In this paper, I am going to analyse some of the Shakespearean comic characters, whose roles along the comedies are very similar and whose behaviour patterns are repeated again and again. I will focus on the analysis of some of the comedies that have been studied during the course: Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night´s Dream, and The Merchant Of Venice.

    My purpose is to demonstrate that Shakespeare usually introduces an authoritative character who is the most important authority of a place and also the one who is responsible to judge one of the main characters of a play. Their decisions are essential for the development of the play, because these decisions will determinate if one is witnessing a comedy or a tragedy. The fact is that taking into account that comedies have some repeated patterns that have been analysed and explained during the course, it is expected that these judges will act with mercy and forgiveness towards the characters whose lives are in their hands. This is curious not only because they have no obligation or necessity of acting mercifully with their prisoners, but also, and the most important aspect, they have to struggle against the application of the laws of a place, (laws that are very strict) and the loss of respect that the town can suffer by the citizens of the place and from abroad if the laws are not fulfilled.
     For example, in Comedy of Errors, the most important authoritarian figure is Duke Solinus. He is the Lord of Ephesus and the only one who applies the laws of the place. He is also the one who has to solve all the conflicts that arise in the town and his decisions must be respected always. One of these laws claims that anyone from Syracuse who is found in Ephesus must be executed immediately, unless a great amount of money is paid. That is the case of Aegeon, who is from Syracuse and comes to Ephesus searching his twin sons and their corresponding twin servants. He explains his story to the Duke and he feels so sorry for Aegeon that he grants the whole day to him to find one thousand marks, if he wants to save his life. Finally, all ends well and all the characters of the play are united again and the Duke lets Aegeon free without paying any ransom to meet with his family.           

(V,1 L395,396)
ANTIPHOLUSOF EPHESUS     These ducats pawn I for my father here.     
DUKE SOLINUS                   It shall not need; thy father hath his life”           

       However, this struggle between laws and mercy can be appreciated in the lines that Solinus speaks: “Merchant of Syracuse, plead no more; I am not partial to infringe our laws” (I, 1, L. 3-4)/ Now, trust me, were it not against our laws, against my crown, my oath, my dignity. (I, 1, L. 142-143) He is telling Aegeon, that the laws are more powerful than he is and that his power is submitted to the laws of Ephesus. Nevertheless, Duke Solinus feels so sorry for Aegeon´s problems: “Hapless Aegeon, whom the fates have mark'd to bear the extremity of dire mishap!” (I, 1, L 140-140), that he applies a merciful decision to help him to save his life. “Therefore, merchant, I'll limit thee this day to seek thy life by beneficial help” ( I, 1, L. 150-151). The Duke and his decisions are very important, because if he had decided to apply the laws imme-diately, Aegeon would have been executed, and therefore, there would have not been a happy ending. Maybe, all the rest of the members could have been united again, but an important piece of the puzzle, who fixed all the pieces would have disappear. And Aegeon is very important, because he is the only one who knows all the story about the separation of the family.  

       Following this idea, one may find the Duke of Venice in the Merchant of Venice. He is also the most important authority of the town. He is the one in charge to solve the conflict between Shylock and Antonio. Both are in a trial because they had signed a contract and now is the time to pay. Both hate each other, but money had made them to sign this contract. One may analyse two different characters: Antonio (the Christian), who is a selfless person and, despite the fact that he hates Shylock and what he represents, he asks him for money to lend it to Bassanio (Antonio´s friend); and Shylock, the selfish Jew, who hates Antonio because he is always criticising his way of life, and who only lets him the money with one condition: that he will take from Antonio a pound of flesh if he does not return the money in the estimated time. The fact is that Antonio does not return him the money and he has to pay with his life. The Duke must solve this problem and he, since the beginning is in favour of Antonio. However, he also has to fulfil the laws of the place if he does not want that Venice and its authority earn a bad reputation. So, his strategy is to claim for Shylock´s forgiveness.

   (IV, 1, L.5-7)                                                                            (IV, 1, L.90)
 The Duke:  A stony adversary, an inhuman wretch     The Duke :How shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none?
                   uncapable of pity, void and empty     
                   From any dram of mercy.

