It is the theme of youth and crabbed age. But before Shakespeare arrived at this conception of Comedy, he had tried various types.
Of the three types of plays recognized in the Shakespeare First Folio -- Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies -- the last has been the most discussed annnd is clearest in outline.
Kyd also asserted the independence of the spirit of man, if he is prepared to face pain and death.
A youthful Shakespeare was probably pleased with the outwitting of the churlish old miser Shylock. It is remarkable that the post-Shakespearean drama was apt to combine plots involving unnatural crimes and vicious passions with a somewhat shallow conventional morality.
The problem then is, why should a picture of the misfortunes of some one in whom we are thus interested afford us any satisfaction? It is possibly true that Lear is a better man at the end of the play than he was at the beginning, and that without his suffering he would not have learned sympathy with his kind; but this does not apply either to Hamlet or to Othello, and even in the case of King Lear it does not explain the aesthetic appeal.
Again, we may say that in the Histories Shakespeare is dealing with the nation as hero. No final answer has yet been found.
We are apt to expect a comedy to aim chiefly at making us laugh, but, although there are extremely funny passages, it is clear that this is not the main character of any but one or two early plays. This is particularly true of pre-Shakespearean plays. Just as a great calamity sweeps from our minds the petty irritations of our common life, so the flood of esthetic emotion lifts us above them.
The catastrophe must not be the result of mere accident, but must be brought about by some essential trait in the character of the hero acting either directly or through its effect on other persons.
An older Shakespeare must have revised it and seen the story more through the eyes of Shylock and of Antonio, and the unity of the play has been destroyed. They may end in catastrophe or in triumph, but the catastrophe is apt to be undignified and the triumph won at a price. Tragedy must end in some tremendous catastrophe involving in Elizabethan practice the death of the principal character.
In "The Comedy of Errors," founded on a translation of a Latin comedy, he had produced an example of pure farce.
Probably the original conception of the "Merchant of Venice" was much the same. The hero in this case is immortal and his tale cannot be a true tragedy; while on the other hand there can never be the true comedy feeling of an established and final harmony.
Ask yourself whether his creator considered him ideally perfect -- in which case the appeal probably lies in the spectacle of a single human soul defying the universe; or flawed -- in which case the defect will bring about the catastrophe. At the beginning of the play there is always an element of discord, which is resolved before the close.
Aristotle said that the spectacle by rousing in us pity and fear purges us of these emotions, and this remains the best explanation. Romances are always concerned with two generations, and cover the events of many years.
Apart from Shakespeare, Histories are almost entirely inspired by patriotism, often of a rather rabid type. The hero must nevertheless have in him something which outweighs his defects and interests us in him so that we care for his fate more than for anything else in the play.
We have the true tragic sense of liberation. There is the greatest variety in the section entitled "Comedy," and critics generally distinguish sharply between Comedies and Romances in Reconciliation plays. The student, after getting the story of the tragedy quite clear, should concentrate first on the character of the hero.
It is true that in the Revenge Play type we have frequently the villain-hero, but the interest there depends rather on his courage and independence of man and God than on his villainy. That depends on something more profound.
There is an element of the marvellous in them, and the emphasis on repentance and forgiveness is very marked. But they are, indeed, the natural development of the plays of the great period. In the earlier play the stress is laid on the actions and emotions of the younger folk, while in the later plays the older generation is most fully portrayed.
As in History the hero of the play is rather Society as a whole than any person in it, and because of this we get at the end a sense of "happiness ever after. It will be remembered that the first part of Tamburlaine ends, not in his death, but in his triumph, and yet we feel that the peculiar note of tragedy has been struck.
The humour in a farce generally consists of violent action provoked by misunderstanding of a gross kind.A discussion of Shakespeare's theory of comedy, history and tragedy, and why some comedies are called romances.
A list of important facts about William Shakespeare's The Tempest, including setting, climax, protagonists, and antagonists.Download