365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

257. Why “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” may be the funniest of the comedies

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When asked, many people will say their favorite Shakespeare play is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, owing to its utter hilarity and laugh-a-minute style. But just what is it about this play that makes it so inherently funny?

Perhaps it is the hijinks of Puck, the mischief-maker who just loves causing mayhem. His tricks include fitting a man with the head of a donkey and causing several people to fall in love with the wrong person. When the mix-ups really get rolling, Puck finds delight in these circumstances and can frequently be found cracking up laughing while the mortals act like fools. Puck’s trickery causes the elegant Queen Titania to fall in love with the ass-head man, Nick Bottom, which in and of itself is funny just due to the visual gag. It causes both Lysander and Demetrius to fight for the love of Helena, who thinks they are playing a joke on her (spurred on by Hermia, who is actually entirely innocent and equally hurt and confused), which leads to a catfight of epic proportions and plenty of opportunity for sexual puns.

The other thing that is certainly a contender for responsibility for the hilarity of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is the presence of the “rude mechanicals”. This rag-tag bunch of working-class heroes – perhaps missing an IQ point or two – work their hearts out to try and create an excellent play to entertain the Duke and Duchess on their wedding day (at night). The result is an awkwardly-written and even more awkwardly-staged version of “Pyramus and Thisby”. This play-within-a-play is usually the highlight of every production. It certainly was in my most recent show, in which Bottom (as Pyramus) was bedecked in a helmet covered in plastic cutlery and Francis Flute (as Thisby) wore a ball gown and five-inch heels, strutting his stuff all over the stage.

These events are undoubtedly largely responsible for the reputation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, but at the heart of it all is, of course, the language. Shakespeare’s gift for wordplay and our modern options of staging leave much of the play open for interpretation. This allows companies to find new and unexpected jokes on every line – and they usually take advantage of that fact.

Let me put it this way: during my aforementioned production, it had timed at two hours and twenty-odd minutes during rehearsals. When the audience was brought in and the actors had to hold for their laughter, the play rang in at over three hours. If that doesn’t support the opinion that “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is Shakespeare’s funniest play, I don’t know what is.

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Written by Caroline Mincks

June 15, 2010 at 9:02 PM

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