Saturday, March 8, 2014

Tragicomedy? Or Comitragedy?

This is a brief commentary on Timothy Moore's article on Tragicomedy as seen in Amphitruo:

Due to a number of famous playwrights referencing the term "tragicomedy," many people have come to understand that it implies an equal-parts mixture of the two genres, like a Dramedy, or basically any movie with Sandra Bullock in it. This isn't an incorrect perception of the modern term, but the context in which this term was originally coined presents a notably different perspective on what "tragicomedy" is actually supposed to mean.

As stated in the article, as far as we know, Plautus, a Roman Playwright famous for his comedies, was the first one to use the word, and most likely invented it. Romans had a very specific definition of what a "comedy" was, and what a "tragedy" was, and it extended beyond simple seriousness vs. hilarity to the actual form and specific tropes associated with each kind of play. For example, if there were gods participating in the action, it was almost certainly a tragedy. Conversely, if you saw a slave engaging in rascally behavior, it was obviously a comedy. It's important to understand that according to classical theater tradition, these two sets of stereotypes hardly ever crossed. Which is why what happens in Amphitruo was somewhat radical/significant, particularly in the finer details of its execution.

ANYWAY, long story short,  rather than being that equal-parts mixture we might think of, Amphitruo is more about the supremacy of comedy over tragedy, and how comedy is so good that it can take perfectly tragic lines and elements, and with a sprinkling of unexpected context, role reversals, etc, make them into unmistakeable comedy. If you're interested in seeing more of the specific instances where this happens, you should check out the link at the top of this post! If you're into Classical Theater, then you'll appreciate it for sure.


1 comment:

  1. Isn't it interesting how subtle changes to an otherwise tragic script can make something funny. Henri Bergson says that all you need to do to make a tragedy into a comedy is sit down. Think about one ever gets tired in a tragedy (except the audience, maybe)!