Guide to Literary Terms

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Black Comedy

Black comedy - Often considered perverted and morbid, black comedy depicts situations normally thought of as tragic or grave as humorous. Specifically, it displays marked disillusionment and depicts humans without convictions and with little hope. The term is also used to describe theater dealing with sinister or disturbing subjects handled lightly in an attempt to offend and shock, as is common in Theater of the Absurd.

Black is from the Middle English blak derived from the Old English blaec, which is probably the same as the Latin flagrare, meaning “to burn.” Comedy is derived from the Latin comoedia which, in turn, was from the Greek komoidia formed by joining komos, meaning “revel,” and, aidein, meaning “to sing.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. is a Twentieth-Century novelist whose works, including Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five are filled with black comedy. There are representatives of the genre in Twentieth Century drama such as Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

see: absurd