Shakespearean comedy
Questions of gennre - Folio edition,
Early comedies
The Comedy of Errors
 The Taming of the Shrew
 The Two Gentlemen of Verona
 Love’s Labour’s Lost
Ripe comedies
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
 The Merry Wives of Windsor
 Much Ado about Nothing
 As You Like It
 Twelfth Night or What You Will
Problem plays, late „romances”
The Merchant of Venice
All’s Well That Ends Well
Troilus and Cressida
Measure for Measure
A Winter’s Tale
The Tempest
Mixture of comic and tragic features
‘comic relief’ in tragedies (gravedigger in
Hamlet, the Fool in King Lear, Falstaff in Henry
IV; the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet)
The porter in Macbeth:
 ‘Knock, knock; never at quiet! What are you?
But this place is too cold for hell. I'll devil-porter
it no further: I had thought to have let in
some of all professions that go the primrose
way to the everlasting bonfire.
[Knocking within]
Anon, anon! I pray you, remember the porter.”
Mixture of comic and tragic features
‘tragic intensity’ in comedies:
 Midsummer: “The most lamentable comedy, and
most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe”
Shylock’s humiliation The Merchant of Venice
“I pray you give me leave to go from hence,
I am not well; send the deed after me,
And I will sign it.” (4.1.393-4)
Grotesque. Hieronymus Bosch and gothic
Definitions of comedy
Frame play (Prologue) of The Taming of
the Shrew : meta-drama
 Christopher Sly: tinker and beggar
Messenger: Your honour’s players, hearing your
Are come to play a pleasant comedy;
For so your doctors hold it very meet,
Seeing too much sadness hath congeal'd your
And melancholy is the nurse of frenzy. 280
Therefore they thought it good you hear a play
And frame your mind to mirth and merriment,
Which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life.
Sly: ... let them play it. Is not a comonty a
Christmas gambold or a tumbling-trick?
Page: No, my good lord, it is more pleasing stuff.
Sly: What, household stuff?
Page: It is a kind of history. (Prologue, 125-137)
„Színészeid, hallván gyógyultodat,
Vidám darabbal jöttek játszani;
A doktorok ajánlják ezt, nagyúr,
Mert a sok bú fagylalja véredet,
S a mélakór dajkája őrületnek!
Ezért javallunk víg komédiát,
Hogy vidámságra hangold lelkedet:
Ez bajt elűz s megnyújtja életed!
HUNCFUT KRISTÓF (Christopher Sly):
Nosza!. Nem bánom hát, adjátok elő! S ez a
koméntia nem holmi betlehemesdi vagy
APRÓD: Nem, jó uram, vidámabb dolog ez!
HUNCFUT: Tán házi dolgok vannak benne?
APRÓD: Afféle história!
Sly’s ‘defionitions’ of comedy:
Christmas gambold: festive, ritual,
seasonal (OCCASION)
 Tumbling-trick: physical comedy, comic
devices (MODE)
 Household stuff: domestic affairs
(1) Aristophanes
 Satirical, intellectual comedy: clear target
 Ben Jonson (Volpone), Molière (Tartuffe,
The Misanthrope, Le bourgeois
gentilhomme), G. B. Shaw
Clear moral purpose
(2) Roman comedy (Plautus, Terentius) and New
Comedy + criticism
The rules of Donatus (4th cent AD):
ordinary people, with small adventures and
unturbulent passions;
avoids history and presents fictitious characters;
that it begins with mild dangers and misfortunes
and ends in prosperity;
uses stock characters (commedia dell’arte)
Renaissance addition: the moral effect of
Thomas Heywood: An Apology for Actors
 ‘And what then is the subject of this harmless
mirth? either in the shape of a clown to show
others their slovenly and unhandsome
behaviour, that they may reform that simplicity
in themselves which others make their sport,
lest they happen to become the like subject of
general scorn to an auditory. . . . Sometimes
they discourse of pantaloons, usurers that have
unthrifty sons, which both the fathers and sons
may behold to their instructions: sometimes of
courtesans, to divulge their subtleties and
snares in which young men may be entangled,
showing them the means to avoid them.’
