Essay Humor In Twelfth Night

Salinger (1974) calls Twelfth Night a “comedy about comedy” in which Shakespeare demonstrates his “fundamental debt to the earlier Renaissance tradition of comic playwriting and his abiding sense of detachment from it” (pg 242), and it is from this point that this essay will discuss functions of comedy in regards to Shakespeare abiding and deviating at various points from traditional Renaissance comedies and into which category of comedy Twelfth Night can be placed. It will also discuss how realism aids the function of comedy in the play in the particular case of Twelfth Night, that function being primarily a celebration of both joy and of Shakespeare’s comedy for its own sake.

Traditional Renaissance comedy is clearly present throughout the text, such as the derisive laughter aimed at Malvolio cross-gartered in yellow stockings or Sir Andrew unsuspecting in the mock duel. The audience laughing at Malvolio serves to ridicule him further for his folly, but also serves comedy value in distinctly Shakespearian terms; we laugh at Malvolio to cast him out and show our dislike of him because he ruins the fun. This is what Charlton (1966) picks as definitive of a Shakespeare comedy, that the characters “inspire us to be happy with...

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The Humor In William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

The Humor in William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

Comedy should entertain a general audience. It is usually a dramatic
work that is light, and often satirical in tone. Horace Walpole once
said that "life is like a comedy to those who think, and a tragedy to
those who feel." This can be said to be true in as we tend to laugh at
comic characters, particularly comic double acts, but "feel" with
tragic heroes.

The audience at a comedy is likely to feel itself to be slightly
superior to, and therefore distant from, the comic figures, even the
romantic leads, if it is to laugh at their follies.

Comedy can be defined in three main types; visual, verbal and
situational. Visual humour is usually accessible images, pictures and
the obvious. Verbal humour is the spoken satire, word-play and
stories. Situational humour takes place around a plot created by an

The cynic who stated that "laugh and the world laughs with you, cry
and you cry alone" was possibly a theatre fanatic. In Shakespeare's
plays, this distinction has the effect of isolating the characters at
the end of his tragedies, and uniting them at the end of the comedies.
Byron may have been misogynistic when he stated that "all comedies end
in marriage" but the ceremony operates as a mark of unification and
social harmony in the closure of a comedy.

On first view, the Twelfth Night has all the basic comic elements;
clowns, double acts, women dressed as men, men dressed as priests and
a "sublimely funny" servant, only funny because of his distinct lack
of humour.

Harold Bloom believes that Twelfth Night is indeed still funny to a
modern day audience.

In source 2 he declares that "the high comedy of the lovers gives way
to the boisterous humour of the revellers and practical jokers Maria,
Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (translated roughly as "pasty
of face")". Maria is accurately described as a "natural comic" and
Toby as merely "Belch". This point can cause great deliberation, as
Sir Toby's character is much more than a bumbling foolish drunk. It is
Toby's malice and conniving disposition that causes much of the darker
humour in Twelfth Night, such as his extended persecution of Malvolio
in locking him in a dark, damp cell.

Source one, courtesy of The Shakespeare Revolutionary Front,
disagrees, and insists firmly that Twelfth Night is no longer funny,
if at all. The source, written for a national newspaper, is written
with typical tabloid techniques, using bizarre hyperbole and
unbelievable satire. It describes the more complex comedy scenes with
brash misunderstanding, nonchalantly describing the "woman dressed as
a man" as "instantly recognisable" to the entire audience but never
anyone on stage". It is possibly a badly-interpreted irony that
prevents the author of source one from realising...

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