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date: 18 June 2019

Abstract and Keywords

In this essay I focus on some discrete instances and problems of laughter in order to define the total experience of Shakespearean comedy, and to make two arguments about ‘Shakespeare’s audience’, that is, both the audience he could have imagined and the audience he could not. The first argument is that Shakespeare’s comedies ask an audience—any audience—to reflect upon itself: to wonder, and often to worry, whether it is the audience that the playwright has imagined. The urge to laugh, or the resistance to laughter arises from a desire to repair a misalignment between what the play demands and what the audience can comprehend. The second argument is that for the audiences Shakespeare could not have imagined—especially the audiences of today—both the self-reflection and the urge or resistance to laughter derive from a desire to bridge the ever widening gap between present and past.

Keywords: Audience response, laughter, modern performance

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