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Home » » Write a note on Shakespeare's dark or sombre comedies

The dark or sombre comedies of Shakespeare include All's well That Ends well, Measure for Measure, and Troilus and Cressida. Though comedies in the sense that they end ‘happily’, their tone is sombre and tragic. They reflect a cynical, disillusioned attitude to life, and a fondness for objectionable characters and situations. In them Shakespeare displays a savage desire to expose the falsity of romance and to show the sordid reality of life. 

Troilus and Cressida, All's well that Ends Well, Measure for Measure are known as dark or sombre or gloomy comedies because of certain features which mark off from other comedies. It may be assumed that these plays were composed later than the early and the middle comedies culminating in Twelfth Night during the period when Shakespeare was engaged in grappling with the problem of evil in four mature comedies. For these plays, though they are ordinarily classed as comedies, have a touch of sombreness and cynicism which are expected from tragedies. 

In Troilus and Cressida, both the ancient Greek ideal of heroism and the medieval ideal of romantic love are ridiculed in foul language. Shakespeare shows that heroes are no more than beasts and their ideals are hollow. 

All’s well that Ends well and Measure for Measure represent women in sexual relationships with unwilling husbands who do not know who their partners are. These plays are realistic in the sense that in them Shakespeare shows a tendency to reveal the more revolting aspects of life. Achilles and Ajax are superhuman personages but Shakespeare lays stress on the subhuman beastiality lurking behind their mask of greatness. Shakespeare seems to discover the comedy in a vulgar world where honour and dignity fetch a low price. Helena has to employ her extraordinary power to get a scamp of a husband, and Isabella can gain her brother’s life and save her own honour by devising a plan for accommodating a lecherous man, Shakespeare draws the picture of a world in which vice retains all its foulness but is partly redeemed when given its proper place in a larger scheme of things. It shows both the light and shade of human life. 

These plays are called dark comedies or sombre comedies because they have nothing of the gay spirit of comedy and describe dark aspects of life and reveal a mood of cynicism. In Measure for Measure, Angelo, the Duke demands sexual relationship with Isabella as a price for saving her brother’s life. Claudio, the brother wants his sister to sacrifice her honour. Isabell saves her honour by substituting Marina for herself in Angelo’s bed. Marina is Angelo’s wife. The darkness is redeemed by the punishment that overtaxes the wrong-doers and by the mercy that permeates the play. 

In All's well that Ends well, Helena is in love with a haughty youngman, Bertram. Bertram unwillingly marries her at the king’s command, but he seduces her hostess’s daughter Diana in Florence and persuades her to take her place in bed at night. She is got with child by Bertram, and secures his ring in exchange for one given her by the king. She is thus able to claim Bertram as her husband. 

Thus the wives have to adopt tricks to vindicate their positions. The comic is derived form the juxtaposition of different attitudes. Its tragic undertone and bitter satire distinguish these plays from comedy. These plays including Hamlet are known as problem plays. Shakespeare introduces us to an artificial rotten society and suggests problems. But Shakespeare keeps the audience in a stage of unresolved mystery. 

In conclusion we can say that the dask or sombre comedies are not light and comic but serious and cynical. In these comedies Shakespeare stopped taking interest in light, comic and exciting events of life and history and penetrated the human heart and brought out the hidden weaknesses and worthiness of human nature. 


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