Comedy is the kind of drama that entertains us and makes us laugh. Its main characters are often ordinary people—people who do not frighten us. We can smile at their weakness and can easily share their joys and sorrows. Comedy appeals to our sense of humour. Different kinds of comedy make us love for different reasons. We response with laughter when something surprising happens that makes us happy. Unlike tragic hero, characters in comedy can overcome the obstacles and can tackle the situation. Thereby the tragic get back to comedy and the drama ends happily. In other words, comedy may have problems or tragic elements but it gets a happy ending.
The happy ending is often brought about by good luck a fortunate co-incidents, an unexpected incident or by a sudden change. More often than not, it is shown in comedy that lovers are separated by events or misunderstanding, but finally they get united. One tries to deny another rightful place but finally he gets his share. Characters in comedy are often loveable characters. We sympathize with them and wish them no harm. We laugh because we know they mean no harm. In contrast with tragedy, comedy shows life worse than it is in real life—worse not in the sense that it is bad but in the sense that it is ridiculous that cause laughter and delight. In Poetics Aristotle distinguishes it from tragedy by saying: “It deals in an amusing way with ordinary characters in rather everyday situations.” Diomeds serves that the characters in comedy are humble and private people. He adds that two of the main themes of comedy are love affairs and the abduction of maidens.
Comedy is different from tragedy in the sense that comedy is concerned with private men while Tragedy is concerned with kingly people. Comedy uses humble style and Tragedy uses lofty. Comedy begins with misfortune and ends with happy or joy and tragedy is opposite. During the renaissance, a different view of comedy prevailed. The dramatists believed that the object of comedy was corrective, instructive, didactic and not punitive. This representative view of Renaissance comedy is expressed by Sir Philip Sidney. In his Apology for Poetry Sidney says, “comedy is an imitation of the common errors of the life which is represented in the most ridiculous and scornful sort that may be, so that it is impossible that any beholder can be content to be such a one.”
Ralph Roister Doister by Nicholas Uddall is generally regarded as the first English comedy. It looked premature because another forty (40) years had been passed before comedy as a principal dramatic art really exercised the attention of the playwright. The two major writers of Comedy in England during the Renaissance were Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. Jonson wrote satirical comedies but Shakespeare wrote almost all kinds of Comedies except satirical Comedy.
Shakespeare’s Comedy says all about laughter, romantic love, rejoicing, joking etc. It breaths an air of merrymaking. The peculiarities, eccentricities, fools and foibles are a sign of interrogation in Shakespearean comedy. Shakespearean Comedy evokes laughter and purges us from boredom. All Shakespeare’s romantic comedy possesses elements of sadness and tenderness.
Shakespeare is skilful in his comedies as he is in tragedy. His comedies are life, like because they have both tragic and comic elements. In Shakespearean comedy, women play dominant role as man in tragedy. Women are shown to be beautiful and intelligent. At the beginning, they suffer from crisis but at the end they overcome all the obstacles by dint of their beauty and witticism. Sometimes Shakespeare shows women in disguise perhaps because of their lack of security in a man’s world. More often than not, Shakespeare in his comedies portrays rural life, in order to show a contrast with social life which is full of corruption, mistrust, faithlessness etc. Shakespeare is highly imaginative in comic performance. He doesn’t observe the unity of time, place and action in his comedies. And the language he uses in his comedies is highly poetic. Above all, Shakespeare’s comedies have double plots—one of happy and another is unhappy.
For example his As You Like It and Merchant of Venice are note-worthy. In fact Shakespeare has created a world in his comedy which will remain unique for all time to come.
Shakespeare’s Comedy is predominately romantic in theme. Among other themes, love and friendship become the dominating themes of his comedy. Shakespearean comedy has elements of chance and co-incidents which he mostly makes use of to show the change of fortune in the life’s of the characters. In other words, the tragic gets back to comedy because of chance and co-incidents.
Song is another element which expresses the theme of the play of Shakespeare. In “As You Like It” we find the songs change from winter to spring and at the same time the fate of the characters changes from unhappiness to happiness.
Shakespeare also composes tragic-comedies. He is a mirror held up to human life and life is a mixture of good and bad. This proposition is the true to life aspect of Shakespearean comedy. Tragicomedy is the unconventional mixture of kings, clowns, lords, peasants, princess, fools, etc. A tragic-comedy is the mingling of tragic and comic in the same play. In fact, the Elizabethan concept of tragedy is that of tragic-comedy which attempts to value and reconcile the conflict of vision and this conflict is deep in the mind of protagonist in Shakespeare’s tragic-comedy. It is unique that even Shakespeare’s romantic comedy possesses elements of sadness and tenderness. Shakespeare’s tragic-comic performance made him universal in his portrayal of character and this is a fundamental contribution of Shakespeare to Elizabethan drama. In fact, tragic-comedy is a play in between tragedy and comedy. It is a comedy near to tragedy.
It seems that Shakespeare does not believe in the categories of tragedy and comedy. His plays are mingled dramas. This is no over simplification of history. His plays give us a comprehensive and total view of life. Shakespeare’s stronger points lie in his violation of the Greek art of dramatization. For example his play, The Merchant of Venice is a fairy tale with elements of human sentiments — comic and tragic elements are juxtaposed side by side. The play has double plots- happy for Christian and tragic for the Jews, especially for Shylock.