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Use of Humor in Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare's most famous plays. One,
could give many reasons as to why this play became such a huge success, but
one of the most important reasons could be the use of humour in the play.
The main reason for doing this could be to relieve the tensions in the play,
and to entertain and keep the Elizabethan audience interested.
Humour plays a very significant part in the play as it allows
Shakespeare to create a lot of contrasts and moods, as and when he wants to.
In Romeo and Juliet humour occurs in three forms. The first being, humour
by the use of puns, irony and jokes. The second being through the actions
of characters and by their behaviour and the third by the incidents of the
play. Shakespeare uses characters like Mercutio and the Nurse to bring out
the comical element of the play, and each character does this in a
One of Shakespeare's tools used to evoke humour is the mockery that
is aimed at a particular character. Some of the funniest moments are when
one character is sarcastic to another. One of the best examples of this is
when Capulet asks Lady Capulet for a sword and she replies "A crutch, a
crutch! Why call you for a sword?" In this line the mockery of Capulet is
obvious and appealing to the audience as it is direct.
Shakespeare is known to be fond of puns and uses them quite
regularly but he doesn't use them as often as the Elizabethan audience
expected him to. Shakespeare starts of the play with a lot of humour, with
the conversation between Sampson and Gregory, both of them using a lot of
puns. This type of punning, for example on the words "coals," "collier," "
choler," "collar", goes on till the end of the play. The Elizabethan
audience used to like puns and hence although Shakespeare has used many
vulgar puns, it still has a positive effect on the popularity of the play.
Although in the Act I Scene 1 there is a fight between the families the
humour in the scene makes us forget the seriousness of the fight.
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Shakespeare manages to create a fair amount of humour in the play
by the creation of some humorous characters. These characters can be found
to be humorous in different ways. Mercutio always uses puns deliberately,
Peter indulges in witty punning at inappropriate times, while the nurse
unintentionally evokes humour most of the time, rarely deliberately. These
various characters can be said to have been introduced to provide variety
and a touch of reality to the play. They are also used to hold the
attention of the audience before the actual action of the play begins
One of the characters created mainly for the purpose of humour is
the Nurse. The nurse's manner of speaking, her low intellect and her views
act as a perfect foil to Juliet and Lady Capulet. This brings out
unintentional humour even when she tries to make them laugh. Her
appearances contrast with a preceding serious scene or following a serious
one. She also brings out humour by using puns and also by repeating things
that she previously said. Apart from this the nurse brings out humour also
in the way she behaves. One prime example of this is when the Nurse after
returning with news from Romeo goes off into a long talk about her health
and that Juliet should be ashamed of sending her on such a long journey.
The audience probably find it funny the way the nurse frustrates Juliet by
prolonging her agony.
Another character who is very important to the play in terms of the
humour that he brings to it is Mercutio. Mercutio is very important
character because it is he who almost single-handedly creates humour in the
play. He does this by punning a lot. The puns and jokes are usually vulgar
and sexual, and were used to hold the interest of the Elizabethan audience.
Two of the most unforgettable occasions would be when he meets the Nurse
and the second when he is pulling Romeo's leg over his infatuation over
Rosaline just before the balcony scene. Mercutio's character is completely
built up around humour and so it is not surprising that Shakespeare kills
him early in the play, so as to keep with the sadness that follows later in
the play. In keeping with his character we find Mercutio punning and making
fun even when he is dying. "No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as
a church-door, but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow, and you
shall find me a grave man." This statement is typical of him and is true to
his character in the play.
Mercutio's speech on Queen Mab which was quite famous at those
times was a total contradiction to dreams and the dreamers and the element
of humour in it along with the wittiness of Mercutio's character was used
to mock. Part of this speech is as follows: "And in this state she gallops
night by night Through lovers' brains' and then they dream of love, O'er
courtiers' knees, that dream on cur'sies straight, O'er lawyers' fingers,
who straight dream on fees, O'er ladies' lips, who straight on kisses
dream," This shows us another important art Shakespeare had and that was to
mock a point with the use of humour.
The main reason Shakespeare created so much intentional humour in
the play is not very obvious at first but after closer examination the
reader might realise that Romeo and Juliet would indeed be very dull and
tiresome if it weren't for humour. The humour in the play, acts as a
balance to the tragedy that already exists in the play. The humour in the
play gives the audience a respite from heavy and over romantic scenes thus
helping to keep the audiences attention. The lower class people would most
probably be interested in the highly comical sections where Mercutio was
present on stage and going ahead full steam with his puns and jokes.
If Shakespeare hadn't created so much humour in the play the play
would have probably died out a couple of months after it had been
introduced. The humour in the play helps to relax the readers or audience
at times and also keeps the audience interested in the play.