Comic Versus Tragic Worldviews

Comedy was invented in ancient Greece shortly after tragedy, and the two forms of drama were often performed together. From Aristotle's Poetics on, tragedy has been ranked higher than comedy. Tragic heroes, Aristotle said, are better than most people, while comic characters are worse. The standard assessment is that tragedy is serious and “heavy,” while comedy is nonserious and “light”: In tragedy, we feel emotions like pity and admiration for noble characters, while in comedy we laugh at the shortcomings and antics of buffoons. This entry contrasts the comic and the tragic worldviews with respect to the responses they evoke. It then discusses the impact of historical changes on the usefulness of those responses and presents a perspective from which the comic can be ...

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