However, the ending of this trial is not so positive as the one in The Comedy of Errors. Despite the same patterns of “Comedy of Errors” are repeated: the law is above the Duke own decisions, but the Duke tries to save Antonio’s life although he has no obligation to do it and Antonio
 is finally saved… Shylock is not treated so positive as the rest. This “bad/sad ending” can be analysed taking into account different religious, political or moral ideas, but the fact is that Shylock ends ruined and abandoned before the play ends. This is very curious because the law, theoretically protected Shylock´s intentions and finally the law is turned against him. As Solinus, the Duke of Venice interprets
the laws in order to save the life of one of the main characters, but, at the same time, 
without breaking the laws.

       Furthermore, one may also analyse one of the plays with many of these represen-tations of authority: A Midsummer Night´s Dream. In this play, one may find four points of authority: Theseus (The Duke of Athens), Egeus (the parental authority), Obrero (The king of the fairies) and Bottom (the leader of the amateur company). Following this idea of authority and breaking or manipulation of laws, Theseus and Egeus must be analysed. Shakespeare uses the first scene of the play to present the two main authoritarian figures in the play, “Theseus and Egeus. Theseus is the harsh, inflexible authority of the government. Like justice, he is blind to matters of the heart. Egeus represents the authority of parents over their children. Unlike Theseus, he is not completely blind to matters of the heart, but he is arrogant in his authority and refuses to listen to what his daughter wants” ( The Role of Theseus and Egeus in A Midsummer Night's Dream ). The problem is presented when Egeus tells Theseus that Hermia is going to disobey him, because she wants to marry Lysander, instead of Demetrius. He asks him that he must force her to obey him if she does not want to be killed or being sent to a convent (according to the laws of Athens). However, in this case, the roles are changed. Theseus grants her until the day of his own marriage with Hippolyta to decide, who she wants to marry, although she will have to face the consequences if she does not obey her father. As in the previous plays commented before, the authority figures can not break the rules, but at least, they can interpret them and extend the time until the execution of the law is fulfilled.

                                                 (I, 1. L.87-90)                    
     Take time to pause; and, by the nest new moon--     
     The sealing-day betwixt my love and me,     
     For everlasting bond of fellowship--     
     Upon that day either prepare to die

       Nevertheless, neither of these characters (Theseus and Egeus) may be considered as merciful characters. They are not going to forgive Hermia´s life, but the fact that Theseus grants Hermia some days in order to take her decision, this fact allows her to escape with her lover Lysander out of Athens (the forest and the house of Lysander´s aunt), places that are far away of Athen´s authority. So, this decision of granting time, despite not being a proof of mercifulness, is what finally causes that all the events happen in a comic way and development.           

        Moreover, one can also find an example of parental authority in The Taming of The Shrew, although in this case, the events of this play are presented as a fantasy of a drunkard. In this play, the parental authority is played by Baptista. He is a wealthy man, whose daughters are wooed by many gentlemen. In those times, the father of a family was the one in charge to decide who their children must marry, specially, their daughters. Baptista is the father of two daughters: Katherine, the shrew and Bianca, the candy girl. The problem is that there is not any suitor that wants to marry Kate, because of her roughness. Baptista should be the one responsible to decide his daughter´s husband, he has all the power to decide it, but, in this case, Baptista renounces to his authority and just prays that any of the suitors may marry Katherine and therefore his other daughter, Bianca could marry too. This is the only condition he sets: that one of the suitors must marry Katherine, before another marries Bianca. This fact is curious not only because if he had decided for one of these suitors to marry Katherine and Bianca, they must had to obey him, but because they are the ones who really govern Baptista´s house. So, in this play, there is another manipulation and change of authority. 
       In conclusion, some of the different types of authority that get broken by these “judges” have been analysed.  This break of authority allows that all the comedies have a happy ending. The curious fact is that it is interesting to analyse how just a simple decision of one character during the play may change the whole development of the play. These judges are not the main characters of the play, some of them only speak a few lines during the play and indeed, just one sentence could be what really creates the process and development of the play to finally ending in the famous comic happy ending. So, in my opinion, these “judges” are even more important that the main characters themselves, because they are the ones that cause that all the events end well.


All the extracts of the plays are from:
-The Comedy of Errors
-The Merchant of Venice
-A Midsummer Night´s Dream

Shakespeare´s plays,, ©1999-2006 Amanda Mabillard, 6th January 2007,

The Role of Theseus and Egeus in A Midsummer Night's Dream, A Midsummer Night´s Dream Essay, The Signal, Ed. Kristy Harding, 6th January 2006