History of Western Theatre: Greeks to Elizabethans/Elizabethan comedies< History of Western Theatre: Greeks to Elizabethans
As in tragedy, Shakespeare was dominant in comedies, with "A Midsummer night's dream" (1595), "As you like it" (1599), and "Twelfth night" (1601).
"A Midsummer night's dream" text at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Midsummer_Night%27s_Dream
"As you like it" text at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/As_You_Like_It
"Twelfth night" text at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Twelfth_Night
In addition to Shakespeare, main playwrights of Elizabethan comedies are Ben Jonson (1572-1637) and Thomas Dekker (1572-1632).
Jonson's most famous comedy in the Elizabethan period is "Every man in his humour" (1598), whose pace is both rollicking and slow at different times. In this story, Knowell seeks to prevent his son, Edward, from falling into bad company, notably with Wellbred, half-brother of Downright. Edward plants a spy, his servant, Brainworm, to find out his father's intentions and to distract him. Knowell greets a country bumpkin, Stephen, who, in a rash humor, picks a quarrel with Brainworm, who later, disguised as a poor soldier, cheats him by selling at a high price a cheap sword. Bobadil, the Elizabethan version of the Roman Miles Gloriolosus, the braggart soldier, receives the visit of Matthew, a city bumpkin, who tells him he has been threatened to be beaten by the hot-tempered Stephen. Bobadil is outraged and promises to help kill his foe by teaching him the art of duelling with a sword. The merchant, Kitely, always worried about being a cuckold, hesitates even to leave his house for a few minutes, especially as a result of his lodger, Wellbred: "He makes my house here common, as a mart,/A theater, a public spectacle/For giddy humor and diseased riot-," and asks the help of his servant, Cash, ineffective in this regard. The irascible Bobadil quarrels with the equally irascible but more valiant Downright, separated at first by Kitely, but later Bobadil meets Downright again and, forced to fight, pretends he has received a government summons not to, and is shamed in front of his friends. Cob, the water-carrier, is another man suspecting his wife of cuckolding him. Kitely, thinking his wife has a lewd meeting at Cob's house, accuses her of cuckolding him, at which time Cob, suspecting his wife as a bawd (procurer), beats her. Downright objects to visits by Wellbred and his friends to Dame Kitely and Bridget, especially with respect to Matthew's poetical verses. But Wellbred, as Bridget's brother-in-law, encourages her to receive the attention of his friend, Edward Knowell. Knowell senior discovers too late his son's marriage. Brainworm, taking Stephen's cloak carelessly left on the street, is challenged to give it back but does not, until faced with Judge Clement, whose merry humor resolves all quarrels.
"Every man in his humour" text at http://www.archive.org/details/everymaninhishu00dixogoog
Dekker's most famous comedy in the Elizabethan period is "The shoemakers' holiday" (1599).