Difference Between Tragedy and Comedy

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      Tragedy and comedy are two genres of literature that traces their origins back to the Ancient Greece. In simple terms, the main difference between them is that a tragedy is a serious story with a sad ending, while a comedy is a humorous story with a happy ending. According to Aristotle, “Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds of being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of an action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its katharsis of such emotions. . . . Every Tragedy, therefore, must have six parts, which parts determine its quality — namely Plot, Characters, Diction, Thought, Spectacle, Melody.” In simple terms, a tragedy is a story with a sad and depressing ending. A tragedy always deals with an extraordinary person who is led to downfall through his own weakness. A successful tragedy has the ability to evoke pity and fear in the audience. In a tragedy, the protagonist’s life goes from good to bad. Tragedy can be further categorized into genres such as revenge tragedy, domestic tragedy, Bourgeois tragedy, Shakespearean tragedy, etc. Some famous tragedies include Hamlet (Shakespeare), Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare), The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (Christopher Marlow) and Le Cid (Corneille).

      A comedy can be simply defined as a story with a happy ending that makes the audience laugh. A comedy is a story that illustrates idiosyncrasies of ordinary people, with a happy ending where protagonist achieves his goal at the end. Aristotle defined comedy as an imitation of men worse than the average, where tragedy was an imitation of men better than the average. However, the characters portrayed in comedies were not worse than average in every way, only insofar as they are ridiculous, which is a species of the ugly. The ridiculous may be defined as a mistake or deformity not productive of pain or harm to others; the mask, for instance, that excites laughter, is something ugly and distorted without causing pain.

      A comedy is opposite to a tragedy which ends with a painful end in the life of the dramatic characters that are traditionally of high social status. On the contrary, a comedy is chiefly written to amuse its audience, with characters mostly taken from everyday life. The plot in a comedy usually ends happily. In the Middle Ages this term was seen as the complementary of tragedies. In a narrative tragedy the heroes fall from wealth to wretchedness, while in a narrative comedy characters climb from wretchedness to wealth/happiness. The two together make up the wheel of fortune, a major symbol of human fate. Tragedies and comedies can be compared on several grounds, by setting up opposites as those of death and love, solitude and company, punishment and reward, etc., but these comparisons cannot really be generalized. In essence, tragedy is the mirror image or negative of comedy. For instead of depicting the rise in circumstances of a dejected or outcast underdog, tragedy shows us the downfall of a once prominent and powerful hero.

      A successful comedy not only has the ability to make the audience happy and amused but can also make the audience understand serious social or individual problems. A Comedy can be categorized into various genres like Farce, Burlesques, Satire, Domestic Comedy, Comedy of Manners, Comedy of errors, etc. Some examples of famous comedies include Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night's Dream', Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid, The Miser, and so on. However, the following issues can be short listed as the basic differences between tragedy and comedy:

(i) Characters in tragedy tend to be royals, superhuman, semi-divine etc., while characters in comedy tend to be ordinary, common: people we meet in everyday life.

(ii) Tragedy has a solemn and ominous tone, while comedy has a light, happy tone. Tragedies emphasize on human idiosyncrasies and make suggestions for improvements, while comedy emphasizes human shortcomings which cause suffering.

(iii) Conflict in a tragedy is often very serious. Conflict in a comedy is often not serious.

(iv) Tragedy uses more concrete language. Comedy uses ambiguous language, resulting in humor.

(v) Tragedy takes the view that life is a misfortune because it is filled with pain and suffering and always inevitably ends in death, loss etc. Comedy, on the other hand, takes the view that life is ridiculous and people behave in a humorous way.

(vi) Most importantly, tragedy has a mournful ending, where a comedy has a happy, amusing, light ending.

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