Misery As Comedy: The Failure to Bridge Class Differences in Shakespeare’s Comedies
Dr. Mary Villeponteaux
Throughout many of William Shakespeare’s comedies, characters commit social transgressions. This presentation will explore how Shakespeare uses a specific model that may be less comical to the modern audience: often there is a disenfranchised figure who attempts to transgress a social boundary—be it a boundary based on gender, religion, or socioeconomic status—and is subsequently ridiculed as they fail. Katherina from The Taming of the Shrew, considered a “scold” for talking defiantly to the men in her life, must be tamed by the demanding Petruchio and made submissive; Shylock, the Jewish merchant who opposes the anti-Semitic main characters of The Merchant of Venice, must lose his entire belief system in order to live; and Malvolio, the puritanical steward in Twelfth Night, must be tortured and humiliated in order to punish him for aspiring to become a count. While the inclusion of these complex character portrayals prompt the exploration of Elizabethan social issues, especially in how they fight against cultural norms, the ultimate consequences they face for their failure to break social boundaries only reinforce the status quo.
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Brumblow, Aubrey, "Misery As Comedy: The Failure to Bridge Class Differences in Shakespeare’s Comedies" (2020). Curio Research Symposium. 19.