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Is Shakespeare ever funny?

Discussion in 'Arts & Entertainment' started by Lord Baal, Feb 27, 2010.

  1. Lord Baal

    Lord Baal Chieftain

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    Moderator Action: Moved from the thread in Site Feedback.

    This thread makes me want to go back and read some Shakespeare. I hated the man in school, but that's likely because a) they forced us to read him, and b) they picked the worst stuff he ever wrote every time.
     
  2. Valka D'Ur

    Valka D'Ur Hosting Iron Pen in A&E Retired Moderator

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    ^ That's great that you're considering trying some Shakespeare again. :goodjob: From experience, I can say that reading/watching Shakespeare because you WANT to, rather than because you are required to for the sake of your report card, is rather fun. The first time I ever saw Shakespeare performed live was at the local theatre by a traveling troupe from BC. They did "Twelfth Night" in the most traditional way, and it was absolutely marvelous! The major complaint most people have is that they can't wrap their minds around the language, but when you see the actions and expressions that go along with the language, everything becomes so much more understandable and meaningful. I'd never even read that play and so had almost no idea of what the story was about, but I learned as the play went along... and have rarely laughed so much in my life! :lol:
     
  3. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Off-Topic alert:

    Yes, and good God, have you read them? As Punt and Dennis put it: they may not seem funny now - and they weren't funny back then either.

    I don't know why people continue to insist, in the fact of four centuries of stony-faced audiences enduring endless puns about horns, that Shakespeare's comedies are funny. Here is a passage which I think is worth quoting from The art of coarse acting by Michael Green, who puts the case pretty definitively:

    Returning vaguely to the point, there is no reason why there cannot be jolly banter and humour on the forum. Problems arise when people mistake other things for jolly banter and humour, such as (in no particular order): mocking other people, exchanging tedious in-jokes that only two other people understand, quoting Monty Python, or being curtly dismissive.
     
  4. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Chieftain

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    I found The Twelfth Night very unfunny and annoying (past tense 'cause I can't even remember the plot right now), but I actually like Much Ado About Nothing. Maybe I should thank the Russian translator for this.
     
  5. Valka D'Ur

    Valka D'Ur Hosting Iron Pen in A&E Retired Moderator

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    Hmm... I enjoy Twelfth Night, and absolutely love Much Ado About Nothing. But to be honest, I'm not sure how I would feel about them if I'd read them before seeing them on stage or the Kenneth Branagh movie.

    We need to remember that humor varies from person to person, and from culture to culture. I'm sure that if any "olden days" performances of Romeo and Juliet had the kids do a nude scene, the audience would have been outraged, not found it funny. But when the play was performed at Red Deer College and the actors were obviously nude in the bedroom scene, some people in the audience laughed. I'm not sure if that's because they thought it funny, or whether it was nervous laughter because a genuinely nude scene was unexpected.

    Anyway, all this Shakespeare discussion would make a terrific thread on its own, I think. :)
     
  6. Lord Baal

    Lord Baal Chieftain

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    Awesome, I've now started a thread without trying.

    For the record, for anyone who wants to give me advice on what Shakespeare plays to read, I thoroughly enjoyed Macbeth, found Hamlet quite good, yet hated Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew. Perhaps that's just my innate dislike of romances, but I've enjoyed many sci-fi romances - Travels With My Cats comes to mind, though that's more of a fantasy, even if Walter Jon Williams is a sci-fi author - so I think it's more than the genre.
     
  7. Camikaze

    Camikaze Administrator Administrator

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    I should hope so, for the sheer fact that there must be some reason why they subject people to it (solely referring to the comedies, or attempts thereof). My personal experiences with studying Shakespearean comedy are The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night's Dream and As You Like It. All forced upon me at various times throughout high school (so yeah, there's probably something in the 'forced' bit). None of them are in the least bit humorous in any other way than in what could be described as WTF humour (funnies generated by the sheer absurdity of what is being written). I can't really remember any of these other than As You Like It in great detail, but it seemed the majority of what was attempted to be humour was innuendo (which would seem validated by the fact that an awful lot of the clarification foot notes in the edition the school gave us cited books solely dedicated to innuendo and sex in Shakespeare). It's seemed like 400 year old Benny Hill. Sure, there are moments of some real humour, but they seem to be merely moments, and hardly qualify the works as quality comedies, unless 'Shakespearean comedy' is meant to have some sort of differing definition to 'comedy' (and a quick search of wikipedia would suggest I am, although there is still meant to be a basis of humour, which seems to be severely lacking).

