Somewhere in the history of literature is a story set in a brutal world, where words are described as “daggers”, and satire gleefully skips along to play, with comedy at her heels. The sun, too, wherever it is, is laughing, though the sky is grey and the world is “stale” and “weary”. Welcome to the world of Hamlet.
Hamlet is very much dotted with comedic moments. It might be viciously satiric, such as that employed by Horatio and Hamlet against the “lapwing” Osric (“His purse is empty already, all’s golden words are spent“) or more threatening, such as Hamlet’s wordplay against Claudius (“A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm”). Words become a weapon by which certain elements of the Elsinore court are laid bare and parodied for the entertainment of the audience. There is a mass of examples of comedy in Hamlet, including but not limited to:
It is this humour- the funny satire in the play, that somehow makes the tragedy of “Hamlet” possibly more bearable. Shakespeare uses jocularity to lighten even the darkest scenes– the juxtaposition of death with comedy, for example, arguably makes the humour in the play all the more distinguishable and memorable in the audience’s mind. We can think of Polonius not as the cold, dead figure lying on the ground, but more likely than not, as he was in life- a “foolish prating knave” with sometimes ridiculous advise and one of the unsuspecting victims of Hamlet’s humorous jibes.
However, Shakespeare’s inclusion of comedy in “Hamlet” could also be seen as a clever satiric device; although “Hamlet” is set in Denmark, many critics have commented that the Elsinore court very much resembles the 16th century Elizabethan court. Thus, the Elizabethan audience might possibly have particularly enjoyed Hamlet’s criticism of the superficiality of the Danish nobles, the parodying of the excessive flattery at court and over-extravagance of courtiers, for these aspects of the Danish court were arguably very much similar to those in the Elizabethan court, a connection which possibly makes the satire in “Hamlet” all the more effective.
The beautifully balanced blend of tragedy and comedy in Hamlet enriches it; It is this, and many other ingenious techniques brilliantly employed by Shakespeare, that effectively makes Hamlet himself appear to come to life; the audience are drawn to him not only for his vulnerability and genuinely, but also his clever wit– his puns and mocking, which, however subtly, arguably lighten up the mood of the play, making “Hamlet” as a whole all the more complex and alluring. A masterpiece far beyond its time, it truly is for many of us, not only a unique play, but an exquisite piece of art.
Please feel free to comment on this article- what parts of Hamlet did you find funny?
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