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lfawley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You will see the term tragic comedy, often shortened to tragicomedy, in theatrical works quite often. While the overall play is a tragedy, the playwright uses humor, sometimes satirical, to advance the storyline or to deliver a message.

Verna Foster notes in the literary encyclopedia that the definition of this term is often "slippery" in that is hasn't been truly solidified, tey tragicomedy appears in even our earliest dramatic works. She writes:

Tragicomedy is a slippery genre. As well as incorporating elements from tragedy and comedy, tragicomedy has often been crossed (and sometimes confused) with pastoral, romance, satire, serious drama, black comedy, and other genres. Not surprisingly, the term “tragicomedy” has been used vaguely and loosely, especially as the genre seems to reinvent itself every time it appears in the history of drama and theatre. In one sense, tragicomedy is coterminous with literature and life itself. But in dramatic practice tragicomedy comes into being or at least can be recognized only after tragedy and comedy have first established themselves. While plays that combine tragic and comic effects in various ways may be identified in all periods of drama.

Additionally, the encyclopedia Britannica provides a fine analysis of the history of the genre and includes examples of plays which have been considered tragicomedies:

Despite its affront to the strict Neoclassicism of the day, which forbade the mixing of genres, tragicomedy flourished, especially in England, whose writers largely ignored the edicts of Neoclassicism. John Fletcher provides a good example of the genre in The Faithful Shepherdess (c. 1608), itself a reworking of Guarini's Il pastor fido, first published in 1590. Notable examples of tragicomedy by William Shakespeare are The Merchant of Venice (1596-97), The Winter's Tale (1610-11), and The Tempest (1611-12).


besure77 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A tragic comedy is a fictional work. It contains both elements of tragedy and comedy at the same time. For example, sometimes there may be a happy ending at the end of a series of unfortunate events. Usually the characters that are in a tragic comedy have exaggerated personalities. Tragic comedies often incorporate jokes throughout the story as well in order to lighten the mood of the story. An example of a tragic comedy would be Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. The movie Pulp Fiction is also considered to be a tragic comedy because there are many elements of tragedy mixed with grotesque comedy.