchan mistress. Far from raising their lovers’ thought above ‘base desires’ Rosalind teaches Orland how to woo and Juliet reciprocates Romeo’s ardour so frankly that he promptly forgets the chaste attractions of his former lady.”

The theme of love runs through all comedies of Shakespeare. For instance, there is a chain of love in Twelfth Night. In this beautiful comedy, we observe that Viola is in love with Orsino, Orsino is having a crush on Olivia, and Olivia is in love with Cesario. That’s why; it makes it the most delightful comedy of Shakespearean Comedies. Every one of them feels depressed due to having sentimental love for each other.

Shakespearean Comedy

Shakespearean Comedy

Marriage in Shakespearean Comedy

Marriage plays an important role in all of Shakespearean comedies. It becomes an obsession and prime concern of the main characters to get engaged and married to the lady or gentleman of their choice. That’s why; we can observe the characters engaged in silly pursuits to materialize their dreams of marriage. It is the element of marriage that resolves all the issues and brings an end to the long lasting riddles and rivalry recurring throughout the comedy. For example, in Twelfth Night, we observe that Viola enters into wedlock with Orsino and Olivia gets married to Sebastian, the brother of Viola. Thus, it resolves the issue of mistaken identity. Olivia comes to know that Cesario is actually a female, named Viola, while Orsino also comes to know about the real identity of Viola. Look at the following lines, wherein Duke Orsino calls Cesario, though, he has come to know about the real identity of Viola:

"Cesario", come;

For so you shall be, while you are a man;

But when in other habits you are seen,

Orsino's mistress and his fancy's queen.

(Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare)

Shakespearean Comedy: Quote from Twelfth Night

Shakespearean Comedy: Quote from Twelfth Night

Mistaken Identity in Shakespearean Comedy

Mistaken Identity is another important feature of Shakespearean comedy. Shakespeare employs the element of mistaken identity in his comedies to create fun and irony. It is one of the best tools for Shakespeare to give a twist to the story and achieve the purpose of giving entertainment to his readers. Mistaken identity is produced In Twelfth Night through the introduction of twins, i.e., Sebestian and Viola, who are mistaken for one another by other characters. For example, Sebastian is mistaken for Cesario by Olivia, while Viola is mistakenly thought to be a male. Though, she is a girl, yet she is considered to be a male as she disguises herself as a servant to Duke Orsino. Similarly, in The Merchant of Venice, Portia disguises herself as Balthazar to act as a lawyer to defend Antonio against Shylock, who is determined to cut a pound of flesh off his body for failing to pay him (Shylock) his debt. Thus, mistaken identity is the part and parcel of Shakespearean comedy.

What is Pun?

According to Britinica Encyclopaedia:

" Pun, also called paronomasia, a humorous use of a word in such a way as to suggest different meanings or applications, or a play on words, as in the use of the word rings in the following nursery rhyme:

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She shall have music wherever she goes. "

Scroll to Continue

Pun in Shakespearean Comedy

Pun is a figure of speech, wherein the sound of a word is used in such a way in a sentence that it may create a sort of confusion in terms of its meanings for the readers. Shakespeare is a great lover of puns and he uses them frequently in all of his comedies to create fun, laughter and confusion in the minds of his readers. He leaves the readers to derive the meaning for themselves from the puns employed by him. His puns may be funny, silly and lewd. Whatever may be the case, the reader gets astonished about Shakespeare’s mastery over the use of puns in his comedies. Look at the following lines taken From Twelfth Night, wherein Shakespeares plays with the word points:

Clown: Not so, neither; but I am resolved on two points.

MARIA: That if one break, the other will hold; or, if both

break, your gaskins fall.

(Twelfth Night by Shakespeare)

Look at another example from the same comedy, wherein Shakespeare plays on the word color:

MARIA: Nay, either tell me where thou hast been, or I will not open my lips so wide as a bristle may enter in way of thy excuse. My lady will hang thee for thy absence.

Clown: Let her hang me. He that is well hanged in this world needs to fear no colors.

