Properly speaking, a tragicomedy is either a dramatic work that combines elements associated with both tragic and comic forms, or one that sustains a consistently tragic or heroic tone but avoids a catastrophic ending. The adjective tragicomic may be more loosely applied to nondramatic literary forms or to real-life situations in which humorous and tragic aspects coexist, usually with the implication that the combination is somehow disconcerting, that an impulse to laugh at the comic element is inhibited by a sense of disquiet or disgust.

Origins and Development

The term was first applied to drama, rather whimsically, by Plautus (b. 254 BCE). Ancient drama was strictly divided into tragedy, which dealt with gods, and comedy, which dealt with mortals; but the story of Alcmene, a woman so ...

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