THE NATURE OF SHAKESPEAREAN COMEDY
M.H. Abrams defined ‘comedy’ as ‘ a work in which materials are selected and managed primarily in order to interest, involve, and amuse us: the characters and their discomfitures engage our delighted attention rather than our profound concern. We feel confident that no great disaster will occur, and usually the action turns out happily for the chief characters. Abrams specifies several different types of comedy ‘within the broad spectrum of dramatic comedy’, including romantic comedy, satiric comedy, the comedy of manners, farce and ‘high’ and ‘low’ comedy. Much comedy, however- and this is particularly true of English works as opposed to the more genre-conscious productions of classical and French literature- is a mixture of many, if not all, these kinds. Verbal wit is often juxtaposed with the rough-and-tumble, physical action of farce, and characters drawn from the idealized world of romance with more familiar and realistically drawn figures from contemporary city and country life. This is particularly true of Shakespearean comed. Although plays like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It and Twelfth Night are usually classified as ‘romance comedies’- implying that their themes are love and courtship, their settings remote and exotic, and their plots drawn from tales of adventure which end with the conventional ‘they lived happily ever after’ typical of romance- they also contain farcical and realistic elements. The Shakespearean comedy which results from this combing and contrasting of multifarious elements gets the best of many worlds. One of the great pleasures afforded by a good production of a Shakespeare comedy is the sense of harmony in disharmony, of the collision between different worlds, different types of dramatic character and different aesthetic modes. Shakespearean comedy flouts many conventions because the comic spirit, with its love for variety rather than uniformity, demands it....
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