How does Shakespeare create comedy in A Midsummer Night's Dream?
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One classic way to create comedy is through irony. Irony takes place when words, actions, or plot development contradict what is intended or expected to happen. Shakespeare uses many instances of both dramatic and situational irony in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Dramatic irony occurs when a reader or viewer knows more about a character's current situation than the character does. Situational irony occurs when what happens in a plot or situation is actually the opposite of what the reader/audience would expect. Often situational irony occurs due to accidents or reversals of circumstances.
Both dramatic and situational irony actually overlap each other in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Dramatic irony especially relates to how the audience perceives the four lovers' circumstances. Both Demetrius and Lysander suddenly leave off being in love with Hermia and fall in love with Helena, and they do not know why, even though the viewer does know. Likewise, another instance of dramatic irony is seen when Helena's response is to believe that both men are playing a huge joke on her and that Hermia is in on the joke. We see her reach the conclusion that Lysander is scorning her when she says, "Wherefore was I to this keen mockery born / When at your hands did I deserve this scorn?" (II.ii.125-126). We further see that she believes that even Demetrius is making fun of her when she says, "O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent / To set against me for your merriment" (III.ii.147-148). Finally, we see that Helena believes that even Hermia is in on the joke when Helena proclaims, "Lo, she is one of this confederacy!" (195). While Demetrius and Lysander do not know that they have both fallen for Helena due to a love potion, the audience does know; likewise, while Helena does not know that Demetrius and Lysander are actually being sincere due to the fact that they have been enchanted, the audience does know, showing us that both of these instances are perfect examples of dramatic irony. The characters' confusion certainly helps create the comedy in the play, especially because their confusion creates arguments amongst the four of them with many amusing lines. Puck describes it best when he says, "Shall we their fond pageant see? / Lord, what fools these mortals be! (115-116).
However, these instances of dramatic irony overlap with situational irony because it is purely by accident that both men leave off pursuing Hermia and begin pursuing Helena instead. Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, making Lysander fall in love with Helena because she comes into view just as Lysander wakes up. Then, Oberon places the love potion on Demetrius's eyes, just as he had intended to do, making both men pursue Helena. The situational irony created by Puck's mistake also leads to arguments amongst the characters and humorous lines.
There are many reasons A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy.
Here are a couple of examples-
1.There are many malapropisms in the play. For example in Act 5 Scene 1 Bottom says
"Since lion vile hath here deflower'd my dear" He really means devoured on deflowered.
2.As the Clowns are creating their play they make very funny decisions like having a man play the part of moonlight or having a man play the part of a wall. The Clowns stupidity is funny and entertaining. They also decide that a mad can play the part of thisbe as long as he wears a mask.
3.The mix ups and mistakes with love potions and feelings between the four lovers is comedic. First Demetruis chasing after Hermia and Lysander running away with Hermia into Lysander and Demetrius chasing Helena and her thinking they are mocking her into Lysander and Hermia as a couple and Helena and Demtrius as a couple.
Shakespeare creates comedy through Puck's shenanigans and by employing the "rude mechanicals". Puck's mischief with the love juice creates humor. Bottom trying to play every role in the play is hilarious. Titania falling in love with Bottom who has the head of a donkey is also funny. Of course, individual directors interpret the play different and add their own comedic pieces based on the text.
What makes comedy, among other things, is contrast. This play is full of contrast. The Mechanicals/Clowns are contrasted with Nobles and Fairies. Another element of comedy is literalism. The Clowns take everything absolutely literally and all things to them are of equal seriousness. The fairies provide us with a way of seeing the mortals through their eyes and they find the behaviors of the mortals hilarious and therefore so do we.
It is important to remember that each character has intentions, desires, and a powerful reason to be wherever he or she is. These often conflicting intentions and the passions that accompany them create all the set-ups for great comedy. Every character represents an aspect of ourselves. We are intended to laugh at ourselves with compassionate recognition and pleasure.
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