Apart from histories and tragedies, comedies were the three main forms that Shakespeare wrote. Comedy of present day is quite different from a Shakespearean comedy which had humour, light-hearted play some immensely gripping drama.
Characteristically it has a marriage as the happy ending. Every Shakespearean comedy has a range of human emotions and experience from joy to sadness, darkness to lightheartedness etc.
Comedy for all time and age
Since comedy was considered an inferior genre than tragedy or history. Even though there were no concrete demarcations and manifest categories at in the Elizabethan age, some generic forms did appear.
Satire was the highest form of comedy and enjoyed moral superiority over other kinds of comedy.
However, Shakespearean humour rejected this insistence on ridiculing human follies and intended to amuse people and enlighten their minds.
That is why romance and love form the quintessence of Shakespearean comedy. Example: The Merchant of Venice etc.
Characteristics of Shakespearean Comedy
Here are the main characteristics:
Shakespearean Comedy themes
The dominant theme is of love, distance and union especially of separation lovers who overcome obstacles and reunite in harmony. There is a clear conflict between the values of reason and control (Apollonian) and values like freedom and lust, (Dionysian).
These are often scripted in terms of frequent clashes between characters. The Shakespearean comedies had several thematic elements and almost always ended with a marriage.
Marriages constituted the achievement of happiness and the promise of continued happiness. Example: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night.
Another thematic tool was a misconception, especially between lovers. This was the prime force behind humour. Example: In Much Ado about Nothing etc.
Another element to add irony in comedy was the use of disguise particularly the women disguised as young men. Of course, this had an element of the inevitability of circumstance as at the time all women characters were played by young male actors.
Shakespeare just leveraged the circumstances and used gender and sexual identities to embellish his work. Example: As You Like It etc, Use of sexual politics is seen in comedies like The Taming of the Shrew etc.
Shakespearean Comedy Structure
His comedies had an enmeshment of humour and tragedy. They provided a harmonious blend of the two. Even the same character showed great interchange of tragic and comic strands.
In a very artistic transfusion comedy was used to brings relief from the sorrow or pain and create a level of resolution and reconciliation along. Much like the comic release in his tragedies, his comedies have a severe and grave undertone or dark background.
Humour is used to assure that human life is not always delight or despair, often it is both. In Comedy, the characters exhibit a certain internal weakness for each other as comedy demands action and counter-action.
Unlike tragedy, the reconciliation is not death but a comic and happy solution like a marriage.
The plot typically began with the introduction of main character/s. This gave way to some form of conflict or tragic event followed by a tumultuous journey of self-discovery.
After much introspection and reflection, some form of reconciliation was reached. Finally, the conflict was resolved in a happy ending. The third act usually had the climax and the final scene had some form of celebration of love and togetherness like marriage etc.
The scenes are not located in life-like things and usually transport the audiences to an elysian or dream-like reality. Another trademark of Shakespearean Comedy is the interweaving of sub-plots in the main plot
Shakespearean Comedy Characters
There were some recurring characters in the comedies like the drunk, the fool, the clever servant and young lovers. They were often stereotypical caricatures to offer enough latitude for the audiences to laugh at their expense.
Tools and Devices
His comedies contain a wealth of imagination and poetry but also a touch of realism. Verbal antagonism and verbal humour were appreciated in the same. Use of allusions, metaphors, insults and puns were also profuse in Shakespearean comedies like As You Like It etc.
The playwright also used fantastic and supernatural elements to amuse the audiences and bore an underlying philosophical theme.
Vocal and instrumental music was used to illuminate and foreshadow the characters, provide momentum to the plot and sheer entertainment. Use of popular songs and ballads is also seen. Read about Dark Comedies.