Now it’s on to the Shakespearean comedies. Keep in mind, that in Shakespeare’s day, the definition of “comedy” was rather loose so I’m not putting all the ones considered as such on the post. But during the Renaissance, for a play to be considered a comedy it must have a happy ending and a generally optimistic viewpoint. Many of Shakespeare’s comedies usually revolve around temporarily troubled love affairs which made the romantic comedy his forte. However, some of his “comedies” tend to be less comedic which I’ve put down as either as his Late Romances that seem to have a more romantic or his Problem Plays that tend to be more ambiguous with endings you wouldn’t necessarily call “happy” except that no major character dies. I’ll shed a little more light on these in later posts. Nevertheless, what I’ve listed in this posts are some of the genuinely funny Shakespearean comedies everyone usually considers as such. You might some of these more enjoyable than the ones you’ve probably read in school. Still, ladies, if you’re in a Shakespearean comedy, dressing in drag will seriously mess up your dating life. Also, expect that many of these plays don’t really give great relationship advice and tend to have many characters marrying their sweethearts within a short timespan of meeting them. Then again, Much Ado About Nothing does kind of show you what not to do when you suspect that your girlfriend is cheating on you. Nevertheless, many of these plays at least have some of Shakespeare’s most endearing female characters. So if you’re a woman who’s into romantic comedies, I’m sure these plays will satisfy you except maybe Taming of the Shrew.
11. As You Like It
Plot: Duke Senior gets usurped by his brother Frederick and flees to the Forest of Arden with some servants and friends. His daughter Rosalind is permitted to stay since she’s best friends with Frederick’s daughter Celia. They meet two young noblemen named Oliver and Orlando who instantly falls in love with Rosalind. But his brother Oliver kicks him out so he’s forced to flee into the Forest of Arden. Meanwhile, Frederick gets sick of Rosalind that she escapes into the woods with Celia and Touchstone the Clown. Both women don disguises to protect themselves with Rosalind dressing as a guy named Ganymede. They meet up with some of the Duke’s supporters (which includes the melancholy Jacques) who take them in but they don’t meet him immediately like Orlando does. Yet, a lot of this play is mostly spent on the romances. Orlando writes love poems to Rosalind and hanging them on trees. “Ganymede”attracts the affections of a shepherdess named Phoebe who being crushed by a fellow shepherd named Silvius. Even Touchstone the Clown is involved in some romantic entanglement. But eventually it all gets straightened out with Oliver and Frederick mending their ways and returning power to their brothers, 4 marriages, almost everyone living happily ever after, and the melancholy Jacques and Frederick joining a monastery.
Plot Origin: Based on Thomas Lodge’s Rosalynde, Euphues Golden Legacie, written 1586-7 and first published in 1590. His is based upon “The Tale of Gamelyn.” Still, Duke Frederick is killed in the forest in the source material.
Who Falls In Love: Well, Rosalind and Orlando fall in love with each other as Oliver and Celia do later on. Yet, Rosalind and Orlando’s relationship faces obstacles like exile and her dressing as a man that she gets unwanted attention from Phoebe who’s being crushed by Silvius. But Silvius ends up with Phoebe once Rosalind reveals that she’s a girl and it’s not going to work out. Touchstone falls for a shepherdess named Audrey but has competition with another shepherd named William. But Touchstone and Audrey eventually marry.
Who Dies: The deer whose death Jacques laments over. Sometimes Adam’s death is implied.
Reputation: Scholars tend to disagree about this play’s merits. Some critics might see it as the Shakespearean equivalent to a mediocre crowd pleaser. Others see it as a work of great literary value and point to how Rosalind as one of the Bard’s greatest, most lovable, and most fully realized heroines. Not to mention, the melancholy Jacques speaks many of Shakespeare’s famous speeches. Still, despite critical disputes, it’s one of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed comedies that has several film adaptations. So whether it’s a crowd pleaser or a work of great merit, it works.