    I do have to note though, that the As You Like It movie (I think it was the '92 version) was absolutely hilarious, even if only for the wrestling scene, the ridiculous costuming and hideous moustaches.
     
  8. Lord Baal

    Lord Baal Chieftain

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    Do you have something against the comic genius of Benny Hill?
     
  9. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Chieftain

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    I've just realized I've confused "The Twelfth Night" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in my previous post here. No wonder - I'm already 19 and my mind is not what it used to be back in the days...
     
  10. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    It's true that "comedy", in reference to Shakespeare, doesn't mean precisely the same thing as it does normally; I think the idea is that the subject and treatment is fairly light, rather than necessarily supposed to be funny. Like Last of the summer wine. Not that that is much of a recommendation. At any rate, I'm sure that A midsummer night's dream is not really meant to be funny, more a sort of whimsical escapist fantasy. Twelfth night is supposed to be funny, at least parts of it, but it's the sort of humour that revolves around (a) malicious bullying and (b) characters with silly names, neither of which is really all that funny.

    However, Shakespeare does get an award for Worst Gag Of All Time, which is actually from Othello:

    CASSIO: Dost thou hear me, mine honest friend?
    CLOWN: No, I hear not your honest friend. I hear you.

    (Pause as medics cart away audience members unable to stop roaring with laughter.)

    I draw a veil over the rest of Act III, Scene 1, from which this priceless exchange is taken; fortunately Iago comes in shortly after this and the sketch is put out of its misery.
     
  11. Shylock

    Shylock Hey smiling strange

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    I don't find Shakespeare funny but then again it was written for different people in a different time.
     
  12. Valka D'Ur

    Valka D'Ur Hosting Iron Pen in A&E Retired Moderator

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    Shakespeare's plays are best appreciated when you can actually see them performed, as opposed to merely reading them. Some of the comedy seems pretty flat on the page, but once you have actors speaking the lines and performing the actions, the humor comes out.

    That said, A Midsummer Night's Dream is definitely not what I would consider a comedy. I found nothing funny about it at all, but I am willing to concede that I may have a bias against it because I worked backstage and on the catwalks above the stage when Red Deer College put it on. Actually, the best memory I have of working on that play was that I learned how to use an electric sander in the scene shop at the college (to take the modern paint off the broomsticks we were going to use). Oh, and cutting dry prickle-bush branches to use in another scene. This was in March, and we needed sharp twigs with no leaves. So I put on heavy gloves, got out my pruning shears, and cut a boxful of twigs off the bushes in our front yard. Since I was in a sufficiently rotten mood over the whole play, I opted for a somewhat painful solution... :devil:

    My first introduction to The Taming of the Shrew was when I worked backstage on a production of Kiss Me, Kate. That's a musical about a group of actors putting on a performance of The Taming of the Shrew. It was loads of fun, and I was inspired to try to read the original Shakespeare play. I still have yet to see it performed properly by itself, though.

    Twelfth Night is basically a soap opera, with the mistaken identity angle. The first performance I ever saw of this play was excellent, and the actors playing Viola and Sebastian actually did look enough alike that they could have been twins. Hilarity ensues when Viola gets challenged to a duel by somebody who thinks she's Sebastian, and somebody else thinks Sebastian is Viola and everybody is in love with the wrong person because of mistaken identities and misunderstandings... :crazyeye: Well, I found it hilarious.
     
