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While many romantic comedies are chided for their predictable plotlines, it was William Shakespeare who first created these well-know story arcs. So give chick flicks some cred, and check out how the ultimate wordsmith, the William Shakespeare, contributed to the genre through an analysis of four of his comedies.

I am a Shakespeare junkie for sure. When I backpacked through Europe, the highlight of my trip was seeing Much Ado About Nothing performed at the Globe. (My favorite play in my favorite place … I pinched myself at least seven times.) I also like romantic comedies (I searched for the bookstore from Notting Hill with earnest while abroad).

Apparently liking Shakespeare makes me intelligent and well-read, but liking romantic comedies makes me pithy and shallow. Woah now. I think one could draw a line connecting the dots between Shakespeare’s revered plotlines and the commonly mocked rom com stories.

Overall, Shakespeare’s comedies are predictable. The girl and the guy end up together and the whole story ends in a marriage. What makes the plays interesting is how this all comes together. (Sounds a little bit like why people love rom coms, does it not?)

This column will briefly analyze four of my favorite comedies Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night and their contributions to the genre.

Much Ado About Nothing:

In this crazy, mixed-up shenanigan of a play there are two couples Beatrice & Benedick and Hero & Claudio. Hero and Claudio are your classic couple. They fall in love at first sight, scandal rips them apart, but they are eventually reunited with little or no damage to their overall relationship. Beatrice and Benedick are the far more interesting pairing. The audience knows the two are made for each other by the way they spar for the first few scenes, but they are cunningly tricked into loving each other. In the end, both couples marry.

Story lines this has spawned: Lovers made for each other who are torn apart by scandal and misunderstanding before reuniting (Notting Hill?), and lovers who never expect to be tied down wind up together (The Ugly Truth? When Harry Met Sally?).

A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Another four-some, Lysander & Hermia and Demetrius & Helena. Basically, the four run to the woods, because Hermia’s father wants her to marry Demetrius, but she loves Lysander so they run off together. Helena loves Demetrius, so she joins the gaggle soon after. Though both couples are enchanted (literally) in various ways, and they all seem to turn on each other as the story continues, Lysander ends up with Hermia and Demetrius with Helena. In essence, everybody wins.

Story lines this has spawned: Lovers made for each other are torn apart by scandal and enchantment before reuniting (Ella Enchanted?), one lover who seeks another finally earns a fantastic partner she didn’t expect (Legally Blonde?).

The Taming of the Shrew:

The two sisters, Bianca and Kat, are very different. While Bianca is demure, Kat is crass and bold. Petruchio courts and eventually claims Kat making her a domesticated housewife, and many suitors fight for Bianca with her disguised tutor Lucentio eventually winning out. Both end up in happy relationships (and yes, if you have not read the play, this is the plot of Ten Things I Hate About You).

Story lines this has spawned: The woman who can’t be tamed is won by the man (Pretty Woman?) and the woman that everyone loves is won over by the man who actually deserves her (Bridget Jones’ Diary?).

Twelfth Night:

A shipwrecked Viola dresses as her brother Sebastian, whom she believes to be dead, and becomes a page for Duke Orsino who loves Olivia. Olivia has lost many family members, so the Duke woos her through Sebastian/Viola. Olivia falls for Viola as Viola falls for the Duke, and as an added twist, Sebastian isn’t really dead. In the end, Viola ends up with the Duke and Olivia winds up with Sebastian. (And again, yes, this is the plot of She’s the Man.)

Story lines this has spawned: The important person falls for the slave/lower status character (Hugh Grant plot in Love Actually?) and the page boy/lower status character woos the King with their smarts (Pretty Woman?).

Look I know these connections aren’t perfect and are kind of a stretch in some cases, but this analysis still manages to demonstrate that the story lines we now mock were created by the genius of men. So give rom coms some cred.

What connections did I miss? What is your favorite Shakespearian comedy? What is your favorite rom com?

  • Vivian

    Totally brings back memories from when I saw Romeo and Juliet at The Globe…best thing ever!

    I love Twelfth Night. I saw a musical version of it a few years back which was fantastic, and I saw Much Ado About Nothing in a park this past summer. I love his comedies, and was even in A Comedy of Errors in fifth grade. :D

    And yeah, chick flicks totally deserve more cred. And just another example of wordmasters catering to today’s audience…Just look at Clueless: based off of Austen’s Emma.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1480140235 Jessie Cadle

      A musical version of Twelfth Night … totally jealous. And who did you play in A Comedy of Errors?!

  • Musician

    The important thing about Bianca in Taming of the Shrew actually isn’t that she’s demure but that she’s not. At the end, Bianca refuses to obey her husband when he requests something of her, but Kat does. It’s more an ironic comedy than a romantic comedy, really, especially since Petrucchio’s methods to get Kat to behave are almost cruel, and this makes it a little less romantic. But you’re right, it is the basis of a lot of romantic comedies, including more guy-oriented movies than chick flicks. (I can’t give an example at the moment; if I think of one I’ll let you know.) Of course, Ten Things I Hate About You–the movie with Heath Ledger–is the best example.

    • PotionWillow207

      The funny thing about Taming of the Shrew, though, is that unlike Shakespeare’s other comedies, which all happen in the “real world,” Shrew happens within a dream.

      • me

        hi there

  • http://ipresentyoutheworld.tumblr.com Shana Debusschere

    I agree, when reading Shakespeare, I’m always surprised by the contemporary humour in it. His comedies could translate easily to the big screen..

  • http://imnomuggle.wordpress.com Im_No_Muggle

    Shakespeare basically crafted every genre… I find when reading any book or watching any TV I am saying, “wow, this is just like a certain Shakespeare play!”

  • http://twitter.com/leethegerman Lee Zwicke

    Love me some “the Tempest”.=)

    • PotionWillow207

      The Tempest is a romance, but not a comedy. It’s typically classified as a tragicomedy; a style that emerged during the English Renaissance. It basically means that it’s not funny enough to be a comedy, but the ending isn’t sad enough for it to be a tragedy.

  • PotionWillow207

    Please pardon me while the theatre person in me sticks out her head:

    While it is pretty much irrefutable that Shakespeare is considered the most important playwright in all of theatre history, it is incorrect to say that he “crafted” the romantic comedy…or any genre, for that matter. While he was influential in making comedy more accessible and enjoyable for the masses and he did finesse the styles into something more accessible to the contemporary audience, he did not create them. Not even close.

    The romantic comedy stems largely from the Ancient Greek style of “new comedy.” This style was characterized by themes of domestic issues (home and family, sex, money); misunderstandings, mistaken identities, misunderstood motives and outright deceit; and they typically ended with a dance, feast or some other celebration. Character types included witty servants and slaves; courtesans; lovers. Sound familiar? Like all of Shakespeare’s comedies?

    This is the style that has been the framework for every form of performed comedy throughout history. It influenced Shakespeare, developed into the Italian commedia dell’arte, and eventually became what we know as romantic comedy. The style has been around since way more than a thousand years before Shakespeare.

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