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What is Tragicomedy?

Updated on October 10, 2009

Tragicomedy is a form of drama that combines tragic and comic elements. Although comic elements may be seen in some ancient Greek tragedies, they are generally incidental to the tragic action. The Roman dramatist Plautus, in the prologue to Amphytryon, coined the term tragicomedy and violated dramatic decorum by introducing kings and slaves into the same play. Yet the work is more farce than tragicomedy.

During the Renaissance, tragicomedy took on a distinctive structure. It included any work that did not end in death but brought some characters near to it. The term had nothing to do with humor or lack of it. Sudden reversals, averted catastrophes, and happy endings were the standard ingredients of the form, which we see in Shakespeare's plays The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure.

In the 19th century, the romantics introduced the grotesque into such plays, thereby influencing modern drama. But the dramas of Henrik Ibsen, notably Ghosts (1881) and The Wild Duck (1884), and of Anton Chekhov, especially The Cherry Orchard (1903), with their touching comic sadness, have revealed the possibilities of the form.

Writers associated with the "theater of the absurd" have been particularly attracted to tragicomedy, although the term seems to be an inaccurate description of their work. Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot (1953), for example, has neither a comic nor a tragic ending. The play is puzzling, grotesque, and elusive. Yet Beckett calls it a "tragicomedy", a term now often used to describe a variety of dramatic modes.

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    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      A good, though brief, explanation. Interesting to me because my formal education is more in the field of finance, business and accounting. I love to read and now am writing, so I value all the expertise and knowledge that I find capsulized here.

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      rhackzs 6 years ago

      heheheheh ,, char lang poh ..

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      LAnce 6 years ago

      SO Deep Meaning I Can't even reach my hair

    • profile image

      Eshabuko Shielar 5 years ago

      Dnt knw bt dis writin has reali helpd me in preparin4 my Els315 exam

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      nynynynynny 5 years ago

      Eshabuko Shielar doesn't make sense.

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      Pizza 5 years ago

      Thanks. This helps my project lots!! :)

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      billie joe 5 years ago

      yeah

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      sadia mubarak 3 years ago

      a very fine description of Tragic comedy by quoting different example. it help me a lot to prepare my assignment

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