Types of Humor
In this lesson, students will learn to identify different kinds of humor in Much Ado About Nothing and see how Shakespeare’s use of prose in certain scenes, not iambic pentameter, helps with the comedic effect.
- Read the lesson and student content.
- Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
- Watch the video. Decide whether you will pause for note taking, show it twice, or make other modifications.
- Assign small groups for the reading of act 5, scene 1. There are seven parts to read: Leonato, Antonio, Don Pedro, Claudio, Benedick, Dogberry, and Borachio.
- A film clip of Abbott and Costello performing their sketch “Who’s on First?” is easy to find on YouTube. If video is unavailable, a script of the sketch can be accessed via a web search.
Section 1: Low Comedy, Burlesque, and Melodrama
- Have students submit Dialectical Journals, if it makes sense for your class.
- Tell students that act 4, scene 2 is considered to be low comedy, burlesque, and melodrama. With that in mind, and thinking about the kind of humor presented in this scene, ask them to get into small groups and make conjectures about what the terms mean.
- ELL: Explain how parts of this scene fit into all three categories of humor. If students are still struggling, list the three types on the board with their definitions as category headings, and in each column, list aspects of the scene that fit into the three categories. For example, low comedy describes Dogberry calling himself an ass, whileburlesque refers to lines from the scene that parody an official interrogation.
- Have students reflect on their earlier conversations about humor.
Chances are that even if the terms low comedy, burlesque , and melodrama are unfamiliar, you know them well.
- In your group, see if you can come up with definitions for the terms low comedy ,burlesque , andmelodrama . These terms describe the comedy in act 4, scene 2. As you do this, reflect on your earlier conversations about humor.
Section 2: Low Comedy in Act 4, Scene 2
- Facilitate a discussion about students’ small group conversations.
- This is a good point to check for understanding and make sure that everyone’s up to speed on what’s happening. One way to do that might be to ask for predictions based on what they understood.
Share your group’s definitions for the comedy terms.
This is also your chance to review what happened in this scene. While the humor is low and the scene is short, there’s also a really important plot point.
- First, look up the official definitions of low comedy ,burlesque , andmelodrama .
- Identify the plot point. What information does Dogberry get from the two detained men?
- Be sure to ask any questions that you still have about the play so far.
Section 3: Who?s on First?
- Before you show or read the Abbott and Costello sketch, define terms discussed earlier if students didn’t understand them.
- Explain to students that what they are about to see is one of the most famous comedy sketches of all time and that it is based on low humor and burlesque. Tell them also to note how important the words themselves are; without the verbal banter, the sketch would not work.
- ELL: You can also point out the importance of the aspects of the performance that are not language-based, and how gestures and timing are important to the development of the comedic effect. ELLs in particular may notice more about these nonverbal aspects of performance than native English speakers, and you can encourage them to talk about what they notice.
- Show the clip of Abbott and Costello’s sketch “Who’s on First?” If the clip isn’t available, you can use a transcript of the skit and have students perform it.
- SWD: Provide a written transcript to support students with auditory processing challenges. It may also be helpful for some students to have the opportunity to read the transcript first, before watching it in real time.
- Give students time to share.
Watch or read the Abbott and Costello sketch “Who’s on First?” Even though it may not be your favorite kind of humor, it is one of the most famous comedy sketches of all time.
Pay close attention to what makes this clip funny. When you’re finished, share your ideas with a partner or small group and see whether you noticed the same things. Why has this sketch stood the test of time?
Section 4: Sketch Comedy in Shakespeare
- Circulate around the room and assist groups that are struggling with these concepts.
- Facilitate a class discussion beginning with the results of the small group conversations.
- SWD: For more visually inclined students, you can create a Venn diagram or T-chart graphic organizer on the board to structure note taking about the discussion. Have students add ideas to the chart.
Next, compare and contrast the humor in act 4, scene 2 of Much Ado About Nothing with that in the Abbott and Costello sketch.
- What is similar?
- What is different?
- What other sketches have you seen on TV or on film that can be compared or contrasted with these scenes?
Share your observations with your group and then with the whole class.
Section 5: Irony in Act 4
- Students might need to review the concept of irony.
- Discuss with the class the irony inherent in act 4. The upper-class members choose to believe the worst, and the lower-class members see the truth immediately.
- What kind of message does Shakespeare seem to be offering?
- Who would be the majority of the audience? Would Shakespeare be catering to them?
- Remind students that the theater was an ignoble profession in Shakespeare’s day and that the comedies were written to appeal to the masses.
- Facilitate a discussion of the ideas you just presented.
There’s irony in act 4. The princes and lords are completely in the dark. They’re also very ready to believe the worst about Hero. However, “lower-class” characters in the play can see the truth.
Consider these facts, and then respond in writing.
- What does this tell you about these characters?
- What does this tell you about society in this play?
Share your thoughts with the class.
Section 6: Act 5, Scene 1 Read Aloud
- In preparation for the homework, read aloud the synopsis of act 5, scene 1 from the scene index.
- Have students begin reading act 5, scene 1 in class. This is a long scene. Remind them to keep working on their Dialectical Journal entries as they read.
- Help groups cast the play for today from those students willing to participate.
- ELL: Some students may be reluctant to read aloud. Encourage these students to participate, even by reading a very short section, if it is appropriate for their verbal English expression abilities.
With a small group, read act 5, scene 1. There are seven parts in total.
- Assign parts within your group. You might give one part to each person or double up.
- Another possibility is to take turns, changing readers on each page. Maybe your group has one or two able readers who can read for your group.
- Pause your reading after each page to discuss what happened and make sure that everyone understands.
- Keep your voices soft so as not to bother the other groups.
Section 7: Act 5, Scene 1
- Have students read and annotate act 5, scene 1 for homework and continue with their Dialectical Journal entries.
- Tell them to take notes on particular problems so that you can go over them in class during the next lesson. They can take these notes within the annotations, via their Dialectical Journal entries, or in any other way that works for your class.
- Remind students that there is only one more act, and they should be thinking about their presentations. If they have already chosen their scenes, they should sign up for them.
- SWD: Do not allow students to delay selecting a scene for memorizing. You can require students who may find this assignment especially challenging to start memorizing at this point, and give them check-in points for 5 and 10 lines rather than waiting until the end for the full 15 lines.
Continue to read act 5, scene 1 for homework.
- Make sure to write in your Much Ado About Nothing Dialectical Journal. This is a long scene and is the beginning of thedenouement , or the resolution, of the play.
- Take notes on what is confusing or problematic so you can go over it in class during the next lesson.