Pinpointing just what exactly makes good comedy is one of the most elusive and difficult tasks to undertake. Who can really say why one joke is funny and another one isn't, what subtleties must a stand-up comedian consider to get his audience laughing? Shakespeare could be considered one of the foremost authorities on the subject. He billed many of his plays as comedies, including A Comedy of Errors, his first play, and A Midsummer Night's Dream, one of his most enduring and critically acclaimed dramatic works. Both plays are filled with clever wordplay, lovably buffoonish characters, risqué sexual innuendoes, and, especially in Comedy, well-timed slapstick gags.
[...] He can tell they're possessed their pale and deadly looks,” and his solution: “they must be bound and laid in some dark room” (p. 58). You can imagine Adrianna talking to Antipholus a month later: “it's pretty funny when you look at it like that.” Later in the story Antipholus S. and Dromio S. take refuge in an abbey and the Abbess becomes their protector from the authorities. She carries herself with the dignity and peaceful inner wisdom of the deeply religious, and though she has never met these people before, already knows the cause of Antipholus' madness and the way to treat it. [...]
[...] While Shakespeare demonstrates dark comedy's potential for societal discourse with A Comedy of Errors, he grapples with black humor's appeal, the root of its power, in A Midsummer Night's Dream. In the same way that readers of Paradise Lost find Satan to be the most compelling character, Puck is the most interesting character in Dream, the only recognizable protagonist. He drives the drama, which, at its heart, is an extremely cynical and cruel one. His speech before the final curtain, and Shakespeare's use of the play-within-the-play theme, brings the audience into the dialogue directly. [...]
[...] All of his humor requires a scapegoat, a dumb mortal to fall for his practical jokes. He doesn't care whether it's wisest a “bean-fed horse,” or a “lack-love” (Lysander, the only character to whom he appears to show any special degree of disdain). The butts of his jokes can be lost travelers, village women, even animals, he doesn't care. He seems to look on all mortals with contempt and laughs at the misfortune he causes them. Some of his jokes are petty, and some truly dangerous, there is no difference to him. [...]
[...] In Comedy Shakespeare is content with using his edgy humor to comment on sicknesses in Victorian society, but in A Midsummer Night's Dream he reaches for a new level where he considers the essence and appeal of dark comedy. The use of slapstick in A Comedy of Errors allows room for Shakespeare to display his complex grasp of character and situation and to criticize the oppression of slaves in Victorian Europe. Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse are the two slaves receiving the abuse, and it is a running gag throughout the play. [...]
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