Elements of Shakespearean Comedies: A Cinderella of the Muses

“All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl.”- 
 Charlie Chaplin (1889 - 1977)
 British actor and director
 My Autobiography

Comedy, a universal form of expression and a major dramatic genre that is intended to amuse, has always been considered inferior to tragedy. She has remained a Cinderella of the Muses, as Gordon says. There has been an awakening of interest in comedy in the recent times. Meredith was of the view that comedy (High Comedy) appeals to the intelligence – “aims not at our ribs or armpits but at our heads”.

 In comedy, the victim is attacked impersonally and without heat. The laughter of heart and mind are inextricably interfused in Shakespearean comedy. His is the Imbued with a playful spirit; comic entertainment frequently exposes incongruous, ridiculous, or grotesque aspects of human nature. Meredith says: ‘Shakespeare is a well – spring of characters which are saturated with the comic spirit; with more of what we well call blood – life than is to be found anywhere out of Shakespeare; and they are of this world, but they are of this world enlarged to our thought by imagination, and by great people imagination”. Comedy has a mission and lashes at the foibles of society. It should use the whip, and must have the courage to be cruel. The purpose of laughter is corrective. It deals with familiar surroundings and with society.

Shakespeare does not neglect the work of comedy, but he is good – natured, and kind. He attacks egotism, sentimentalism, pedantry and self – importance. These foibles do not make men and women criminals. These people are bad citizens and bad neighbours, and unsociable. In Shakespearean comedy every excess of egotism or sentiment is treated as an illness. Yet, even behind the ornate and elevated language of Shakespeare lay a densely ironic, and sometimes obscene, wordplay.

 Shakespeare’s world of comedy is a world which is dominated by the women. There are two groups of people in this world. One group of the young men and women live in a world of dreams and laughter. The other group consists of workaday people – farmers, maids along with rogues, jokers and odd fellows. Love – story forms the plot of these comedies: “We are in the Utopia of lovers, where there is much despair; but no broken.” A common characteristic of all the comedies is the use of disguise. Disguise enabled Shakespeare symbolize one of his favourite themes – the contrast between appearance and reality.

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert      
         2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
         3.The Short Oxford History of English Literature- Andrew Sanders


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