Books

Shakespeare Saturdays: Top 3 Comedies

Happy Saturday! Today’s post is a quick look at my top three Shakespearean comedies. Let me know what your favourite comedy is in the comments!


A Midsummer Night’s Dream (c.1595)

Oh, what a magical play! MND is my favourite Shakespeare comedy by far and it’s almost perfect for me. I love the doubling of characters, the use of magic and potions and drugs, Robin’s mischievous nature, Shakespeare’s use of metatheatre, and the beautiful language that Shakespeare weaves into the play.

Although there is plenty of slapstick comedy, provided by Bottom and the Mechanicals in their rendition of Pyramus and Thisbe, the play also deals with much darker themes. Obsessive love, oppressive gender roles, possible bestiality, rape, and colonialism are all hidden under a guise of “true love” and magic but they are there to be explored.

It’s a play full of rich symbolism and luscious imagery. I’ll never get tired of watching or reading it.

Where to read it:


As You Like It (c.1599)

I think this play has one of the best explorations of gender expression and societal expectations of any, perhaps except some of John Lyly’s plays, from this era. I love that Shakespeare played with metatheatricality and layers of gender confusion (Rosalind-as-Ganymede-as-Rosalind is a young boy playing a woman playing a man playing a woman) and the epilogue is one of the most interesting speeches by a woman in Shakespeare’s entire body of work.

Also, Jaques speech is just stunning:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…

Where to read it:


The Merry Wives of Windsor (c.1597)

What I love the most about this play is how it doesn’t pretend to be a serious effort at all. Let me explain. The plot centres around Falstaff, who we see in Henry IV, part one and Henry IV, part two but, even though the play is supposed to be set during the reign of Henry V, the play is clearly set in the Elizabethan era. This may be because the play is supposed to be a critique of Shakespeare’s own society, especially the middle class, but it also just feels like Shakespeare didn’t want to even try to set this play in the same universe as his history plays.

It’s a play that relies upon sexual innuendo, sarcasm (the bread and butter of British humour), irony, and misunderstandings to create comic effect. This is no high-class comedy from Shakespeare, it’s wonderfully basic and very funny.

Where to read it:


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Images:
1. The title page from the first quarto of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1600) – via Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Collection
2. Title page of As You Like It in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies or The First Folio (1623)
3. The title page of A most pleasant and excellent conceited comedy, of Sir John Falstaffe, and the merry wiues of Windsor (1619) – via Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection

6 thoughts on “Shakespeare Saturdays: Top 3 Comedies

  1. I agree with the first two and would have put Twelfth Night as the third. But the more I think about it, the less comedic Twelfth Night seems. I mean, even the characters we are suppised to lampoon have something pathetic and endearing about them. There is a melancholy in that play that contradicts the description of comedy. I have to reread Merry Wives though. It’s a play I never engaged with seriously (and I now live near Windsor).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Twelfth Night is a wonderful Shakespearean comedy and it has everything you’d want in a comedy from this era but I just don’t enjoy it as much as the three I mentioned! I’m not sure whether that’s because I haven’t worked with it much – I’ve only seen it once and read it a handful of times – or whether there’s something about it that I just don’t connect to in the same way. I need to read it more, I think.

      Merry Wives is a very fun play, though, and I don’t think it needs to be taken seriously! And here’s always fun about reading something set in the place you live.

      Like

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