To create humor in drama, one must either make witty
wordplay, create an amusing situation, or use physical
comedy. Often jokes may be incorporated into a play, or a
comic situation may result in a series of complicated
antics. The tradition for some of these comic devices has
been carried over for hundreds of years, dating back to
Shakespeare in the 1600’s. In his play, A Midsummer Night’s
Dream, Shakespeare creates humor through three diverse
devices: oxymoron’s, malapropisms and mistaken identities.
All result in a farcical mix of comic situations.
Wordplay, such as the use of oxymorons, is an abundant
source of humor in Shakespeare. The word oxymoron comes
from the Greek meaning “pointedly foolish.” Pointedly
foolish certainly applies to the mechanicals, whose
ignorance provides the root of all their comedy in the play.
For example, Quince refers to the play of Pyramus and Thisbe
as “the most lamentable comedy.” (Iii 9) This does not make
much sense, since we would hardly express sorrow over a
comedy. However, as it turns out, the pathetic production
they eventually put on is so bad it actually is lamentable.
When Bottom says: “I’ll speak in a monstrous little voice,”
Aristophanes' play "Qesmoforiazogsai" ("The Poet and the Women") is an excellent comedy. Standing the test of time and the often diminishing process of translation into English it remains amusing today just as it doubtlessly was to its original Athenian audience. It is a well-controlled comedy with a fluent plot, striking dialogue and intelligent characterisation. But above all it passes the ...
(Iii 43) he surely does not mean a voice which is both
monstrous and little, for something cannot be both monstrous
and little. What Bottom is trying to say is that he will
speak in a “very” little voice. Bottom does not realize
what he has said and creates amusing confusion for the
reader. One of Helena’s oxymorons is in Act 3, scene 2,
line 129: “oh devilish- holy fray!” Obviously something
cannot be devilish and holy at the same time, and by most
people’s standards, the devil certainly is not pious.
The ignorance of Bottom and his friends seems to be
bottomless and voluminous and results not only in oxymorons,
but also in “malapropisms.” A malapropism is the confusion
of two words that sound alike but mean different things,
which results in humor. Sometimes the ignorant use of the
wrong word is funny simply because stupid characters look
foolishly pretentious. This is often the case with Bottom,
who tries constantly to appear extremely educated and uses
long impressive words without any clue as to their real
meaning. Bottom claims, “…I have an exposition
(interpretation) of sleep come upon me.” (IV I 35) This
phrase does not make much sense to you and me but it makes
sense to Bottom, who means “..a disposition to sleep…!”
The most comical malapropisms occur when the mistaken word
means the exact opposite of what the speaker intended.
Quince says that the play can not go on without Bottom, who
is the very “paramour” of a sweet voice (IVii 8).
malapropism is doubly funny, because instead of using the
word that Quince meant to say, “paragon” (an example of
perfection), he says “paramour”, which means mistress. The
idea of Bottom as a mistress makes the malapropism even
funnier. The joke can go even further, since Bottom does
become Titania’s donkey paramour.
Wordplay is not the only type of humor generated in
Shakespeare’s play. The other type of humor is a form of
The initial setting of the play's scenes is Athens under the reign of Theses and Hippolyta, who are themselves characters from ancient Greek mythology. But it must be understood that the "Athens" of A Midsummer Night's Dream is neither that of ancient Greece nor of its Renaissance counterpart, but an amalgamation of the former with the folk culture of Elizabethan England. After Act I, the play ...
slapstick in which mistaken identities cause an uproar of
emotional mix-ups. The background of the play is a simple
love “square” involving four people. Hermia loves Lysander
and Lysander loves her, but Demetrious also loves Hermia,
and Helena loves Demetrious. Hermia and Demetrious are
engaged to wed against Hermia’s will. They all end up
running off into the wood on a magic eve where fairy
mischief turns everything upside down. While asleep, Puck,
a fairy, squeezes juice from a flower that makes whomever’s
eye it enters fall in love with the first person they see.
He puts it onto Lysander’s eye, thinking he was Demetrius.
This begins the havoc of mistaken identities, because Helena
is the first person he sees, which causes him to fall in
love with her instead of Hermia. So now, Lysander loves
Helena, Helena loves Demetrius, Demetrius loves Hermia and
Hermia loves Lysander. The confusion snowballs. Every
encounter the couples have gets more confusing and
exasperating. “Never did mockers waste more idle breath.”
Next Puck realizes his mistake and puts the flower juice on
Demetrius’ eyes, making him fall in love with Helena as
well. Helena, whose love has been hopeless and pathetically
in vain, thinks that Lysander and Demetrius are mocking her,
because they are both ,suddenly, madly and mysteriously in
love with her. Her fury with both the boys as they follow
her around hopelessly in love, is filled with humor. Her
exasperation is ironic, because now she has too much love
instead of too little. There is also dramatic irony because
the audience knows what’s going on but continues to watch
her become more and more enraged. Her misplaced anger and
verbal abuse of the lovers and of Hermia, whom she suspects
of joining them in humiliating her, is also very funny. The
reversal of situations are comic and the complexity of one
wrong situation leading to another keeps the laughs coming
one after another. In the end it all works out because
Lysander loves Hermia; Demetrious, Helena.
.".. reason and love keep little company together nowadays." This quote from the play is extremely applicable. In the world in which we live there is always a reason for love. You do not wake up and automatically fall in love with someone. You meet someone, get to know them and then form a relationship. All bets are off in this play. At first we see that there are relationships formed. Lysander ...
Any one of the comic devices Shakespeare usesthroughout A Midsummer Nights Dream replete with humor, but
the combination, repetition and complexity of mixing all
these devices creates one of the classic and brilliant
comedies of all times.