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Thread: Comedy and Tragedy

  1. #1
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    Jan 2008

    Comedy and Tragedy

    I'm deeply sorry to bother any of you, but I have trouble distinguishing between these two "categories."
    What are the definitions of comedy and tragedy, and how do they differ? I'm sorry that I'm not too much into literature. Would you be kind enough to explain them to me?

  2. #2
    Thinking...thinking! dramasnot6's Avatar
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    Oct 2006
    In a perpetually transitional state.
    From the Wikipedia article "Literary genre", found at

    A literary genre is a genre of literature that is "a loose set of criteria for a category of literary composition." Genres can be determined by literary technique, tone, content, or even (as in the case of fiction) length.

    The most general genres in literature are (in loose chronological order) epic, tragedy,[1] comedy, novel, short story, and creative nonfiction.[citation needed] They can all be in the genres prose or poetry, which shows best how loosely genres are defined.
    This genre consists of a plot with unfortunate or sad events, and often a sad tone. Here, the protagonist often experiences a fall from grace, and the antagonist often conquers.

    This genre is a lot more complex. It is not neccesarily happy, and sometimes not even funny. Most comedy contains variations on the elements of surprise, conflict, repetitiveness, and the effect of opposite expectations to achieve an alienating affect for the audience.
    I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.

    Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

  3. #3
    amor vincit omnia livelaughlove's Avatar
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    Dec 2006
    North Carolina
    So, what would Hamlet be classified as? My first thought would say tragedy but from your definition it could be a comedy as well... ?

  4. #4
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Feb 2007
    Read Aristotle's poetics if you want more on this, since that pretty much created the genre distinction (I say this because western theater has been shaped so much by that book).

    According to Aristotle, a comedic character must be lesser than the average person, such as the Miser, or the Misanthrope. They are heavily flawed as people, which allows the viewer to see them in a different light. The tragic character on the other hand must be bigger than life, beyond human character, Oedipus, though he committed some disgusting acts, constantly strove for the truth, and even unwound the sphinx riddle. Ajax was a great hero, but happened to be born in a time when there were too many heroes, Juliet's capacity for love exceeds any character I have yet encountered, etc.

    The tragedy is broken into 4 steps, beginning with a Hamartia, a tragic flaw in the hero/heroine, which will bring about the tragedy. The final step, the Katharsis, is what will bring about the release from the drama for the reader/viewer, and return them, though influenced and moved, to a functioning perception/purified perception. It is only through the Katharsis that the viewer can be able to get up and leave, after seeing horrific events such as a man cut off a persons head, and send it to someone in a box, or see someone tortured. A great example, and the one I have been alluding to, is Braveheart, where the last scene shows the Scots finally triumphing after William Wallace's death. That brings the viewer back to a state of calm.

    They are very different, and serve different purposes. I strongly recommend anyone who hasn't to read Aristotle's poetics, since it will greatly increase your knowledge and control of how you read/view tragedies and comedies.

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