The term Dramatic Relief in Poetics

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      The term Dramatic Relief is used for the dramatic technique of following up a serious scene with one of comic overtones. As the term implies, the high tension of the serious action is relieved by the contrasting lightness of the comic scene. The technique is more popularly and, perhaps more accurately, known as comic relief. These comic scenes have been very effectively used by Shakespeare in his tragedies. Aristotle, however, firmly spoke against the mingling of the comic and the serious.

      Aristotle held that a dramatist should strictly adhere to the Unity of Action. The tragic action, by implication, should be devoid of a mixture of opposing elements, such as the serious and the comic. Plurality of action was to be avoided; thus, Aristotle would not approve of a mingling of the comic and the tragic. Such a mingling, according to him, would lessen the intensity of the special pleasure of tragedy which involved pity and fear. He was against tragicomedy, for he felt that it would weaken tragic effect. However, Elizabethan dramatists, especially Shakespeare, have made good use of "comic relief. They have shown that comic relief, instead of lessening the tragic effect, can intensify it all the more. In play after play, Shakespeare has heightened the effect of tragic catastrophe by including scenes with comic overtones. In his tragedies, the comic scenes enlarge the tragic canvas. The clown who brings Cleopatra the poisonous asp sets her tragedy against the daily world. The macabre comments of the grave-diggers in Hamlet, the Porter scene in Macbeth, or the Fool's comments in King Lear, deepen rather than lessen tragic intensity. Thus, Aristotle's contention that double-actions tend to mitigate tragic effects, is not quite valid in the light of the drama which is available today.

University Questions

What does the term "Dramatic Relief" imply? For what reason does Aristotle believe that the comic and the tragic should not be mingled?

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