Shakespeare’s romantic comedies range from the mystical to the ludicrous. Plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night dip into the essences of the mystical and ludicrous and distasteful. It has been said that these elements for example, “love-in-idleness juice,” the anti-Semitism of the Merchant of Venice and the social distinctions of Twelfth Night, are all “problematic to the readers of the 21st century. ” This essay will explain how these attributes of Shakespeare’s work are some what of a hindrance to the readers of the 21st century.
To begin with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the idea of love-in -idleness juice is a little too much. The problem is not so much with the juice itself but the implications of the juice kept on the eyes of Demetrius. At the beginning of the play he is truly in love with Hermia, but because of the fairy Oberon, he is forced to love Helena, “A sweet Athenian lady is in love with a disdainful youth. Anoint his eyes but do it when the next thing he espies may be the lady,” (2. 1. 260-262). Of course at this part of the play the juice is put onto Lysander.
It is at the end of the play that the love-in-idleness juice is truly a problem; Demetrius marries Hermia under the power of its spell. This compromises the “romance” part of the comedy. Every reader knows that romantic comedies are strange and lovers go through a lot to get to each other. But the reader knows that the couples they see are truly in love and will eventually defy all odds and come together. Each couple, in a romantic comedy, is truly in love with each other, which is the whole heart of the romantic comedy.
Shakespeare compromises this basic law of romantic comedy by forcing love onto Demetrius who truly does not love Hermia. Not only is this breaking the very law of romantic comedy but as a reader it poses so many questions. For example, does the love juice wear off? And if it does where does it leave the married couple? The biggest open ended question this juice leave is with Hermia, she has know that Demetrius does not love her and has said so many nasty thing to her, “Tempt not too much the hatred of my spirit, For I am sick when I do look on thee,” (2. 1. 211-213).
Theses responses to Hermia are so ugly and harsh, that it breaks down the believability of a romance happening between these two, especially a wedding by the end of the play. Over all Shakespeare’s use of the love juice breaks down the believability and romance to a romantic comedy. Another problematic aspect to Shakespeare’s plays lies in The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare raises his voice to racism in this play through his characters of Portia and Shylock. The reason this is problematic to the 21st century reader is because all of out past history with WW2. Through time we learn to be more socially aware.
In that aspect Shakespeare can not be held accountable for the beliefs his society held. His job as a powerful play write is not being questioned, but because time is a teacher, it has put chronological distance between the audience of today and the audience of the 17th century. This is a problem due to the fact that we as 21st century readers can not or will not get into the mind set of a “racist” 17th century Elizabethan theater patron. Since the inability to gain a mindset of the time, the raw emotions do not apply to us that feeling is lost on the readers of today.
In essence, Shakespeare’s “oomph” is lost, making it an ineffectual play. For example, “To be taken at thy peril, Jew… Tarry Jew,” (4. 1. 331-344). Here would be a place where the audience would feel much hate for Shylock and they might boo him on the stage, raw emotion come out. As a reader of this now, it is hard to see how the audience of Shakespeare’s time got so worked up. As it is read now, these feelings against Shylock are lost on us; if anything it evokes pity from the readers of today. Since this evokes the wrong feeling, Shakespeare’s message or meaning was lost on the 21st century, making it a very problematic play to read.
Lastly the play the Twelfth Night, here the problematic aspect for the reader of the 21st century is in the inability to understand the social distinctions of the Twelfth Night. I believe that Shakespeare was not writing with a conscience understanding that future readers of his plays would not grasp the concept social distinctions, this is distressing because the humor in Twelfth Night gets lost due to our lack of understanding of these distinctions. The most neglected aspect of social distinctions lies with Malviolo and Olivia.
As part of the Elizabethan audience, one would know that it is completely ridiculous to have Malviolo believe he could marry Olivia and be the master of the home, and this concept would be utterly humorous, and the audience would eat it up. While in today’s society these distinctions do not exist, so the humor of the situation falls on deaf ears. This is a major draw back and it puts a continental divide in-between the 21st century and the 17th century. Shakespeare’s humor is lost, and thus becomes ineffectual and obsolete. The whole play is lost to us due to the misunderstandings of the generation gap.
This compromises the humor of the romantic comedy. Since the audience of today can not understand the humor of a 17th century romantic comedy, Shakespeare’s play is limited. In conclusion, Shakespeare’s romantic comedies vary from the mystical to the ludicrous. Plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night dip into the essences of the mystical and ludicrous and distasteful. The elements that make these plays problematic are, “love-in-idleness juice,” anti-Semitism and social distinctions. These problems lead Shakespeare’s writings to become limited due to the generation gap.