What is the difference between a comedy and a tragedy?

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Tragedies in general take the philosophical view that life is a misfortune because it is filled with pain and suffering and always inevitably ends in death. Comedies in general take the view that life is ridiculous because most people behave like fools with unrealistic pretensions and expectations. Both viewpoints are valid. Most of us see life as a grim and pointless struggle at some times, while at other times, when we are in a good mood, we see life as a game to be played and not as something to be taken seriously. 

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Laughter vs. Tears

While both comedy and tragedy point to human foibles, the manner in which these foibles are treated as well as the outcome greatly differ.


  • Emphasis upon human shortcomings which effect suffering
  • The hero is often isolated
  • The hero realizes errors too late
  • The hero and others die in the end/suffer a great downfall
  • The tone of the drama is solemn and ominous
  • The emotions of pity and fear are aroused
  • There are lessons in man's condition and fate
  • Self-deception and excessive pride (hubris) are held to ridicule
  • The limitations of the human condition are emphasized
  • The conflict is very serious
  • Fate often plays a strong role
  • The ending is mournful (nearly everyone dies)


  • Emphasis is placed upon the idyosyncracies of the character that can effect humor and renewal
  • The action moves toward freedom or renewal
  • There is much humor and high spirits
  • The comedy elicits a response of the intellect in delight or ridicule
  • The play celebrates a ridiculous life
  • Comedy ridicules conceit and self-delusion
  • Comedy points to human weaknesses, but suggestions for improvement and self-renewal are generated
  • The protagonist is an ordinary person
  • The conflicts are sometimes ludicrous; at the very least, they are not serious
  • The protagonist reaches an improbable achievement
  • The protagonist is an ordinary person, but idiosyncratic
  • The protagonist is often unrealistic or intolerant
  • Despite setbacks and detours, the protagonist wins out in the end.
  • Ending is usually light, happy, and positive
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