Elizabethan comedy - Sample Essay
William Shakespeare wrote “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 1595. The play written right before “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was “Romeo and Juliet”, which also emphasized on romantic love and the complications it can cause. However, while “Romeo and Juliet” was written as a tragedy, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” develops to become a romantic comedy. The first scene presents evidence of a tragic story rather than a comedy. Hermia, in love with Lysander, is refusing to marry the man of her father’s choice, Demetrius. Egeus, father of Hermia, is enraged by such disposition. “As she is mine, I may dispose of her :
Which shall be either to this gentleman, Or to her death, according to our law. ” Egeus wants the law of Athens to be put into function; he wants Hermia to be put to death rather than marry against his wishes. This opening is effective in marking the play as an Elizabethan comedy. There has been order in the beginning with Theseus and Hippolyta talking of their marriage, but this is slowly beginning to tilt towards disorder and unhappiness. Owing to Egeus’s anger and orthodoxy, the lovers elope into the woods, bringing us into the second phase of the play, the initiation of chaos.
Hermia fleeing to the forest with Lysander has Helena feeling yet more subdued about Demetrius’ hatred for her. Helena marks the beginning of turmoil. “I will go tell him of fair Hermia’s flight. ” To gain the love of Demetrius, Helena betrays her friend’s trust. This betrayal is a signal to the audience that the circumstances as well as the atmosphere of the play are about to change. The pairs of lovers are not neatly matched up and this is effective in preparing the audience for the dilemma that could occur between them any moment.
The approaching mayhem is also made clear with the prospect of the woods, far from the centre of civilisation in Athens. In the woods, the lovers will have to submit to fantasy and imagination, and come into contact with the unreal. The forest, far from society and human beings, is where the fairies reign. “I am that merry wanderer of the night. ” The fairies roam the forest and all that is in it, is under their management. Puck gives the perfect impression of a mischievous sprite, cruising around the jungle causing havoc. The above statement by him effectively illustrates the power of the fairies over the forest.
It is also hinting at the confusions and impediments that the lovers may soon face. There is further confirmation of an Elizabethan comedy with the conspicuous classification of characters. The characters with the highest status, the court and the lovers, all speak in iambic pentameters. “The course of true love never did run smooth;” The iambic pentameters add more detail and volume to the speeches made by the higher-class individuals. Such sentence structure makes the dialogues flow more powerfully and consequently, increases the distinction of these characters.
Comparatively, the fairies speak in varied meters, like iambic pentameters and tetrameters. They also speak in six, seven and nine syllable lines. “How now, spirit, whither wander you? ” The fairies’ speech contains a lot more rhyme and is like a song. Dialogues like these give a perception of light, nimble and revelling creatures that live in a world of magic and illusion, afar from reality. This implication prepares the audience for the devilment that can occur under their supremacy of the forest. Contrastingly, the lower class characters, the working men, speak in prose. “Well, I will undertake it.
What beard were I best to play it in? ” The mechanicals hardly display any rhythm in their dialogue; their speech is more natural than that of the fairies, court or lovers. This is because they are ordinary men with ordinary lives, and no special status. The disparity in the language of the characters is effectual because it highlights the importance of stature in this comedy. The speech of the higher-class characters is more enriched and enhanced. The different ranks of the individuals accentuate another trait of an Elizabethan comedy. The presence of the mechanicals completes the comedy.
The lovers’ problems, the fairies’ quarrels and the brutal Athenian law seem lighter-hearted upon the entrance of the working men actors. Their names alone induce humour. Snout and Snug have comical names of animated creatures. They both have their own notions about the play. Snug has anxieties about learning his part. “Have you the lion’s part written? Pray you, if it be, give it me, for I am slow of study. ” And Snout has the rudiments of an inquiring mind. “Will not the ladies be afeard of the lion? ” Both Snout and Snug give the ideal impression of nai?? ve, asinine men, curious yet harmless in their temperament.
In comparison to them, Starveling shows signs of a bad temper and Flute is becoming modest about his beard. “… let not me play a woman, I have a beard coming. ” Flute being the youngest man of the company has even his name suggesting his suitability for the role of Thisby. Lean and reedy, he is an effeminate, eager to please but as unable to as the other actors. The mechanicals are keen to put forward a good show. They are at one in their anxiety to avoid giving offence to the audience, particularly the ladies, and in their failure to understand dramatic illusion, they fear lest stage presentations should be mistaken for reality.
“… Pyramus is not killed indeed; and for the more better assurance, tell them that I, Pyramus, am not Pyramus indeed, but Bottom the weaver… ” The working men take the concept of acting in “Pyramus and Thisby” too seriously. All throughout the play, the actors display immense pride in being a part of a tear-jerking tragedy. The mechanicals have a lot of faith in their choice of play and are convinced that their acting will make the onlookers cry. This is very successful in enhancing the humour because good actors are exactly what the mechanicals are not.
The working men also want to make sure that the storyline of the play is clear to the audience so as they do not get confused with its progress. “This man is Pyramus, if you would know; This beauteous lady Thisby is certain. ” So fervent are the actors that they even insert a prologue to the play to narrate to the audience the entire line of events they are about to witness. This effectually displays their strong desire to please and at the same time, their ignorance of dramatics. The play is presented too literally. In a small group of six, the mechanicals wish to convey a contemplative moral.
The actors decide that one of them shall stand as a wall that separates Pyramus and Thisby. “… and let him have some plaster, or some loam, or some rough-cast about him, to signify wall; and let him hold his fingers thus, and through that cranny shall Pyramus and Thisby whisper. ” Not only do the working men actors want to symbolise the barrier between Pyramus and Thisby but they also wish the presence of the person as a non-living object, to be felt as a living thing. This appropriately shows their poor acting abilities and adds all the more to the humour.
Likewise, the actors present the vista of moonshine, factually. “… one must come in with a bush of thorns and a lanthorn, and say he comes to disfigure, or to present, the person of moonshine. ” The mechanicals’ incapability in presenting a piece of drama has been exemplified accordingly. The actors do not even stop to think what it is that an audience expects in a tragic romance, so keen are they to perform artistically without causing offence. This helps in creating a comedy rather than a romance. Another precept of dramatics that the working men fail to realise is the significance of characterisation.
The actors frequently step out of character during the final performance of “Pyramus and Thisby”. “No in truth, sir, he should not. ‘Deceiving me’ is Thisby’s cue. ” Upon the viewers’ commentary on the play, the actors come out of character to explain the progress they are making and the reasons for it; a tragic romance is transfigured into a satirical comedy. This emphasizes the ignorance of the working men about the theatrical world. This also affluently ends “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with the humour that was not present when it began. The principal workman and comedian of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is Nick Bottom, the weaver.
His name alone begins the play’s descent as a comedy. “Bottom” suits well with his future transformation where he gets the head of an ‘ass’, which is a synonym of ‘bottom’. Secondly, his acting abilities create the romantic humour of this Elizabethan comedy. “Thisby, the flowers of odious savours sweet, – ” Bottom believes that he is a great actor and his portrayal as the passionate Pyramus is what will make “Pyramus and Thisby” a hit with the viewers. This comic nature effectually increases the humour of the play because a good actor is just what Bottom is not.