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“The Significance of Comic Irreverence”

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  1. Introduction
  2. 'Irreverence' and bad connotations
  3. The humor in Act two, Scene five
    1. The repeated usage of first person singular
    2. The nurse as a minimal character
  4. Capulet's argument with Juliet over the arranged marriage
  5. Conclusion
  6. Bibliography

Irreverence in comedy has been at the forefront of recent comedic performances. In one television show, ?The Office', depicts supervisor David Brent, performed by Ricky Gervais, as an irreverent ?funny man'. In one episode, while orienting a new employee around the office, he listens to his phone messages, and after the last one, pretends to pick up the phone and throw it out of the window - all in effort for a laugh. The new employee looks on, not even feigning a laugh. But the audience does, because of the irony at work. Brent is a self-proclaimed ?comedian' ? a person who lightens up the typically drab idea of ?work.' However, nobody in the office finds his irreverent humour funny ? he is less comedic, and more annoyingly loathsome. The audience laughs at the awkward situation between someone trying too hard for a laugh and not receiving it. The audience and the employees laugh more at Brent than with him. Well, the employees laugh behind his back. However, the irreverent comedic episodes elucidate the character of David Brent. The episodes depict a person concerned with assuming a comic role rather than that of a supervisor who runs a productive office. Irreverence has a point to make. Furthermore, the irreverence of David Brent makes the audience laugh before they cry at the threat of the Wernham Slough office being closed. They suddenly stop and want Brent to put aside his obsession with acting the fool, but it is a character fault Brent will never overcome. ?The Office' is a modern example of what Shakespeare utilized in his varied body of work ? in tragedy, historic or comic plays. For there are numerous instances of Shakespeare's application of comedic irreverence, and like ?The Office,' Shakespeare used it for an intended significance toward the total effect of the play. For such tragedies as Romeo and Juliet, one might conclude that the comic irreverence of the Nurse in Scene two, Act five seems out of place. However, upon further investigation the comic episode proves integral to the tragic plot of the play: the comic episode allows the audience to laugh before they start to cry, and that the Nurse's character is revealed as one comprised of vanity ?inherent vanity in her speech, and vanity in her thoughts about love, which in a later scene proves detrimental to Juliet.

[...] ?Therefore do nimble- pinioned doves draw Love, / And therefore hath the wind-swift Cupid wings? (lines 7-8.) ?Love' is in reference to Venus and Cupid is the mythological god of love, so we can see how Juliet believes her love for Romeo exists in the abstract, spiritual sense. On the other hand, the vain Nurse cannot understand spiritual fulfilment, so she defines love with physical qualities. Act two Scene five shows the disparity of point of view between the Nurse and Juliet. [...]


[...] How she builds up the message with her appraisal of Romeo's body and then undercuts it with an irreverent remark? Her flippant attitude over a message eagerly anticipated? Her erotic puns? All of these really, compound to justify the episode as comic. But, like the Nurse, an explanation of why it is comic would rest completely on the surface. What is more interesting is how the Nurse relays a comedic performance while simultaneously revealing her vain character. She shows us that she is concerned only with matters of herself. [...]

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