Tragicomedy – Concept, history, characteristics and examples

We explain what tragicomedy is, the origin of this genre, its history and characteristics. Also, examples of famous tragicomedies.

The tragicomedy presents tragic elements, but starring comic characters.

What is tragicomedy?

Tragicomedy is one of the dramatic genres (or major genres) of literature, which is defined by the joint presence of tragic and comic elements in the same story. Generally the term is used to refer to theatrical (or rather dramaturgical) works but it can also be applied to cinema and narrative.

The term “tragicomedy” was coined by the Roman playwright Tito Maccio Plauto (254-184 BC), to refer to a certain type of theatrical works in which the traditional roles of gods and men, or of masters and slaves, were reversed. thus generating a burlesque effect in the fall of the gods and masters, and endowing the slaves with a tragic dignity. The best example of this type of piece was at that time Host, work that remains incomplete.

This Greco-Roman tradition was partially taken up by Italian Renaissance playwrights, and had great influence among Spanish authors of the Golden Age, such as Lope de Vega (1562-1635), who founded the genre to break the traditional rules of Aristotelian tragedy. . However, Don Quixote himself by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) can be considered as a tragicomedy in narrative format.

Other great exponents of the genre emerged in the Great Britain of the time, such as John Fletcher (1579-1625) or William Shakespeare himself (1564-1616).

According to the Italian author Battista Guarini (1538-1612), the tragicomedy can be defined as a piece that incorporates most of the traditional tragic elements, but starring typical characters of the comedy (commoners, rogues, neighborhoods) and without carrying out tragic logic, that is, has a happy ending.

Tragicomedy characteristics

tragicomedy features
Although the characters go through tragic situations, they usually come to a happy ending.

Broadly speaking, the tragicomedy is characterized by the following:

  • It is a dramatic work, that is, essentially theatrical, that combines tragic and comic features.
  • It usually stars commoners, hoodlums or rogues charactersDespite going through tragic situations, the outcome of the story is usually happy.
  • The anecdote consists of different episodes, each of which confronts the protagonist with a series of obstacles to overcome.
  • Sometimes the presence of comic elements is used according to ironically highlight the tragic fate Of the characters.
  • In its modern aspects, the tragicomedy has been associated with the drama of the absurd, that is, to which poses laughter as the only way out of a tragic existence and meaningless.

Examples of tragicomedies

Some cases of famous tragicomedies are the following:

  • The faithful shepherdess (1609) by John Fletcher.
  • The merchant of Venice (1596) or The Tempest (1611) by William Shakespeare.
  • Spectral (1881) by Henrik Ibsen.
  • The cherry garden (1903) or Uncle Vania (1899) by Anton Chekhov.
  • The matchmaker (1499) by Fernando de Rojas.
  • Ovejuna Fountain (1619) by Lope de Vega.