CHARACTERISTICS OF SHAKESPEAREAN ROMANTIC COMEDIES
Shakespeare is celebrated as the poet of romantic love. The Shakespeare comedy plays have stood the test of time. Shakespeare’s comedies are pre-eminent for two reasons: for the values they present and for the skill of presentation.
“His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy to be instinct” – Dr. Johnson
His comedies are just intermingling of romance with the hard actualities of life, passion trembling on the verge of tragedy and comedy charmingly triumphant after all. By the end of comedy something has been achieved, not its moral purpose or its commercial value but its philosophical and psychological character. Shakespeare communicates his comedy through language. The romantic comedies of Shakespeare can be otherwise called as “comedies of incidents” or “comedies of mistaken identity”. The plot is often driven by mistaken identity. Characters play scenes in disguise and its common for female characters to disguise themselves as male characters.
Unique Shakespearean Comedy
The Shakespearean comedy is Romantic not only in the sense that it does not observe the classical rules of dramatic composition, but also in the sense that it provides an escape from the sordid realities of life. Shakespeare’s romantic comedies are all conceived in an imaginative setting far away from the dull and dreary world of everyday life. Their characters are also different from us as they are inhabitants of not our humdrum world but the imaginary, colourful world of their own. Allardyce Nicoll well observes in his British Drama: “Characters and scenes alike are viewed through magic casements which transform reality.” The world of Shakespearean comedy says Raleigh is a “rainbow world of love in idleness”. The action takes place is some distant far off land and not in the familiar everyday England. The dramatic transport on the wings of his imagination in the Forest of Arden, to the stories of Illyria to an ancient forest in Greece can be found. In this land of romance and enchantment, the inhabitants have no other work but that of love-making. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” reaches the very height of romanticism due to the presence of the fairies, bright, beautiful idealized beings of Shakespeare’s poetic fancy.
Let us quote Thorndike here: “There are only three industries in this land [that of Shakespearean comedy], making love, making songs, and making jests. And they make them all to perfection. It is well to interrupt the love-making with a little joking and the joking with a little music and perchance some cakes and ale, and then back to love again.”
There is a mingling of romance and realism or confrontation of romance and realism which is identified as the salient features of Shakespearean comedy. The characterization is realistic. His characters are ordinary beings and incidents are possible in common everyday life. There is a confrontation of the Romantic main plot with a realistic subplot. In “As You like It”, there is a realistic Jacques to remind us of the ingratitude of man which is more painful than the winter wind or the frozen sky. In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” the homely ‘Bottom’ and his companions are constant reminders of the reality of life. In “Twelfth Night”, the Malvalio episode and the wise comments of the fool serve the same purpose. The setting is poetic and romantic but related with life. Let us quote Allardyce Nicoll in this connexion: “There are contemporary figures and contemporary fashions in Love’s Labour Lost; Bottom and his companions mingle with the fairies; Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek are companions of Viola’and Olivia, Dogberry and Verges of Hero and Beatrice. This is the cardinal characteristic of Shakespeare’s romantic world-the union of realism and fantasy.”
The clown or fools have significant roles to act in the play (at least two characters can be found in each play, omnipresent). The fool’s function is not only to initiate laughter in the play in addition; they reveal fundamental truths often overlooked by others; 1) that the deepest and greatest things in one’s life may be hidden from the wise and prudent and revealed unto children and fools 2) that no matter how certain people laughed at by the world, they ultimately have access to higher court for judgments 3) that what wins our affection is not wealth, power, or intellect, but is instead humanity, native and unassuming. The fools give insight on these.To summarize, the words of fools appeal not to the mind but to the heart. They give wise comments at times.
“Friendship is constant in all other things
Save in the offices and affairs of love” (Much Ado.. 2.1-175-6)
Love and Friendship among persons of high rank can be found in the comedies of Shakespeare. The basic pattern involves a quartet (group of four) of characters, two men and two women, aroused by the rival claims of love and friendship. The most salient feature of a romantic comedy is “the theme of faithful love subjected to some grievous and abnormal strain”.