12. The Comedy of Errors
Published: Between 1589 and 1595
Plot: Follows the adventures of two sets of identical twins that were accidentally separated at birth but are given the same names. And one set acts as servants to the other set. You can bet these guys get mistaken for one another because asking for Antipholus and his valet Dromio isn’t going to cut it unless you be specific with location since one lives in Ephesus and the other in Syracuse. The story beings with their merchant dad Aegon looking for his other son and his servant and getting arrested by the Duke of Ephesus and is sentenced to death unless he pays a fine. Meanwhile, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse arrive at Ephesus he finds that his long lost twin brother and his servant are alive and well but also happen to share the same name. So when the Syracuse Antipholus sends his Dromio to pay for a hotel, he somehow switches places with the Dromio of Ephesus. Even funnier when the Syracuse Antipholus and Dromio arrive, everyone in Ephesus seems to know who they are. When they meet the friends and family of their twins, a series based on mistaken identities lead to wrongful beatings, a near seduction, the Antipholus of Ephesus, as well as false accusations of infidelity, demon possession, theft, and madness. But everything gets sorted out and there’s a happy ending with all brothers, parents, and lovers reunited. Though there may be confusion over their mom entering an Ephesian convent before such a facility even existed. But I’m sure Shakespeare didn’t care.
Plot Origin: Based on an English translation of the Menaechmi by Plautus which is from Ancient Rome.
Who Falls In Love: Nell the kitchen wench has it for the Dromios and the Ephesian one reciprocates. The Antipholus of Ephesus is married to Adrianna but they have a very complicated relationship (and he’s known to cheat).
Who Dies: No one.
Reputation: For centuries, scholars found little depth to this play and it wasn’t a particular favorite in the 18th century despite considering that it gave us Tom Jones, you’d think they’d go for a play like this. However, modern audiences tend to like this since it was made into a Rogers and Hammerstein musical called The Boys from Syracuse, a hip hop musical, 2 operas, and several films. So while it’s not Shakespeare’s A-list quality, it’s still popular since it’s pure sitcom that works well on the modern stage.
13. Love’s Labor’s Lost
Plot: The King of Navarre and his attendant lords make a vow to devote 3 years of their lives to scholarship and keep the male hormones at bay. Unfortunately, they run into a French princess and her ladies in waiting. This script is 90% poetry and jokes and 10% plot. Ends with the French princess receiving word of her dad’s death which means that the weddings have to be delayed for a year.
Plot Origin: Doesn’t have an obvious source.
Who Falls In Love: Don Armado with Jacquenetta, King Ferdinand of Navarre with the French Princess, Berowne with Lady Rosaline, Longueville with Lady Maria, and Dumaine with Lady Katherine.
Who Dies: The King of France which means the princess has to delay getting married for a year so she could try being queen.
Reputation: It’s possibly Shakespeare’s first comedy and was probably originally catered to Elizabethan college students. Never been among the most popular but it’s better known for its sophisticated wordplay, puns, and literary allusions and is filled with clever pastiches of contemporary poetic forms. This could be more demanding among modern theater goers. Made into a 2000 movie by Kenneth Branagh.
14. The Merry Wives of Windsor
Plot: Falstaff tries to bang two married ladies named Mistress Page and Mistress Ford since he’s broke and needs cash. But since neither’s impressed by him, they conspire to subject him to a series of pranks. Then there’s Page’s daughter Anne whose parents want her to marry but can’t agree on which of her suitors she should choose. Meanwhile Anne prefers a guy neither of her parents like.
Plot Origin: Based on the 14th century tale Il Pecorone by Giovanni Fiorentino, which was published in Milan in 1558. Still, it’s possibly one of the few plays in which Shakespeare might’ve come up with an original plot.
Who Falls In Love: Well, Falstaff goes after 2 married women, but it’s for cash. But you can call it love when pertains to the Pages and the Fords. Anne with Fenton, to her parents’ dismay though Slender and Dr. Caius are among her suitors.
Who Dies: No one.
