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"Comedy" - what is it?

Shakespeare's comedies do not fit a neat definition. However, they do share some characteristics. The comedies usually focus on young lovers during the period beginning with their meeting, often involving love at first sight, and ending with their marriage, often as part of a multiple marriage ceremony. In many of the comedies, the main character is a young woman of exceptional intelligence and verbal skills, emotional balance and perspective, who adopts a disguise as a young man or boy during part of the play. (Since women's parts were all acted by boys in the Elizabethan theater, such disguises had a doubly humorous aspect.) None of the main characters die. The comedies often include considerable humor based on sexual innuendo and sexual punning. Audience laughter was not a primary focus of Shakespearean comedy, and Shakespeare's most humorous work is probably his history, Henry IV Part 1. Some of Shakespeare's humorous writing appears in his tragedies - especially Hamlet, Macbeth, and Antony & Cleopatra. Shakespeare's lighter comedies include A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, and Love's Labour's Lost. Some darker plays, categorized as comedies in Shakespeare's day but today considered rather grim for that characterization, include The Merchant of Venice, Measure For Measure, All's Well That Ends Well, The Winter's Tale, and Cymbeline. These darker plays are sometimes called tragicomedies, problem plays, or romances (a term also applied to The Tempest).


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Copyright 2002 Dana Spradley, Publisher, for shakespeare.com