Properties of New Comedy
plottings and counterplottings,
 cross-purposes, misunderstandings,
 mistaken identities (twins),
 disguise, cross-dressing,
 the ridiculing of all sorts of figures
(strangers, women, etc)
 slapstick, sitcom (overhearing etc)
Launce: ...I think Crab, my dog, be the sourest-natured
dog that lives: my mother weeping, my father
wailing, my sister crying, our maid howling, our cat
wringing her hands, and all our house in a great
perplexity, yet did not this cruel-hearted cur shed
one tear: he is a stone, a very pebble stone, and
has no more pity in him than a dog: a Jew would have
wept to have seen our parting; why, my grandam,
having no eyes, look you, wept herself blind at my
parting. Nay, I’ll show you the manner of it. This
shoe is my father: no, this left shoe is my father:
no, no, this left shoe is my mother: nay, that
cannot be so neither: yes, it is so, it is so, it
hath the worser sole. This shoe, with the hole in
it, is my mother, and this my father; a vengeance
on’t! there ’tis: now, sit, this staff is my
sister, for, look you, she is as white as a lily and
as small as a wand: this hat is Nan, our maid: I
am the dog: no, the dog is himself, and I am the
dog—Oh! the dog is me, and I am myself; ay, so,
so. (The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 2.3)
courtship plot - marriage
“Your brother and my sister no sooner met but
they look’d, no sooner look’d but they lov’d; no
sooner lov’d but they sigh’d; no sooner sigh’d
but they ask’d one another the reason; no
sooner knew the reason but they sought the
remedy: and in these degrees have they made a
pair of stairs to marriage” (As You Like It,
‘Jack shall have Jill;
Nought shall go ill:
The man shall have his mare again, and all shall
be well.’ (Midsummer Night’s Dream, 3.2.461–3)
“One feast, one house, one mutual happiness”
(TGV 5.4.173)
Complications of the courtship plot
Wedding – marriage – true union
 All’s Well That Ends Well: Helena and
Bertram married at the start
 The Taming of the Shrew: marriage in Act
 Love’s Labour’s Lost: delay of 12 months
Berowne in Love’s Labours Lost:
‘our wooing doth not end like an old play:
Jack hath not Gill. These ladies’ courtesy
Might well have made our sport a comedy’
‘Nincs ásó-kapa... Jancsi, Julcsa vár még
Mulatságunkból nem lett komédia’
(Lóvátett lovagok)
Courtship as enchantment, madness
“midsummer madness” of Twelfth Night (3.4.56)
Rosalind’s “holiday humor” in As You Like It
 Rosalind: “Men are April when they woo,
December when they wed” (147–48).
 ‘This is the liver vein, which makes flesh a deity,
A green goose a goddess. Pure, pure idolatry.’
(„Májunk zubog, istenünk lesz a hús,
S istennőnk: zöld liba. Bálványimádás,
Semmi más.” (Berowne, LLL 4.3.72-3)
Courtship plot
Sexuality, desire, passion vs social rules
 Marriage: containment, regulation, tying
of (sexual) energies
„The world must be peopled”
(Benedick, Much Ado About Nothing,
Courtship plot
Typical plot: Midsummer Night’s Dream
 Puck: ‘What fools these mortals be’
 William Congreve: courtship is to marriage
as a very witty prologue to a very dull play
 Enchantment, madness, suspension of
rules: threshold (liminal) period
 Flux vs stability, disorder vs order
Courtship plot
This disorder is not chaos
 Emotional (moral) disorder – compositional
perfection, formal patterns
 patternings, symmetries, pairings, parallels,
 formal contrivance (plays-within-plays,
masques, dance)
 Literary world (quotes, epistles, orations,
poems, songs)
 Artificial schemes, plottings (art-ifice)
Comic plot(ting): artifice
‘comedy repeatedly draws attention to its own
status as artifact and positively works to heighten
the illusion. Comedy avoids the possibility of
everything going wrong or not going according to
plan by delivering us into a carefree world where
actions are denuded of consequence’
(Catherine Bates)
Suspending moral order – substituting artistic
(aesthetic) order
Art and love: alternative world of imagination,
fantasy (sport, pastime, game)
Much Ado About Nothing
Two plot(ting)s
 Beatrice and Benedick (plotter: Don Pedro
- so that “the time shall not go dully by”
(Don Pedro) before the wedding of
 Hero and Claudio (plotter: bastard brother
Don John)
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Ferdinanrd, king of Navarre and his three
lords in attendance (Berowne)
 The French princess and her three ladies
in attendance
Love’s Labour’s Lost
“Necessity will make us all forsworn” (Berowne,
I “swore in jest” (Berowne, 1.1.54)
verbal logorrhea, language going mad, puns
plot: menuet, stylised verbal war, sparring
“Well bandied both, a set of wit well played”
“If love make me forsworn, how shall I swear to
love?” (Berowne, 4.2.104).