  13. _random_

    _random_ Jewel Runner

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    I played Thurio in a high school production of Two Gentlemen of Verona, and I think a lot of the humor comes from exactly how it's performed. The script gave the actors a lot of room to be hilarious, but it could fall completely flat depending on who performed it. Due to a general lack of stage directions, actors are given more freedom to engage in physical comedy. In much the same way, the dialogue could be quite amusing, or merely a series of puns that nobody will catch. In short, Shakespearean comedy tends to give the actors a lot of room to be funny, but has less intrinsic artistic value than his tragedy.
     
  14. scherbchen

    scherbchen well that can´t be good

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    shakespeare can be very funny. you have to be able to suspend your disbelief which is not that easy when you first read or watch a shakespearean play because it does seem pretty alien when you are exposed to it for the first time (which is pretty funny by itself because a sizeable amount of shakespearean plots are the core of many a hollywood movie released in the past decades, which is only fair fair because he was a thieving basterd himself. it is merely the language that gives the uninitiated problems)

    then, as has been mentioned, performance and directing have an enormous impact on the enjoyability and brevity dervived from a viewing. and what is funny for somebody might be daft to another person.
     
  15. Tekee

    Tekee Bahama Mama

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    what about those sexual jokes in King Lear and Macbeth?
    Our teacher made sure to point them out,
    In Macbeth when the Porter goes "Man up and down" or something and it refers to his erection being lost?
     
  16. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    I'd have to agree with Randomnerd10* and scherbchen here: all humour depends on the performance, c.q. performer. I don't quite see why Shakespeare should suddenly be an exception to this rule.

    Personally I found

    "CASSIO: Dost thou hear me, mine honest friend?
    CLOWN: No, I hear not your honest friend. I hear you."

    quite funny (though it will not make me laugh), because I like puns. But as with all humour, if the joke doesn't speak to you, you'll not think it funny.

    As a general comment I'd like to point out that humour is a deeper subject than generally given credit for, and has been quite thoroughly studied. Contrary to what people might think, comedy is much harder to write than tragedy.

    * Except for this part: "Shakespearean comedy tends to give the actors a lot of room to be funny, but has less intrinsic artistic value than his tragedy." I'd say that leaving room for actors' interpretations does not justify classifying his comedy as having less intrinsic value than his tragedy.
     
  17. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    What comes out of all this, then, is that Shakespeare's comedies can be funny if they are performed by funny actors. To me, that says that the text itself isn't funny - the humour comes from the performance and from the talent of the actors. As in the Michael Green quote above: "Professional producers... cover up the lines with business." And yes, that goes for Macbeth's Porter with his tiresome and irrelevant mutterings about the effect of alcohol upon virility, and for all those cross-dressing scenes where we are expected to believe that a woman in a pair of trousers is utterly unrecognisable even to her closest family. Surely no-one over the age of 12 really finds this stuff funny, do they? Compare all this to a genuinely funny playwright, such as Tom Stoppard, whose work is funny even when you read it, without requiring a proper comedian to make it funny.
     
  18. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Hm. Something which has come up - though I did not mention it - is that all humour is also quite time bound. For instance, comparing Shakespeare with Molière I imagine most people will prefer the former over the latter (no offense intended to the French), but both authors employ humour and especially jokes that to our 'modern' taste are simply not funny, because our sense of humour has progressed since then. (Think of someone telling a joke: the first time you hear it, it may be funny, and even the second time, but there are very few jokes that stay funny beyond the third time.)

    Also, comedy and tragedy are merely genres to discern between say, the lighthearted and the more serious. Yet comedy can be tragic and tragedy comic. Indeed tragedy without a sense of humour can simply be dull and tedious.

    (And then ofcourse there are people who simply don't like Shakespeare... In the end it's all very personal. To be true, I personally appreciate Shakespeare for his poetry rather than for his plays.)
     
  19. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Chieftain

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    The only Molière play I truly like is The Misantrope. Ironically, it's the least comic of his plays.
     
  20. Taliesin

    Taliesin Puttin' on the Ritz

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    Two of the funniest scenes in Shakespeare are in the Henry VI plays, which are thought his earliest. Look at Part One, V.iii, and Part Three, III.ii. The latter in particular is hilarious if done with any grace.
     

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