Understanding a Midsummer Night's Dream: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

By Faith Nostbakken | Go to book overview

1
Dramatic Analysis

This first chapter addresses the dramatic elements of A Midsummer Night's Dream, considering what the word “comedy” means, where Shakespeare found his ideas for the plot of the play, and how the poetic and literary patterns work together to give the play meaning and structure.


COMEDY AND THE POPULAR TRADITION

A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of Shakespeare's early comedies, but “comedy,” as Shakespeare understood the term, meant much more than a humorous or funny performance, as we might define the word in the simplest terms today. While there are humorous or funny elements in all Shakespeare's comedies, other conventions help to determine what characterizes his comedy as a genre. For example, just as there are dramatic expectations and qualities that define a tragedy, there are different expectations that distinguish comedy from tragedy.


Comedy and Tragedy

Comparing the two genres can be one way to better understand the shape and movement of comedy. Greek philosopher Aristotle (384—322 B.C.), whose definitions of tragedy and comedy influenced playwrights in Shakespeare's time, described the two contrasting dramatic structures by indicating that tragedy begins quietly but ends in horror; comedy, on the other hand, begins with conflict or unrest and ends in peace. This distinction forms some of the

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