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The point of this essay is to determine the style and use of humour in
William Shakespeare's, 'A Midsummer Nights Dream.' Written around
1595, Shakespeare blended this story from a variety of sources and
issues of the time.
The play consists of 4 groups of characters: Theseus of Athens and his
bride Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons; the fairy king and queen,
Oberon and Titania; two pairs of young lovers who run to a nearby
forest; and a company of Athenian working men headed by Nick Bottom,
the weaver, who all enter the same forest as the lovers to rehearse a
play they intend to perform for Theseus and the nobles.
The humour of the play begins with a spell cast by Puck, Oberon's
mischievous servant, which causes confusion of love between the
lovers: Demetrius, Helena, Hermia and Lysander. But Puck also uses the
potion on Titania, the beautiful and cultured Fairy Queen so that she
falls in love with the oafish and clumsy Bottom who coincidentally
takes on the physical appearance of a donkey. Shakespeare uses comedy
in speech by making Bottom talk of donkeys and asses with realising he
himself looks like a donkey, one of the few lines written include, "I
see their knavery: this is to make an ass of me, to fright me if they
Titania, who unbeknown of the spell used on her, cannot explain her
undying love and desire for Bottom. She even compliments his awful
singing, "I pray thee gentle mortal, sing again; mine ear is much
enamoured of thy noteâ€¦" Titania introduces Bottom to all of her fairy
subjects who often makes a fool of himself in front of these immortal,
royal subjects. Titania continues to compliment him and shower him
with gifts, which adds to the humour Shakespeare is implying.
Eventually Oberon releases Titania from the spell and she realizes who
she had loved.
As for Bottom his normal head is replaced and he returns to the other
workers to continue rehearsal.
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is a play apparently famous at the time called 'Pyramus and Thisbe'
More humour is added in the competence of the actors which, quite
frankly is lousy. But at the same time the workmen themselves believe
they are great actors who have to warn the audience that they are not
the characters of the play they are performing!
They night they are to perform the play arrives and their audience
include: Theseus, Hippolyta and the two pairs of lovers whose spells
has also been removed. The performance they put on is all in all poor
which, when seeing this play within a play, can be comical. At dinner,
they all hear Quince's ten words, tedious, brief, tragical play. In
it, Thisby (played by Flute) and Pyramus (played by Bottom) whisper
their love through a chink in a wall (played by Snout). They vow to
meet at Ninny's tomb, but a lion (played by Snug) attacks Thisby.
Pyramus arrives and finds her scarf, assumes she's dead, and kills
himself Thisby arrives to find him dead, and kills herself. Theseus is
patient with the workmen complimenting the performance when he can.
This good leadership and respect is known as a tribute from
Shakespeare to Queen Elizabeth I who was known for touring the country
and watching many plays by locals no-matter how poor the performance.
This isn't the only referral to the Elizabethan era. Titania, Oberon,
Puck, and the attendant fairies all affect the human beings in the
woods, and provide glimpses into the fairy realm. Although Shakespeare
applies several important aspects of the Elizabethan belief in fairies
to A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare alters the conception of
fairies not only within the context of the play, but for all time.
So what can of humour can be classed for 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'
by Will Shakespeare? Maybe it is a slapstick comedy, evidenced by the
oafishness of the amateur actors? But in reality it is a blend of
comical functions that have made this play popular for so long. The
fact that 4 completely different groups of people, different in class,
intellect and humour can be thrown into the mix and the outcomes are
the actual humour itself. And it is made so obvious by Shakespeare
that the humour different by all, for example, Bottom believes he has
a good ear for music, when he can hardly sing a note let alone listen
and interpret other musical forms, "I have a reasonable good ear in
And also, the occurrence of the play, 'Pyramus and Thisbe' within the
play itself allows the humour of the upper classed nobles to show,
their jeering of the acting in the final play, "This is the silliest
stuff that ever I heard!" Hippolyta says but the cheerful and
respectful Theseus replies, "The best in this kind are but shadows,
and the worst are no worse, if imagination amends them."
Another way that Shakespeare uses humor is that he uses examples that would
never happen in real life. For example, after Lysander and Demetrius had been led around the king's oak for a long time, they fell down and went to sleep. This contains no logic whatsoever, because they are trying to kill each other, and it is impossible to use defence when a person is sleeping. There is humour in that because everyone took it in stride, so to say. In the play, it is
interpreted that that is supposed to happen. Another example is when Titania
awakens after being in love with Bottom. She knows that Oberon did it, but
she's not angry at the fact that he did, or the fact that Oberon used the time
to capture the Indian boy. It makes no sense, but it is funny. That is what
In "A Midsummer Night's Dream," there is a lot of humour in it, which creates a good play and a good comedy. He was obviously a master at his work, which is prominent in this play. Humour is the largest reason for the success of this play; the careful mix of all types of humour make this play a refreshing mixture of tragedy and comedy.
The videos that we saw, I felt, poorly depicted the play, mainly
because I personally did not find the play funny but also because the
actions that some of the actors used were poor even if the speech was
spot on. The reason I, and many others in the class, didn't find the
play funny was because humour has come a long way since the 16th and
17th centuries with different styles and functions used for humour,
and I felt that more modern jokes are funnier than the play, however
in saying that I admired the content and communication between the
characters and found the different array of characters entertaining.
And the collision of the world of reality and make-believe.