How does "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness" (Beckett) as applied to children's comedy relate to Romeo and Juliet?Previously I asked a question about this qoute and I got one answer, which is not...

How does "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness" (Beckett) as applied to children's comedy relate to Romeo and Juliet?

Previously I asked a question about this qoute and I got one answer, which is not enough. I have an essay to write for 3000 words, a scholarly essay, and am depending on eNotes to help me in one way or another. So please do not be stingy with answers. I really will appreciate your concern, thank you. Hence I have a limited time, so do not hesitate to answer quickly.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Part I

The quote "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness" is a quote from Samuel Beckett's one-act play Endgame, a play set in annihilation and absurdity. The presuppositions of the play (and by extension, of the quote) are that there is no happiness in life, paramountly because there is no God. Absurdist theater propounded the notion that logic and communication are pointless because all attempts break down to "disharmony," or the "absurd." Hence, the above quote, spoken by a dust-bin cleaner, is a satire; yet satire starts from a truth and then addresses that truth ironically or sarcastically (actually, sarcasm is a form of irony).

As I understand it, you are examining comedy in children's literature, which, I take it, includes Young Adult literature as Romeo and Juliet is suited to young adult readership. And you are in particular examining the relationship of the particular quote, "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness," to children's literature, with the objective in mind to explore how it does or does not play out as a truism in Children's comedy. Is this correct? If it is, then perhaps we can explore a little further.

In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo's misery over the fair Rosaline  (Act 1, Scene 1) is a source of amusement to Romeo's friends and the inspiration for some witty repartee (Act I, Scene 2). The reason some may see Romeo's unhappiness regarding Rosaline as amusing is because it is the unhappiness of a common dilemma, and he employs common and, in some ways, preposterous reactions to it. As another illustration, Juliet's coming and going on the balcony once her Nurse appears on the scene (Act II, Scene 2), has a comedic touch to it because her unhappiness at having to part from Romeo is, again, the unhappiness of a common dilemma and she is employing common and somewhat preposterous responses to it in trying to manage to be both here and there at once.

These instances of unhappiness are mild ones and in no way are they represented by Shakespeare as life destroying or life threatening instances of unhappiness. Later, when Romeo's and Juliet's unhappiness does become life destroying and threatening, there is no shred of humor suggested by Shakespeare in any regard. This analysis seems to indicate that if the Beckett quote is true, it is true only for mild forms of unhappiness, forms that are virtually inescapable as part of the universal human experience (lost love who didn't love you, being harried by divided interests).

Part II below (I hope).

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Part II

Since Beckett penned "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness" as a satirically meaningless communication in an absurdist play, it seems the conclusion to be drawn is that, except in mild universal situations, unhappiness is not funny. Now, how does this apply to children's and young adult's comedic literature? Children's literature can achieve a comedic effect with commonplace dilemmas, but true unhappiness turns comedy into tragedy, as was the case for Romeo and Juliet.


As an illustration of the first part of this assertion, a favorite children's story series of days gone by was the Rupert stories. Rupert was always unhappy because he was in love with the pretty little red-headed girl with the pretty long curls who could eat a hamburger perfectly without making any kind of a mess (true love). He tried in one book to win her affections by giving her a bouquet of dandelion blossoms from the neighbor's front yard (before they went to seed puff-balls). Rupert handed the flowers to the pretty little red-headed girl, and she burst into a fit of sneezing, being violently allergic to dandelion. Also, per your first Answer above, you can see that Rupert's dilemmas were replete with irony. These instances of mild and commonplace unhappiness were, in fact, amusing and, furthermore, endearing (...I read every Rupert story that was written).

mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mel Brooks said, "Tragedy is when I cut my finger.  Comedy is when I fall into an open sewer and die."  The basis of all comedy and tragedy, it seems, is irony.

Aristotle said that you can't have a hero go from rogue to king or be too perfect and fall victim to misfortune.  In terms of believability and pathos, the tragic hero must be somewhere in the middle.  We don't know what he would say about the comic hero (much of his comedy criticism from the Poetics was lost), but I believe he would agree with Mel Brooks: comedy is taking someone of very high status and making them suffer or taking someone already suffering and elevating their status.

I don't know what any of this has to do with children's literature or Romeo and Juliet.  Romeo and Juliet, I don't believe, is children's literature, by a long shot.  Children really don't understand irony, and most children's literature is of the fable, myth, fantasy variety, which does not deal with much with suffering as a redeeming quality.

The only children's literature that I can think of that deals with unhappiness is the Brothers Grimm fairy tales in which Cinderella's step-sisters get their eyes gouged out by the birds, a kind of nature taking revenge on humanity.  I would dare call this comedy, however.

Do you have a thesis that connects these very dissimilar genres?

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes indeed, a complicated question! For children's unhappiness in the play 'Romeo and Juliet' by William Shakespeare, I am put in mind only of the Nurse's treatment of her young charge Juliet. When Juliet asks after Romeo, knowing how desperate Juliet is to hear every single little detail of gossip - and the nurses opinion - she first pretends not to understand to prolong Juliet's agony of not knowing, then she deliberately misunderstands/draws out the answers for fun. Juliet gets more and more het up, and eventually becomes really cross! This can sometimes be funny in panto but is curious here. I would not really call it funny - perhaps we have all changed and Shakespeare knew of certain people in the audience (parents?) who would find this funny. Do close analysis on the whole scene, word for word and unpick it being sure to use the side-notes/vocab explications. Flesh it out with citations and references and quotes to get your word count. Let us know how you get on!Heres a link to analysis of the nurse as messenger:

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Romeo and Juliet

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