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How Shakespear Creats Humor In A Midsummer

Nights Dream Essay, Research Paper Comic Fools To create humor in drama, one must either make witty wordplay, create an amusing situation, or use physical

Nights Dream Essay, Research Paper

Comic Fools

To create humor in drama, one must either make witty

wordplay, create an amusing situation, or use physical

comedy. Often jokes may be incorporated into a play, or a

comic situation may result in a series of complicated

antics. The tradition for some of these comic devices has

been carried over for hundreds of years, dating back to

Shakespeare in the 1600’s. In his play, A Midsummer Night’s

Dream, Shakespeare creates humor through three diverse

devices: oxymoron’s, malapropisms and mistaken identities.

All result in a farcical mix of comic situations.

Wordplay, such as the use of oxymorons, is an abundant

source of humor in Shakespeare. The word oxymoron comes

from the Greek meaning “pointedly foolish.” Pointedly

foolish certainly applies to the mechanicals, whose

ignorance provides the root of all their comedy in the play.

For example, Quince refers to the play of Pyramus and Thisbe

as “the most lamentable comedy.” (Iii 9) This does not make

much sense, since we would hardly express sorrow over a

comedy. However, as it turns out, the pathetic production

they eventually put on is so bad it actually is lamentable.

When Bottom says: “I’ll speak in a monstrous little voice,”

(Iii 43) he surely does not mean a voice which is both

monstrous and little, for something cannot be both monstrous

and little. What Bottom is trying to say is that he will

speak in a “very” little voice. Bottom does not realize

what he has said and creates amusing confusion for the

reader. One of Helena’s oxymorons is in Act 3, scene 2,

line 129: “oh devilish- holy fray!” Obviously something

cannot be devilish and holy at the same time, and by most

people’s standards, the devil certainly is not pious.

The ignorance of Bottom and his friends seems to be

bottomless and voluminous and results not only in oxymorons,

but also in “malapropisms.” A malapropism is the confusion

of two words that sound alike but mean different things,

which results in humor. Sometimes the ignorant use of the

wrong word is funny simply because stupid characters look

foolishly pretentious. This is often the case with Bottom,

who tries constantly to appear extremely educated and uses

long impressive words without any clue as to their real

meaning. Bottom claims, “…I have an exposition

(interpretation) of sleep come upon me.” (IV I 35) This

phrase does not make much sense to you and me but it makes

sense to Bottom, who means “..a disposition to sleep…!”

The most comical malapropisms occur when the mistaken word

means the exact opposite of what the speaker intended.

Quince says that the play can not go on without Bottom, who

is the very “paramour” of a sweet voice (IVii 8). This

malapropism is doubly funny, because instead of using the

word that Quince meant to say, “paragon” (an example of

perfection), he says “paramour”, which means mistress. The

idea of Bottom as a mistress makes the malapropism even

funnier. The joke can go even further, since Bottom does

become Titania’s donkey paramour.

Wordplay is not the only type of humor generated in

Shakespeare’s play. The other type of humor is a form of

slapstick in which mistaken identities cause an uproar of

emotional mix-ups. The background of the play is a simple

love “square” involving four people. Hermia loves Lysander

and Lysander loves her, but Demetrious also loves Hermia,

and Helena loves Demetrious. Hermia and Demetrious are

engaged to wed against Hermia’s will. They all end up

running off into the wood on a magic eve where fairy

mischief turns everything upside down. While asleep, Puck,

a fairy, squeezes juice from a flower that makes whomever’s

eye it enters fall in love with the first person they see.

He puts it onto Lysander’s eye, thinking he was Demetrius.

This begins the havoc of mistaken identities, because Helena

is the first person he sees, which causes him to fall in

love with her instead of Hermia. So now, Lysander loves

Helena, Helena loves Demetrius, Demetrius loves Hermia and

Hermia loves Lysander. The confusion snowballs. Every

encounter the couples have gets more confusing and

exasperating. “Never did mockers waste more idle breath.”

Next Puck realizes his mistake and puts the flower juice on

Demetrius’ eyes, making him fall in love with Helena as

well. Helena, whose love has been hopeless and pathetically

in vain, thinks that Lysander and Demetrius are mocking her,

because they are both ,suddenly, madly and mysteriously in

love with her. Her fury with both the boys as they follow

her around hopelessly in love, is filled with humor. Her

exasperation is ironic, because now she has too much love

instead of too little. There is also dramatic irony because

the audience knows what’s going on but continues to watch

her become more and more enraged. Her misplaced anger and

verbal abuse of the lovers and of Hermia, whom she suspects

of joining them in humiliating her, is also very funny. The

reversal of situations are comic and the complexity of one

wrong situation leading to another keeps the laughs coming

one after another. In the end it all works out because

Lysander loves Hermia; Demetrious, Helena.

Any one of the comic devices Shakespeare usesthroughout A Midsummer Nights Dream replete with humor, but

the combination, repetition and complexity of mixing all

these devices creates one of the classic and brilliant

comedies of all times.

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