ENG 3U – Shakespeare & RomCom Conventions

William Shakespeare was a poet, a playwright and an actor.  He wrote thirty-seven plays and 150 sonnets. He was a master of words, as demonstrated by what you see below:

Very Will Said[1]

Although very little is known about his private life,  here are a few historical tidbits:

– Shakespeare was born to a glove maker and the daughter of a wealthy land owner;
– In grammar school, he studied literature and Latin; he did not attend university;
– He may have worked as a teacher prior in his young adulthood;
– His wife was Anne Hathaway; they had three children – Susanna, then twins Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died in childhood;
– He moved to London from Stratford-Upon-Avon and began a career with a well-respected acting troupe called Lord Chamberlain’s Men. As an actor, he performed for Queen Elizabeth I;
– His writing career began in earnest while he was acting. He wrote for all audiences, from peasants to royalty;
– He died in 1616 at 52 years old  The epitaph below was written by Shakespeare himself and inscribed over his burial place. (It either demonstrates a good sense of humour or an overdeveloped sense of personal space!)

Blest be the man that spares these stones,

And curst be he that moves my bones.


Next, we will view a segment from the BBC’s series, Shakespeare Uncovered.  As we watch, please takes notes on anything presented that might help enhance your study and understanding of the play and the context in which it was written. (I will help direct our collective thinking as we go.)


The Conventions of Shakespeare’s Comedies

Conventions assist us in understanding literary works belonging to a particular genre; they help to categorize them and illuminate their common features. Genres set up certain expectations because of their shared characteristics.

We know to expect specific features when reading or viewing a Western (good guys and bad guys; shoot-outs or duels), a detective thriller (false clues that lead in the wrong direction; ingenious solution to a mystery), science fiction (humans and aliens; futuristic technology; special effects).

One’s judgment of a given work is affected in part by how it meets or fails to meet generic expectations. An artist may deliberately manipulate or play with conventions, parodying or transcending the limits of a literary genre: Monty Python’s Holy Grail parodies Arthurian romances; Blazing Saddles parodies Westerns; the Pyramus and Thisbe play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream parodies Shakespeare’s own Romeo and Juliet.

Please copy down the following into your notes. You may paraphrase as you see fit.

There are four major conventions of Shakespearean Romantic Comedy: 

  1. The main action is about love.
  2. The would-be lovers must overcome obstacles and misunderstandings before being united in harmonious union. Twelfth Night has three such couples.
  3. Frequently, it contains elements of the improbable, the fantastic, the supernatural, or the miraculous.These include unbelievable coincidences, improbable scenes of recognition/lack of recognition, willful disregard of the social order (nobles marrying commoners, beggars changed to lords), instantaneous conversions (the wicked repent), enchanted or idealized settings, supernatural beings (witches, fairies, gods and goddesses).The happy ending may be brought about through supernatural or divine intervention or may merely involve improbable turns of events.
  4. There is frequently a philosophical aspect involving weightier issues and themes: personal identity; the importance of love in human existence; the power of language to help or hinder communication; the transforming power of poetry and art; the disjunction between appearance and reality; the power of dreams and illusions.

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