Shakespeare’s Comedy vs. TragedyCertain 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
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.