Dominican University of California
 

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Presentation or Panel Title

Fallible Is Funny: Unpacking the Pun (and Beyond) in "A Midsummer Night’s Dream"

Location

Guzman 112

Start Date

4-15-2016 3:40 PM

End Date

4-15-2016 3:55 PM

Department

Graduate Humanities

Student Type

Graduate

Faculty Mentor

Leslie Ross, Ph.D. & Judy Halebsky, Ph.D.

Presentation Format

Oral Presentation

Abstract/Description

Semiotician and Structuralist critic Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) popularized the theory of the linguistic sign, which comprises a signifier (sound-image) and signified (concept). Deconstructive critic Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) followed, positing that the existence of the sign—and the arbitrariness of the relationship between the signifier and the signified—is the root cause of language’s essential fallibility (i.e., language is not as reliable in representing finite realities as we tend to think it is). Together, Saussure and Derrida’s work lifts the hood on the mechanics of the verbal pun, a basic and enduring building block of comedy. This presentation will explore the constitution of the pun in literature and performance, using William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to illustrate humorous use of the homonym (specifically, the homophone), which depends on the fact of one signifier matched to an excess of signifieds. This research suggests that the metaphor of the linguistic sign can be extended to the physical and performative aspects of a play such as Dream, in the sense that scrambling other conventional one-to-one relationships in the scope of the play (e.g., a player to her/his role, a lover to her/his mate) is a source of humor. Finally, we will briefly consider what our amusement at these exposed flaws and departures from convention may reveal about our humanity.

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Apr 15th, 3:40 PM Apr 15th, 3:55 PM

Fallible Is Funny: Unpacking the Pun (and Beyond) in "A Midsummer Night’s Dream"

Guzman 112

Semiotician and Structuralist critic Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) popularized the theory of the linguistic sign, which comprises a signifier (sound-image) and signified (concept). Deconstructive critic Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) followed, positing that the existence of the sign—and the arbitrariness of the relationship between the signifier and the signified—is the root cause of language’s essential fallibility (i.e., language is not as reliable in representing finite realities as we tend to think it is). Together, Saussure and Derrida’s work lifts the hood on the mechanics of the verbal pun, a basic and enduring building block of comedy. This presentation will explore the constitution of the pun in literature and performance, using William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to illustrate humorous use of the homonym (specifically, the homophone), which depends on the fact of one signifier matched to an excess of signifieds. This research suggests that the metaphor of the linguistic sign can be extended to the physical and performative aspects of a play such as Dream, in the sense that scrambling other conventional one-to-one relationships in the scope of the play (e.g., a player to her/his role, a lover to her/his mate) is a source of humor. Finally, we will briefly consider what our amusement at these exposed flaws and departures from convention may reveal about our humanity.