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What is the definition of comic relief?

The definition of comic relief is when a comedic event or moment is inserted into an otherwise serious or tragic work of literature or drama to momentarily alleviate tension or heighten the emotions of the work through contrast.

Comic Relief

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Last Updated May 26, 2023.

Comic relief occurs when a comedic event or moment is inserted into an otherwise serious or tragic work of literature or drama to momentarily alleviate tension or heighten the work's emotions through contrast. Rather than merely providing amusement, comic relief often furthers the story's action. 

Comedy derives from the Greek word kōmōidia, a form of kōmōidos, meaning "comic poet." The word is formed by combining kōmos ("revel") and aidos ("singer"). Relief derives from the Old French word relever ("to raise") from the Latin word relevare ("to alleviate, to diminish").

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is a tragic play in which moments of humorous wordplay provide comic relief. In Act 2, scene 4, the nurse teases Romeo for being impatient to see Juliet and playfully alludes to Rosemary, a girl who Romeo loved before Juliet:

Nurse: ...Doth not Rosemary and Romeo begin both with a letter?

Romeo: Ay, nurse; what of that? Both with an R.

Nurse: Ah, mocker! that's the dog's name.

(Act 2II, Scene 4IV, lines 209-212)

See: tragedycomedy

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