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a. a drama in which aspects of both tragedy and comedy are found
b. the dramatic genre of works of this kind
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a form of drama that combines elements of tragedy and comedy. Tragicomedy is based on a sense of the relativity of the prevailing values of life that manifests itself in drama during spiritual turning points in history.

The principle of tragicomedy emerged in the works of Euripides and was intensified in the drama of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The first tragicomedies were written in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The genre combined humorous and serious episodes and noble and comic personages. Typical tragicomedies depicted idealized friendship and love borne through danger to safety and happiness. The genre was marked by pastoral motifs, intricate action and thrilling situations, prolonged uncertainty and unexpected surprises, and the predominance of chance. Characters as a rule did not remain static, although a single personality trait was often emphasized, reducing the character to a type, and events were generally not controlled by the heroes’ actions.

The tragicomic element was again intensified beginning in the late 19th century in plays by Ibsen, Strindberg, Hauptmann, and Chekhov, and later in those by O’Casey, Garcia Lorca, and particularly Pirandello. In the mid-20th century, elements of tragicomedy were found in plays by J. Giraudoux, J. Anouilh, F. Dürrenmatt, B. Behan, H. Pinter, E. Ionesco, S. Beckett, and C. Zuckmayer.

Modern tragicomedy is not a strictly defined genre and is characterized mainly by a general tragicomic effect. To attain this effect, the dramatist depicts reality in a simultaneously comic and tragic manner; the comic and the tragic often reinforce each other. The tragicomic effect is based on the incongruity between a hero and a dramatic situation, as when a comic hero finds himself in a tragic situation, or occasionally the other way around. The tragic effect can also be based on the inner irresolution of a conflict: the spectators’ sympathy for one character often conflicts with sympathy for another character, and the author refrains from taking sides.


Ratskii, I. “Problema tragikomedii i poslednie p’esy Shekspira.” Teatr, 1971, no. 2.
Styan, J. L. The Dark Comedy: The Development of Modern Comic Tragedy. Cambridge, Mass., 1962.
Guthke, K. S. Modern Tragicomedy, New York, 1966.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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