Shakespearean Audiences

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Consider the elements of comedy employed by Shakespeare in Act one – how might a modern day audience’s reactions be different to that of a Shakespearean audience?

Shakespeare uses several main elements of comedy in Act One of Twelfth Night. These elements are used to promote comic reaction with the audience; some of these elements are still relevant to modern audiences today.

Throughout Act One, Shakespeare uses antonyms to create comic effect. He uses this element on several of his characters to allow the audience to make a judgment of the character by just their name; this manipulates the audience to find the character funny before they even come on stage. ‘Sir Toby Belch’ creates a comic reaction, as a Juke of Sir Toby’s status you expect him to be a sophisticated and well-educated man, however with a last name as ‘belch’ you expect him to be a drunken and low class man. This perception of Sir Toby begins to show as his true personality as Act One progresses. This is also used for the character ‘Sir Andrew Aguecheek’. Sir Andrew is also a Juke, however he is not as fast witted as Sir Toby and often plays the fool. This would also have a comic effect on modern audiences but they would have to know what the names meant in Shakespearean times, for example: ‘Aguecheek’ would be ‘Plagueface’ in modern interpretation.

Gender blurring is a main element of the comic effect of act one. This is highlighted most with the use of the character ‘Viola’. This had such a comic affect because the actors in Shakespearean times are all men; no women were able to be on stage. So the fact that men were playing women was the first stage of humor but ‘Viola’ is a woman who has disguised herself as a man, so this sparks comedy on its own. This wouldn’t be seen as funny as it is now unless a man was still playing Viola, as transgender comedy is quite popular in modern comedy.

Another element of comedy that is used throughout the first act of twelfth night is the use of...
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