Twelfth Night and Shakespearean comedy

First, introducing Shakespeare…
Quick Hits
Written around 1601/2
The title Twelfth Night refers to the twelfth day after Christmas,
which marks a holiday known as Epiphany. It is believed that
Shakespeare wrote the play for a party celebrating this event.
That brings us to the alternate title: What You Will. The alternate
title evinces an even more flippant, carefree, attitude toward the
content of the play: What You Will or “Call this Play Anything You
Want, It Just Doesn’t Matter,” even “Whatever!” What the alternate
title indicates is that Shakespeare takes nothing seriously in this
play even before the action begins, nor should we – the audience
and/or reader. From the maudlin song that starts the play even
before the action begins, to the final, ostensibly frivolous song that
ends the play, it is all for fun.
Twelfth Night is a Comedy…Was
Shakespeare really Funny?
Heck Yes!
His humour appealed
to people of all tastes
and classes
Twelfth Night
contains all kinds of
humor – slapstick,
wit, sight gags,
All of Shakespeare’s Plays are either
Tragedies or Comedies.
The hero is a highly important person, usually a
public figure such as a king or politician.
Characters tend to be normal, down-to-earth
individuals. Comedies tend to parody
The suffering and calamity are exceptional, of a
striking kind. They are as a rule
unexpected and are a strong contrast to
previous happiness or glory.
At least for the clever, comic actions allow one to
escape the consequences, to have a second
The story depicts also the troubled part of the
hero’s life, caused by a tragic flaw. The
character is either unable or refuses to
change, leading to his/her death.
Comic heroes are more willing to change. Or if they
are not, we as the audience find this funny
rather than tragic.
The suffering and calamity extend far beyond
the protagonist so as to make the whole
scene one of woe. An important lesson is
learned over the grave of the tragic hero.
Comedy is more imaginative, stressing playfulness. It
tends to look for a variety of answers and
doesn't need to solve everything.
The story leads up to and includes the death of
the hero.
The story usually ends with a great celebration (i.e. a
Other Characteristics of Comedy…
There is more sexual equality in a comedy.
Comedies, while often sexist too, are
sometimes less so. Women play a larger,
more active role.
In comedy, ambiguity is what makes
humor possible. Equally, not everything
has to make sense in comedy.
"Lord, what fools these mortals
be!" – From A Midsummer Night’s Dream
uses humour,
satire and
parody to
express his
ideas about our
universal human
Shakespeare Invented the Romantic
Think about
comedies you
have seen. What
are some
elements of this
type of story?
How do romantic
comedies usually
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