How might one define "comedy of delight" and relate it to a character or characters in at least one of the following plays by William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, or Henry IV, Part I?
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In his extremely influential treatise about literature titled The Defense of Poesy (also often called An Apology for Poetry), Sir Philip Sidney wrote that “Delight hath a joy in it, either permanent or present. Laughter only a scornful tickling.” According to this distinction (one might ask), which character created by Shakespeare and which play written by Shakespeare might be defined as a “comedy of delight”?
One character that fits the bill is Rosalind in As You Like It, and As You Like It might indeed be generally classified as a comedy of delight. When we read or watch that play, we are far more likely to take delight in the work, and in Rosalind’s behavior, than to find that either the play in general or her behavior in particular provokes “only a scornful tickling.”
By using the latter phrase, Sidney seems to have in mind the kinds of satirical comedies that would later be written by Shakespeare’s great friend and rival, Ben Jonson. Most of Jonson’s comedies might be termed “comedies of laughter” rather than “comedies of delight,” because Jonson’s comedies are usually designed to provoke scornful laughter at foolish, deceitful, or corrupt behavior. In this sense, some of the greatest “comedies of laughter” in the English language are by Jonson, including especially Volpone and The Alchemist. The one character in As You Like It who might fit easily into one of Jonson's plays is Jacques, who is both melancholy and sarcastic. Even he, however, is more appealing than not.
When we experience As You Like It, we are more often likely to be delighted by what we witness than to respond with scornful laughter. The characters are often foolish, but for the most part they (at least the ones in the forest) do not seem evil or corrupt. Rosalind is a particularly delightful character. We enjoy her wit, her vivacity, her capacity to love, and her playfulness. We almost always laugh with her, not at her. Consider, for example, the speech in which she expresses to Celia her own sheer delight that Orlando is in love with her:
Rosalind. Alas the day! what shall I do with my doublet and hose? What did he when thou saw'st him? What said he? How look'd he? Wherein went he? What makes he here? Did he ask for me? Where remains he? How parted he with thee? And when shalt thou see him again? Answer me in one word.
"Answer me in one word"! How can we not delight in this kind of youthful exuberance? Jonson might make such a character seem an idiotic fool. Shakespeare, at most, is only gently mocking her and having fun with her, not at her expense. As You Like It is full of moments like this and thus deserves to be called a comedy of delight. Certainly we feel delighted (not scornful) when we leave the theater or put down the text.
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