“ the course of true love n’er did run smooth” (AMND 1.1-134)
Shakespeare’s works provide us with convenient aphoristic wisdom about love and its hazards. Some of the difficulties in friendship and love-making are as follows: natural mischance, the whims of a tyrannical ruler or father, or the unmotivated evil directed specifically against or indirectly affecting the lovers themselves. Yet in almost every case, the lovers are never simply at the mercy of outside forces alone. Indeed, one or both of the lovers bear some responsibility for the troubles and difficulties that the course of their wooings takes. Often the barrier between the lovers reflects some kind of spiritual blindness in the minds of lovers. Furthermore, love is never presented as an isolated phenomenon by Shakespeare. Its characteristics are self-denial, unselfishness, and complete loyalty; its essence is giving and its powerful. Consequently, the love story is invariably set in a larger context from which the difficulties of the lovers in part derive. At the same time, the kind of ideal love the plays often highlight, do fundamentally affect the larger world. This is shown in the active intervention of the heroines (who are invariably disguised). For instance, in “The Merchant of Venice” Portia personally foils Shylock’s murderous intentions and her actions are symbolic of the power of love itself–its generosity, mercy, and charity. This true and constant love enables uplifts and inspires both the lovers and the beloved. Each tries to outshine the other.
A Shakespearean comedy is the story of love ending with the ringing of marriage bells. Not only the hero or the heroine is in love but all other characters are also in love. And so in the end there is not one marriage but a number of marriages. The entire atmosphere echoes filled with love. The lovers are all young people and everyone fall in love at first sight. This desire of the eyes is exhibited in many beautiful forms finally leading to unexpected goals.
The Women in Shakespearean comedy constitute its very soul. . The tragic heroines of Shakespeare simply pale into insignificance by the side of the grand heroes of the play. But in his comedies, the reverse is true. A critic remarks that in Shakespeare’s comedies there are no heroes at all; there are only heroines. George Gordon observes : “All, lectures on Shakespeare’s comedies tend to become lectures on Shakespeares “women, for in the comedies they have the front of the stage”. In Shakespeare’s comedies we meet with women of all ranks and ages. Shakespeare’s comic heroines are much more sparkling and interesting than their male counterparts. We have the vivacious and intelligent Portia, the witty Beau in the constant Viola and the charming Rosalind. Bassanio does not come to the level of Portia, Benedick pales in wit beside Beatrice . Though all these heroines in their character do not have the same pattern, yet they have in common one important characteristic-their perfect quality of womanhood. This quality makes them look surprisingly modem.
Art Of Humour
A very attractive feature of Shakespeare’s comedies is their art of humour. If comedy has a purpose it is to arouse laughter at the foibles and follies of man with a cordial and corrective aim. But the kind of humour in comedies of Shakespeare is entirely different from the kind in the classical comedy of Rome and its representation in Ben Johnson. The kind of humour to be found in a literary work is governed by the attitude of the writer towards his fellow-beings and his moral standing. Ben Jonson’s humour is sarcastic, satirical, and not a little cynical. He is impatient of the follies of human beings, which he views from a superior moral level of understanding. He is always didactic and corrective in his aims. His aim is to lash and hurt, not to tolerate and be amused in his comedies. Shakespeare on the other hand, does not brandish such a whip of steel. His attitude towards his fellow being is acceptive and genial, not rejective and cynical. Sometimes (as in The Comedy of Errors) he does fall at the manners of his times, but that is essentially alien to his nature. He delights and does not teach morals. Dowden in The Mind and Art of Shakespeare observes : “The genial laughter of Shakespeare at human absurdity is free from even the amiable cynicism which gives to the humour of Jane Austen a certain piquant flavour: it is like the play of summer lightning, which hurts no living creature, but surprises, illuminates and charms.” Moreover, Shakespeare’s comic humour is not of the same kind or intensity in all his romanitic comedies, it is multi-faceted.
- answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid… – United States.
- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakespearean comedy.
- shakespeare.about.com › … › Shakespeare are› The Plays ›Comedies cached- similar.
- Nicoll, Allardyce. A History of British Drama (1660-1900). New York : Oxford UP, 1955.
- A.N.Kaul. The Action of English Comedy. New York: Oxford UP, 2001.
- L.J.Potts .Comedy. London: Hutchinson’s university library, 1961.
- Scheling, Felix.E. English Drama. Delhi: S.Chand & CO, 1963.
- Huston Dennis.J. Shakespeare’s Comedies of Play. London: The Macmillan press ltd, 1981.
- David, Richard. The Living Shakespeare. London: Heinemann Educational books ltd, 1960.
- Romantic Comedies of Shakespeare for Quotes.