Benigni inside Shakespeare’s Green World

Reading this week’s “The Argument of Comedy” by Northrop Frye, I found the closing argument of the chapter very compelling, “Shakespeare endows both worlds with equal imaginative power, brings them opposite one another and make each world seem unreal when seen by the light of the other.”[1] The statement reminded me of Roberto Benigni’s film Life is beautiful (1997) and especially the character of Guido Orefice, played by Benigni himself.

Frye comes up with the term “green world” to describe Shakespeare’s dream world; or in other words, the world of desire. According to Frye, Shakespeare’s comic resolution is achieved in the green world[2] which totally contrasts the normality of the real world that the play is set in. In my opinion, Robert Benigni lives in Shakespeare’s green world throughout the duration of the film, pulling everyone around him to join him in his fairy tale world.

Many times, while I was watching the film I was torn between the two worlds displayed on screen; first one being the cruelty of the concentration camp and second one, the dreamlike world that Benigni was creating for his son pretending to be on a vacation from home. Benigni’s world of desire is one of desiring to believe the unreal in order to comfort his son and prevent him from seeing the cruelty of the world.

I think the connection with Shakespeare is “the detachment of the spirit born of this reciprocal reflection of two illusory realities”. Because in a horrid situation such as war, detachment is necessary if deliverance is to be achieved. As Frye inserts, “In comedy the moral norm is not morality but deliverance.”[3] The film initially received opposition when it premiered in Cannes due to the fact that it touched on a relatively recent and sensitive matter: concentration camps. But in my opinion, the film did not provide comic escapism but rather a more light-hearted and surreal sense to the horrors of World War 2, denoting hopefulness and faith for a better world.






[1] Northrop Frye, “The Argument of Comedy” in English Institute Essays (New York: Columbia, 1949), 73

[2] Ibid., 68

[3] Ibid., 71

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