A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare is one of my personal favorites. It is filled with magic, optimism and vivacious humor. Reading or watching this splendid play we come across plain humor based on incongruity as well as numerous cases of sophisticated irony.
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The first hint of comedy appears in the midst of a rather dramatic dialogue telling us about a love triangle. It is Lysander’s playful suggestion to Demetrius “You have her father's love, Demetrius; Let me have Hermia's: do you marry him” (I, 1) which lightens the atmosphere considerably and gives the reader hope that Lysander will not give up on his beloved. The next vivid comical episode ensues, as the young people stay on their own. Frightened by the gloomy descriptions Lysander gives to the future awaiting any true love, Hermia exclaims, “If then true lovers have been ever cross'd, It stands as an edict in destiny: Then let us teach our trial patience, Because it is a customary cross” (I, 1). Lysander once again lightens the story answering, “A good persuasion: therefore, hear me, Hermia…” (I, 1) and goes on to propose a plan to elope. The situational irony makes this scene quite funny.
Naturally, it would be a grave mistake not to mention the major source of humor in the story that is the self-proclaimed actors who, being mere craftsmen, not only naively believe in their acting skills but also have troubles using high-flown words. For instance, Nick Bottom tells his friends, “we may rehearse most obscenely and courageously” (I, 2). They also have hilarious views of how the aristocrats live and what their personalities are. Quince, for example, claims that Pyramus is “A lover, that kills himself most gallant for love” (I, 2) and they also think a fake lion would “fright the ladies out of their wits”(I, 2).
The second act treats us with some of the most exciting of Puck’s tricks, “The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale, Sometime for three-foot stool mistaketh me; Then slip I from her bum, down topples she” (II, 1). An example of a much more subtle humor hides in Oberon’s words, when he commands Puck to give Demetrius love potion and says, “thou shalt know the man by the Athenian garments he hath on” (II, 1). This short phrase introduces an instance of dramatic irony, for an attentive reader may already anticipate the trickster’s upcoming mistake.
In the third act Bottom continues to amuse us, “for there is not a more fearful wild-fowl than your lion living” (III, 1). Titania in her amorous haze also grants us a possibility to laugh at her expense, “I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again: Mine ear is much enamour'd of thy note” (III, 1).
The situation progresses in the next act, when Bottom claims to “have a reasonable good ear in music. Let's have the tongs and the bones” ( IV, 1). It is rather comical, for the rattling sounds of the mentioned instruments hardly complement the hero’s ‘ear in music’.
In my opinion, the last act is a pinnacle of wit. Naturally, we cannot help laughing at the exhilarating performance of craftsmen, but the verbal irony of Theseus and Demetrius’s comments is just priceless. For instance, the Duke of Athens points out that “Moonshine and Lion are left to bury the dead” (V, 1), while Demetrius calls the ‘wall’ “the wittiest partition that ever I heard discourse” (V, 1)
All in all, William Shakespeare’s play is saturated with dazzling examples of humor, both obvious and camouflaged behind the seemingly insignificant and casual phrases dropped by the heroes here and there. Any director who dares to take the responsibility of producing a play or a movie based on the renowned Englishman’s work should be extremely careful not to ‘loose’ some precious comical scenes in the process. Every other phrase of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a jewel, and while one little instance of humor may seem of no particular importance, keep in mind that a lost jewel mars the whole necklace.
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