A Midsummer Night's Dream Genre: Comedy or Tragedy?

Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

This lesson describes the characteristics of the three genres of Shakespeare's plays and explains why ''A Midsummer's Night Dream'' is considered a comedy rather than a tragedy.

Shakespearean Genres

In total, William Shakespeare wrote over thirty plays and they are generally divided into three genres: comedy, tragedy, and history. There are slightly more plays in the comedy category than the other two, but there are at least ten plays that fall into each category.

There are specific characteristics of each genre, and they don't always mean what you'd expect, especially with comedy. In our modern culture, usually we associate comedy with humor and as long as the book or movie is funny, it can be considered a comedy. While most of Shakespeare's comedies are funny, contain word play, and involve harmless confusion of identity, one of the most important characteristics of a Shakespearean comedy is that the play ends in marriage. We might now consider this a ''romantic comedy.''

The next most common type of play Shakespeare wrote was tragedies. When we think of the word tragedy, we know that we are talking about something sad, but there are some specific requirements for a Shakespearean play to qualify as a tragedy. First of all, characters die, and usually many of them do. There is a sense that bad things are destined to happen; characters don't have control of their destiny. There is also usually a main character whom we as the audience are supposed to like but who has one major flaw that results in their death.

The last category of Shakespearean plays is the histories. This is the genre that Shakespeare wrote the fewest of, but there are eleven plays that involve English history and are about English monarchs, and two that are about Roman history (Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra). These two are sometimes also classified as tragedies.

A Midsummer Night's Dream as a Comedy

Based on the characteristics of each genre described above, A Midsummer Night's Dream is very clearly a comedy. There are three couples who each encounter trouble in their relationships but in the end are all happily married. Titania and Oberon are an older, already-married couple of fairies who are not getting along. There are also four younger people who are ensnared in love triangles: Hermia and Lysander are in love, but Hermia's father wants her to marry Demetrius. Demetrius loves Hermia, who loves Lysander, and Helena loves Demetrius, who loves Hermia.

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