Reputation: Though popular for a long time, it’s considered one of Shakespeare’s weakest plays and was probably written quickly for a commission by one of Falstaff’s fans. The characters are all stock. The A and B plots are barely even aware of each other, the exposition is clunky, and it’s mostly formula. But at least Falstaff is very much the same though it’s not like Henry IV. And Anne’s failed suitors are complete idiots. There’s a story that it was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I who wanted to see Falstaff in love but it’s most likely not true. But it does show that fans meddling in fictional characters’ love lives was common in the 16th century. However, Shakespeare knew better and created a plot for him that was more believable for his character. Seriously, could you see Falstaff falling in love? No. Could you see him wanting to bang two married women for cash? Probably yes. Was made into a few operas, one by Salieri and another by Verdi. With a good cast, this is a good way to kill an hour and a half.
15. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Plot: Hermia and Lysander are in love. Unfortunately, Demetrius likes her, too and her father likes him better than Lysander. Fortunately, Helena is angry that Demetrius chose Hermia over her. They go to court, where Theseus rules in Egeus’ and gives Hermia the choice to marry Demetrius, be executed, or become a nun (an unusual choice in Ancient Greece. Priestess might be more like it). Hermia decides to run away with Lysander that very night but she tells Helena not to tell anyone. So naturally, Helena spills the beans to Demetrius so she could get back to his good graces. Demetrius follows Hermia and Lysander and the four get lost in the same forest. Meanwhile, the fairy royal couple Oberon and Titania are having marital problems and Oberon seeks to humiliate her so he’ll get his way with the help of magic and a love potion. But when Oberon sees Demetrius treating Helena like shit, he sends Puck to use a love potion on “a youth in Athenian garb,” traveling in the woods with a woman. However, Oberon should’ve been more specific because Puck applies the potion to Lysander instead and then Oberon applies the potion to Demetrius later after finding out that Puck really messed things up. This results in both guys being in love with Helena who thinks they’re making fun of her. Meanwhile, Oberon applies the potion to Titania’s eyes and really makes a literal ass out of a resident ham from a community theater group and leads him to Titania. Titania wakes up and ends up smitten with him and Bottom doesn’t seem to mind. Eventually, Oberon and Puck manage to straighten things up and everyone lives happily ever after. Also, Bottom and his fellow actors perform a hilariously terrible play during the wedding reception.
Plot Origin: We’re not sure where Shakespeare got his source for this story, other than in Greek mythology and some ancient and medieval stories.
Who Falls In Love: Theseus with Hippolyta, Hermia with Lysander, and Helena with Demetrius of which we can’t dispute. Oberon and Titania are married but are having problems. Titania with Bottom but she’s under a spell and he doesn’t seem to mind too much. Then there’s Lysander and Demetrius who seem to like Hermia in the beginning but then switch to Helena until they fall asleep and Puck straightens things out so no loves would intersect and everyone would live happily ever after. Well, sort of. Still, if you’re familiar with Greek mythology, it doesn’t end well with Theseus and Hippolyta.
Who Dies: Nobody.
Reputation: After the English Civil War, this play wouldn’t be performed in its entirety until the 1840s. Made into several films and had music composed by Felix Mendelsohn that’s been played at most weddings. Today it’s regarded as one of the Bard’s best and most popular comedies and is widely performed. However, this didn’t stop Samuel Pepys saying it was the most ridiculous film he’s ever seen. Bottom has been played by the likes of James Cagney and Kevin Kline. I recommend the 1999 film with Kevin Kline since you have Ally McBeal as Helena, Batman as Demetrius, Caesar Flickerman as Puck, and Jimmy McNulty as Lysander. Besides, while the 1930s version has James Cagney play a solid Bottom, Mickey Rooney’s Puck is annoying as hell. On Youtube, you can find performance of the play at the end by the Beatles.