“courtship, pleasant jest, and courtesy, / As
bombast and as lining to the time” (Princess,
Rosaline: Why, that's the way to choke a gibing
Whose influence is begot of that loose grace
Which shallow laughing hearers give to fools:
A jest's prosperity lies in the ear
Of him that hears it, never in the tongue
Of him that makes it: then, if sickly ears,
Deaf'd with the clamours of their own dear
Will hear your idle scorns, continue then,
And I will have you and that fault withal;
But if they will not, throw away that spirit,
And I shall find you empty of that fault,
Right joyful of your reformation. (5.840-51)
„Így kell a gúnyos szellemet letörni,
Ha elkapatta sok silány kacaj,
Mi bambáktól bolondoknak kijár.
Egy tréfa sikere a hallgató
Fülében rejlik, nem az élcelő
Nyelvén terem. Azért ha nagybeteg,
Ki más saját hörgésétől süket,
Meghallja léha tréfád – rajta! Folytasd:
Szeretni foglak e hibáddal együtt.
De hogyha másképp üt ki: hagyd a mókát!
Majd úgy hiába keresem hibádat
S örömmel üdvözlöm az új Biront” (Rosaline,
Lóvátett lovagok, 840-50)
Love’s Labour’s Lost
A “great feast of languages” is spread
before us (5.1.37). Having “liv’d long on
the alms-basket of words” (38–39)
“Young blood doeth not obey an old decree.
We cannot cross the cause why we were born,
Therefore of all hands must we be forsworn.”
“Consider what you did swear unto:
To fast, to study, and to see no woman –
Flat treason ’gainst the kingly state of youth.
Say, can you fast? Your stomachs are too young,
And abstinence engenders maladies.” (4.3.288-292)
„Ifjú vér nem tűr ó törvényeket.
Az élettel nem bírt el senki még:
Meg kellett szegni azt az esküvést” (Biron,
„Lám mily esküt tettünk, hogy böjtölünk,
Betűt falunk, s hogy nőre rá se nézünk:
Elárultuk királyi ifjuságunk!
Ki tud böjtölni? Gyomrunk fiatal:
Beteggé tesz az önsanyargatás.” (Biron,
Pieter Brueghel the elder: War of Carnival and Fasting 1559
Ritual, cosmic aspect of comedy
War between fast(ing) and carnival
 Courtship and Carnival: topsy-turvy world,
 Sexuality, desire, love, art(ifice) and
 Greek comedy: satyr plays, accompanying
Dionysian rituals
Ritual comedy
Marriage – triumph of live, community,
cosmos (ferility ritual)
 “The great symbol of pure comedy is
marriage, by which the world is renewed,
and its endings are always instinct with a
sense of fresh beginnings. Its rhythm is the
rhythm of the life of mankind, which goes
on and renews itself as the life of nature
does. The rhythm of tragedy, on the other
hand, is the rhythm of the individual life
which comes to a close, and its great
symbol is death.” (Helen Gardner)
Twelfth Night
Set in ‘Illyria’
 Viola and Sebastian: twins
 Orsino, Olivia
 Sir Toby Belch, Feste and Fabian:
scheming against Malvolio
World of no consequence
‘How with a sportful malice it [the letter]
was followed
May rather pluck on laughter than
(Fabian, Twelfth Night 5.1.363-4)
„Amit gonosz mókából elkövettünk,
Inkább mosolyt, mint bosszút érdemel.”
(Fábián, Vízkereszt, 5.1.363-4)
Festive joke – ritual humiliation
Fools, jesters, oafs, clowns, wits –
and madness
“This fellow is wise enough to play the fool;
And to do that well craves a kind of wit. ....
For folly that he wisely shows is fit;
But wise men, folly-fallen, quite taint their wit.”
(Viola about Feste, Twelfth Night 3.1.58-)
 „Elég bölcs a fickó, hogy játssza a bolondot:
Jól adni azt, kell hozzá némi ész ....
A bolondság, mit bölcsen játszunk, célba ér;
De ha bölcs bolondul meg, oda a bölcsesség.”
Dogberry in Much Ado: “What your
wisdoms could not discover, these shallow
fools have brought to light” (5.1.232–34)
Eduard Grützer: Falstaff
‘I know thee not, old man’ (King Henry to
Falstaff in Henry V)
Az ég akkor boldog,
Midőn a földi
dolgokegymással párba
Egyetértésre jutva.
Jó herceg, ím a színen
Lányodat maga Hymen
Hozza elébed az égből,
Hogy eljegyezhesd azzal,
Kinek képe lányod szívében
Négy új pár kezeit
Kötözik egybe itt.
A menyegző Juno koronája,
Asztal és ágy szent frigye;
Hymen a föld városait
Általad népesíti be.
icsőség neked s glória,
Ó, Hymen, országok ura!
(Ahogy tetszik, 5.4)

Shakespearean comedy