[Northrop] Frye distinguishes here, as he does in other places, Shakespearean from Jonsonian comedy. The latter is a theater of illusion, always focused on creating the appearance of reality. Shakespeare‘s comedies, however, belong to the theater of convention. Shakespeare “does not ask his audience to accept an illusion,” says Frye: “he asks them to listen to a story” (Renaissance, 136), to enter a world which is not an allegory of experience but which is self-contained and exists for its own sake. Jonson‘s theater is abstract and sophisticated; Shakespeare‘s is innocent and childlike. Jonson‘s builds an experience for the spectator. Shakespeare‘s builds a construct for the participant—an uncritical participant who is asked to willingly suspend his or her disbelief in the face of all the comic conventions: bafflements, disguises, coincidences, improbabilities, mistaken identities, and the like. Comedy, for Frye, has a typical structure and a typical mood, which is festive. It also exhibits what Frye calls “archaizing tendencies,” primitive and popular features that “establish contact with a universal and world-wide dramatic tradition” (Renaissance, 164); and its conventions descend from myths, the outlines of which, lying just beneath the surface of the plays, audiences instinctively respond to. -
On Frye’s very Northropian take on Shakespeare.