16. Much Ado About Nothing
Plot: When some soldiers arrive at Leonato’s home in Messina, his daughter Hero and niece Beatrice attract the attentions of Claudio and Benedick. Claudio and Hero fall in love but are set to wed. Whereas, Beatrice and Benedick hurl witty insults at each other but everyone thinks they’d make a great couple. So other characters hatch a scheme to have Beatrice and Benedick fall in love with each other and stop arguing that proves successful. But all is not well, since for Don Pedro’s sullen and bitter illegitimate brother Don John can’t stand being unhappy with his lot. So he decides to stir trouble by having his companion Borachio make love to Hero’s servant Margaret at Hero’s window. That night he brings Don Pedro and Claudio to watch. Believing the worst, Claudio humiliates Hero, accuses her of being a slut, and jilts her at the altar. Hero’s family members decide to hide her away until the truth about her innocence comes to light. Fortunately, the night watchmen overhear Borachio about the incident and arrest him and a friend. By the time Claudio hears about Hero’s innocence, he thinks she’s dead and mourns for her. Leonato then has him punished by making Claudio tell everyone that he was wrong to suspect anything about Hero. And he also has him marry his “niece” who resembles Hero (but it’s really her). So Claudio enters the church thinking he’ll marry a woman he’s never met but he’s overwhelmed with joy when Hero reveals herself. Beatrice and Benedick decide to marry. And the four take part in a double ceremony.
Plot Origin: We’re not sure about the Bard’s original source for this play but it’s probably based on several stories.
Who Falls In Love: Claudio with Hero though they have problems and Beatrice with Benedick who initially hate each other or so it seems.
Who Dies: No one.
Reputation: This is considered one of the best Shakespearean comedies since it combines elements of robust hilarity with more serious ideas about honor, shame, and court politics. It’s said to be a forerunner of the romantic comedy as well. It was very popular in its early decades as it has been ever since. However, most of its fans usually watch it for the Beatrice and Benedick romance since it involves witty repartees and great chemistry. In fact, Charles II called this play “Benedick and Beatrice.” This makes a lot of sense Benedick doesn’t act as much of a jerk to Beatrice as Claudio does to Hero who basically accuses her of cheating on him on the altar on what was supposed to be their wedding day. And while he starts as a self-proclaimed woman hater, Benedick is virtually the only male character who doesn’t participate in Hero’s shaming (excluding the priest). Not only that, but he’s the one who calls Claudio out on it. Besides, Benedick and Beatrice seem to enjoy insulting each other even when they start off being in total denial of their feelings. Made into a movie in 1993 and 2013.
17. The Taming of the Shrew
Plot: Baptista Minola has 2 daughters. His younger daughter Bianca is kind, beautiful, and is sought by suitors everywhere. His older daughter Katerina is a complete foul-tempered bitch nobody likes but has an attractive dowry. And Baptista won’t marry Bianca off until someone marries Kate first. So gold digging Petruchio enters in and marries her over her objections since everyone wants Kate out of the way. After the wedding, Petruchio strives to tame her to his will with various methods of psychological torture. He ultimately succeeds in breaking her spirit, proving a woman’s natural need for a man and she becomes a compliant, obedient wife. When Petruchio returns to her family, they don’t believe in Kate’s new obedience and Baptista gives him a second dowry. The play ends with 3 happy marriages and a speech by Kate arguing that women should obey their husbands because they love them and only want what’s best for them (so how do you explain domestic abuse, adultery, and marital rape?).
Plot Origin: There’s no specific source for this play, though it’s based on a lot of common tales and there’s a lot of debate. But the earlier versions emphasize a woman’s inferiority and builds up string of humiliations that’s truly shocking in its violence.
Who Falls In Love: Petruchio with Katerina and Lucentio and a bunch of other guys with Bianca. Hortensio marries a rich widow but institutionalized gold digging was a thing at the time.
Who Dies: No one.
Reputation: This play has attracted considerable controversy due to some of its misogynistic elements and there are so many interpretations. Fell out of favor during the 17th century and the original wasn’t performed at all in the 18th century and won’t be until 1844. And its popularity has increased considerably during the 20th century despite the ironic rise of feminism. Now it’s one of Shakespeare’s most frequently staged plays and it’s been adapted numerous times on stage and screen and it’s as popular as it was when it was first written. Which is ironic because you’d think people from the earlier centuries would be into stuff like this but modern audiences have liked this play much more. Then again, the rise of romantic comedies might have something to do with it. The 1967 film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor is the most famous screen version. Still, while some feminists might obviously have a problem with this play since it portrays domestic abuse in a positive light, but we have to acknowledge that a lot of romances tend to promote unhealthy behaviors. And sure Kate and Petruchio aren’t a model for a great relationship but the play has more critical acclaim than the Fifty Shades Trilogy or the Twilight Saga. And both works make this play look like a feminist drama in comparison.
