Shakespeare's Comedy vs. Tragedy.

Essay by CTM November 2003

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Certain parallels can be drawn between William Shakespeare's

plays, "A Midsummer Night's Dream", and "Romeo and Juliet". These

parallels concern themes and prototypical Shakespearian character

types. Both plays have a distinct pair of 'lovers', Hermia and

Lysander, and Romeo and Juliet, respectively. Both plays could have

also easily been tragedy or comedy with a few simple changes. A tragic

play is a play in which one or more characters is has a moral flaw

that leads to his/her downfall. A comedic play has at least one

humorous character, and a successful or happy ending. Comparing these

two plays is useful to find how Shakespeare uses similar character

types in a variety of plays, and the versatility of the themes which

he uses.

In "Romeo and Juliet", Juliet is young, "not yet fourteen",

and she is beautiful, and Romeo's reaction after he sees her is,

"O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!

It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night

As a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear

Beauty to rich for use, for the earth too dear!"

Juliet is also prudent, "Although I joy in thee, I have no joy in this

contract tonight.

It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden." She

feels that because they have just met, they should abstain from sexual


Hermia is also young, and prudent. When Lysander suggests that

"One turf shall serve as a pillow for both of us, One heart, one bed,

two bosoms, and one troth," Hermia replies "Nay, good Lysander. For my

sake, my dear, Lie further off yet; do not lie so near." Although

this couple has known each other for a while (Romeo and Juliet knew

each other for one night when the above quote was spoken), Hermia also

abstains from even sleeping near Lysander even though she believes he

does not have impure intentions.

Romeo's and Juliet's families are feuding. Because of these

feuds, their own parents will not allow the lovers to see each other.

In the a differnet way Hermia is not allowed to marry Lysander.

Hermia's father Egeus says to Theseus, Duke of Athens,

"Full of vexation come I, with complaint

Against my child, my daughter Hermia.

Stand fourth, Demetrius. My noble lord,

This man hath my consent to marry her.

Stand forth, Lysander. And, my gracious Duke,

This man hath bewitched the bosom of my child."

Egeus tells the Duke that his daughter can marry Demetrius, not

Lysander. Hermia replies ". . . If I refuse to wed Demetrius," Egeus

replies "Either to die the death, or to abjure for ever the society of

men." If Hermia does go against her father's wishes, and weds

Lysander, she will either be put to death, or be forced to become a


Both pairs of lovers also seek help from another. Juliet and

Romeo seek Friar Lawrence, and Lysander and Hermia seek Lysander's

aunt, who lives in the woods near Athens.

Both sets of youths have the same character type. They are

young, their love is prohibited, both women are prudent, and both seek

the help of an adult. Yet they have their subtle differences. For

example, Lysander, never mentioned a love before Hermia. Romeo loved

Rosaline, before he loved Juliet. Hermia's family and Lysander's

family were not feuding, whereas the Montagues' and Capulets' feude

was central to the plot of the play.

The stories of "Romeo and Juliet" and "A Midsummer Night's

Dream" are very different however. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a

comedy. Oberon, king of the fairies, sends a mischievous imp named,

Puck, to play a trick on the queen of the fairies, Titania, and on a

pair of Athenian youth. Puck turns Nick Bottom's head into that of an

ass (Nick Bottom is the man in the play production within "A Midsummer

Night's Dream"; he tried to play every part), and places an herb on

Titania that causes her to fall in love with him. This is quite

humorous. However, at the end of the play all the couples are back

together, with the ones they love. Thus Lysander and Hermia do get

married. If Egeus had showed up at the wedding, he could have killed

her. Egeus' dominate nature is his 'flaw', and if he would have

attended the wedding, and killed his daughter, this play could have

been a tragedy.

Likewise, "Romeo and Juliet", could have been a comedy. The

first two acts of this play qualifies it as a comedy. In act I,

Sampson and Gregory, servants of the Capulets, "talk big about what

they'll do the Montagues, make racy comments, and insult each other as

often as they insult the Montagues." ("Barron's, 45). In act II, Romeo

meets Juliet. All is going well until Tybalt, a Capulet kills Romeo's

best friend, Mercutio. Things go continue to go wrong from here, until

at the end of the play Romeo, thinking that Juliet is dead (she is in

fact alive, she took a drug to fake her death), drinks poison, and

when Juliet awakens from the spell of the drug, seeing her dead lover,

stabs herself. If the families' pride had not been so great that they

would murder one another, or prohibited true love, this play could

have been a comedy. This play is a tragedy, not because one character

has a flaw, but both families have a flaw- pride.

Prohibited love, romance, controlling families, both plays

have it all. With a few simple modifications, "A Midsummer Night's

Dream" could have been a tragedy, and "Romeo and Juliet" could have

been a comedy. Shakespeare however, uses many of the same character

types, young, prudent, rebellous lovers, and controling family

members, in both comedies and tragedies. The end results are character

molds, along with theme molds that can be easily translated into

almost any plot, in any play.