(Twelfth Night by Shakespeare)

Here, the word color means worldly deception, but on the other hand it also signifies nooses or halters.


Humour in Shakespearean Comedy

Without humour, no play can be considered a comedy. Rather, it would be termed as a tragedy. That’s why; like other comedies, humour is an integral part of Shakespearean comedy. Shakespeare is the master of producing robust laughter and fun through various means in his comedies. He produces humour through puns, ironies, masquerade, bawdy jokes, mistaken identity and satire. It should be kept in mind that Shakespeare uses humour in such a way that we laugh at the follies of human beings instead of having hatred for them. Thus, he uses humour as a way of mild satire instead of lashing at the follies of human beings. Look at the following lines taken from Twelfth Night, which makes us laugh when read them:

“No, sir, I live by the church.”

“Art thou a churchman?”

“No such matter, sir; I do live by the church; for I do live at my house and my house doth stand by the church.”

(Twelfth Night by Shakespeare)

In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock’s daughter elopes with a Christian man and marries him. Shylock’s reaction to the situation is, of course, very comic. Look at the following lines taken from The Merchant of Venice:

Shylock: “My daughter! O my Ducats!—O my Daughter!

Fled with a Christian!—O my Christian ducats!”

(The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare)

A Scene from Shakespearean Comedy

A Scene from Shakespearean Comedy

Buffoonery in Shakespearean Comedy

Buffoonery is another feature of Shakespearean comedy. Every single comedy of Shakespeare has got a fool or a clown, who provides humour in the play. Fool is a special kind of character in a typical Shakespearean comedy, who has got the gift of gab. They are witty and they know how to reply a person during an argument. They speak in such a way that they are able to get the better of people. Shakespeare uses them to create fun, humour and laughter in his comedies. They are very much like jokers and jesters, who amuse people through their witty and funny remarks. One of the best purposes of using clowns in comedies is that they act as a messenger and mediator between various characters. We observe in The Merchant of Venice that the clown is used to exchange messages between the lovers, i.e., Lorenzo and Jessica. Thus, we have Feste in Twelfth Nigh, Launcelot in The Merchant of Venice and Touchstone in As You Like It.

Happy Ending in Shakespearean Comedy

All of Shakespearean comedies end on a happy note. It is pertinent to mention here that most of the Shakespearean comedies end in marriage. In the end main characters got married to their beloved. In Twelfth Night, you might have observed that Duke Orsino marries Viola and Olivia marries Sebastian. Similarly, The Merchant of Venice also ends on a happy note. Antonio is saved from giving one pound flesh of his body to Shylock. Thus, every Shakespearean comedy ends happily and the issues are resolved.

Hot Topics:

© 2014 Muhammad Rafiq


Sweety jha on October 20, 2018:

Its really good for making notes

Izabella on February 22, 2015:

, the speech last night was ctareinly comedic. He either doesn't get it (i.e. he believes what he's saying), or he's consciously misrepresenting his view of his own presidency (i.e. he's playing the PR man, more concerned with public opinion and history's take on him than on an honest assessment). I think his presidency was a combination of those two approaches. Without too much thought I'd have to give Bush the Macbeth mantle (although the parallels are not perfect) with Dick Cheney fulfilling the Lady Macbeth role (although, I'm sure that he's far too arrogant to ever go crazy. I do like the idea of him wandering the halls at night trying to get the blood off of his hands) . The partisan rancor ctareinly recalls the Montague/Capulet feud from Romeo and Juliet but, there's not really a role for him in that play. But, that's just off the cuff. I'll think about it some more.

Muhammad Rafiq (author) from Pakistan on December 12, 2014:

Thanks DayDreamer for commenting! Have a nice time.

daydreamer13 on December 12, 2014:

Well done! Excellent hub!!

Muhammad Rafiq (author) from Pakistan on December 12, 2014:

Thanks Bill for your comments! Have a nice time.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 11, 2014:

A very nice summation of the Shakespeare works. He was a master for sure. Thank you for this.

Related Articles