Merchant of Venice or Measure for Measure
For either Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, or Twelfth Night write an essay in which you explain how the play illustrates C. L. Barber’s point in Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy:
The plays present a mockery of what is unnatural which gives scope and point to the sort of scoffs and jest shouted by dancers in the churchyard or in “the quaint mazes in the wanton green.” And
they include another, complementary mockery of what is merely natural, a humor which puts holiday in perspective with life as a whole….
The butts in the festive plays consistently exhibit their unnaturalness by being kill-joys. On an occasion “full of warm blood, of mirth,” they are too preoccupied with perverse satisfactions like
pride or greed to “let the world slip” and join the dance….
While perverse hostility to pleasure is a subject for aggressive festive abuse, highflown idealism is mocked too, by a benevolent ridicule which sees it as a not unnatural attempt to be more than
natural. It is unfortunate that Shakespeare’s gay plays have come to be known as “the romantic comedies,” for they almost always establish a humorous perspective about the vein of hyperbole they
borrow from Renaissance romances. Wishful absolutes about love’s finality, cultivated without reserve in conventional Arcadia, are made fun of by suggesting that love is not a matter of life and
death, but of springtime, the only pretty ring time. The lover’s conviction that he will love “for ever and a day” is seen as an illusion….
Where the conventional romances tried to express intensity by elaborating hyperbole according to a pretty, pseudo-theological system, the comedies express the power of love as a compelling rhythm
in a man and nature. (8-9)