With origins from Ancient Greece, Comedy is one of the original four genres of literature as defined by the philosopher Aristotle in his work Poetics. The three other genres are consistent of tragedy, epic poetry, and lyric poetry. Not to be confused with the comedy associated with television and film which focuses entirely on humorous discourse generally intended to amuse; literary comedy is characterised by general humour, happy endings and communal celebration. This assignment will critically analyse the comedies of William Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw and consider what characteristics they share and how they differ. It is also important to fully understand the genre of comedy, exploring its origins, definitions and sub-divisions.
Literary comedy can be sub-divided into ‘Burlesque’ (associated with the ridiculous), ‘Comedy of Manners’, ‘Satirical’ and ‘Farce’, amongst others (Stott, 2005). The comedies of Shakespeare and Shaw take the form of dramatic comedy and can all be associated with the above criteria to some extent. Dramatic comedy begins in difficulty and rapidly involves its characters in amusing situations, ultimately ending happily; but it is worth noting that not all comedies are humorous and light-hearted. Dramatic comedy differs from burlesque and farce in the sense that it has a more closely knit plot, more sensible and intelligent dialogue, and more plausible characterisation.
The term ‘comedy’ comes from the Greco-Latin ‘comoedia’ which is formed by combining ‘komos’, meaning ‘to revel’ and ‘aeidein’, meaning ‘to sing’. Both are features of Shakespearean comedy and are evident in A Midsummer Night’s Dream especially with reference to Titania, who revels in her singing; and Bottom, who is revelled by her singing.
Shakespeare's comedies can be recognized in terms of plot, structure and characters. We can see that Shakespearean comedies follow the same structural pattern, a basic plot on which the play is based. For example, a key feature of all comedies is that they depend upon the resolution of their plots. However, Shakespeare's comedies are distinguishable, as some are classed as comic dramas and others as romantic comedies. In comic drama, there is usually a motif of a place where reality and the unreal merge, the roles of characters are reversed and identities are mistaken or lost (Regan, 2007). This place may take on the form of a feast or celebration, or it may be presented as a place segregated from the normal society, such as the wood in A Midsummer Night's Dream. When scenes are set in this place, the ordinary rules of life and society do not apply. There is always an experience of chaos, which must be resolved in order for the play to become a true comedy.
Immediately, links can now be made between Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Comedy of Errors and Shaw’s Pygmalion and You Never Can Tell.
In Bernard Shaw’s You Never Can Tell, the children of Mrs. Clandon have no idea who their father is...