18. Twelfth Night
Plot: Twins Viola and Sebastian are separated in a shipwreck. Since Viola doesn’t have skills other than singing and playing an instrument, she decides to dress up as a boy named Cesario so she might find a job under the Duke Orsino who’s said to have a good reputation. However, she’d rather serve Countess Olivia but she’s heartbroken by the loss of her dad and brother as well as sworn off male company for the time being. So she’s probably not hiring. Anyway, after 3 days in Orsino’s service, the Duke is so charmed by “Cesario” that he sends “him” off to woo the Countess on his behalf. Olivia isn’t pleased to see “him” and has grown sick of Orsino’s wooing. But since Viola has fallen for Orsino in the meantime, she’s undeterred. As Cesario, she banters and challenges Olivia that she’s finds herself falling for the spirited “chap.” So when Sebastian shows up the fun is just getting started. Meanwhile, you have Olivia’s steward Malvolio who now looks down on her uncle who’s taking advantage of Andrew Aguecheek by convincing the poor guy that Olivia likes him. However, Olivia has no intention of the sort. Malvolio comes down hard on Sir Toby Belch so Sir Toby and a handmaid named Maria play a little trick on him. All while Feste is now charged with watching over Olivia’s uncle. But it all gets sorted out to make it happily ever after except for some people.
Plot Origin: We know that Shakespeare based this play on something, we just don’t know what.
Who Falls In Love: Viola with Duke Orsino, Olivia with “Cesario,” Orsino, Andrew Aguecheek, Malvolio, and Sebastian with Olivia, Olivia with Sebastian, Antonio for Sebastian, and Orsino with Viola.
Who Dies: No one.
Reputation: This is one of Shakespeare’s best known comedies and is often as his funniest play. Samuel Pepys called it a “silly play” but watched it 3 times anyway as a guilty pleasure. The late 17th and early 18th century saw only adaptations but the original text was revived in 1741. It’s still highly popular, often staged, and made into several adaptations in opera, stage, and film.
19. Two Gentlemen of Verona
Plot: 2 Veronan gentlemen Proteus and Valentine are sent by their dads to the court of Milan. There they fall for the duke’s daughter Sylvia. Unfortunately Proteus has a girlfriend named Julia back home. Also, Sylvia’s dad wants her to marry a rich idiot named Tyrio. But Julia decides go after Proteus dressed as a boy named Sebastian while Sylvia likes Valentine who gets exiled after falling into some thugs that she thinks he’s dead. She flees into the forest where she and a friend are kidnapped by outlaws but little do they know that Valentine is their leader. Meanwhile, Proteus tries to hook up with Sylvia who’s just not that into him while Julia tries to get her man back. So when Proteus threatens to rape Sylvia in the forest, Valentine blows his cover and intervenes. Proteus feels ashamed of himself that he broke the code of bros before hos. Valentine forgives him and lets him have Sylvia because he’d rather not ruin their friendship which causes Julia to faint and reveal herself. Proteus realizes he loves Julia and hooks up with her. Also, the Duke and Tyrio are brought as prisoners as well which gives the Duke the opportunity to see how much of an idiot Tyrio is. So he’s perfectly fine with his daughter being with Valentine and everyone lives happily ever after.
Plot Origin: Based on the Spanish prose romance Los Siete Libros de la Diana (The Seven Books of the Diana) by the Portuguese writer Jorge de Montemayor.
Who Falls In Love: Proteus and Valentine with Sylvia and Proteus with Julia. Not sure about the rich idiot Tyrio and Sylvia but she doesn’t like him. Also, Sylvia eventually chooses Valentine by the way.
Who Dies: No one.
Reputation: This is one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies and it’s regarded as one of his weaker plays for good reason. Nevertheless, its earliest recorded performance in the original text was in 1784 whereas earlier stagings were alterations. But it’s more popular in Europe than in the English speaking world and there have been significantly few English productions. Also, Launce usually tends to steal the show by the way.