illustrated portrait of English playwright and poet William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

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What conventions are present in all Shakespearean comedies?

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A Shakespearian comedy, as seen in the vast number of plays that he wrote such as As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night's Dream, can be defined by a number of conventions which they contain. A Shakespearian comedy generally features a light-hearted tone, movement from the city to a more natural, greener world, witty word play, slapstick comedy and humour built around confusion, and marriage between unmarried characters, resulting in the inevitable happy ending. However, at the same time, critics of Shakespeare's comedies have also pointed out the way in which there is often a much more serious side to Shakespeare's comedies, and how often the last laugh seems to be on the audience. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, for example, note Puck's final speech:

If we shadows have offended,

Think but this and all is mended:

That you have but slumbered here,

Whilst these visions did appear;

And this weak and idle theme,

No more yielding than a dream...

Give me your hands if we be friends,

And Robin shall restore amends.

He asks his audience to applaud him whilst saying to them that if they were bothered by the content of the play they can console themselves by imagining it to be a dream. Clapping him is tantamount therefore to ignoring the true import of the play, which is all about the fickle nature of love and how it rules us as humans, forcing us to engage in stupid acts that we later regret and make us look stupid. There is a massive irony in an audience laughing loudly at the antics of the Athenian lovers in the woods as they fall in and out of love with one another, completely ignoring the way in which they themselves are subject to the overriding power of love as an emotion. Such insidious aspects of comedy are often present in Shakespeare's comedies, as the audience is made to become complicit in Shakespeare's exposure of human folly that the audience itself suffers from.

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