Archive for November 4th, 2007


First things first. The title Tragicocomedia is not merely an embellishment of the term tragicomedy. Both in fact derive from the Latin term tragicocomoedia, which, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, was first used by Plautus “to denote a play in which gods and mortals, masters and slaves reverse the roles traditionally assigned to them.” For the sake of economy and appearances I have opted for the Spanish and Italian spelling: tragicocomedia. Basically, it looks a lot cooler, and in concluding with –media, it obtains a certain wanky contemporariness, quite appropriate for this domain.

Since its first use by Plautus, the term “tragicomedy” has come to be used rather more freely, to describe something, wait for it, both comic and tragic. The term can essentially be applied to any form of drama that does not conform to the basic conventions of either tragedy or comedy, yet contains elements of both. In the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods, tragicomedy was derided as a corrupt form for its failure to conform to convention. It first achieved acceptance as a respectable genre in late sixteenth-century Italy in the plays of Giovanni Battista Giraldi (1504-73) and Giovanni Battista Guarini (1538-1612), where the form came to be known as tragedia de lieto fin – tragedy with a comic ending. These were most often placed in pastoral settings.

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-86), on the other hand, derided the increasing prevalence of tragicomedy in English drama. He made plain his distaste for the genre by referring to the plays as “mungrell tragicomedies.” Despite further contemporary objections to tragicomic drama, such plays were increasingly popular and, in the absence of a concrete rubric or clear definition, were often referred to as “romances.”

The Jacobean playwright John Fletcher 1579-1625 was later to define the term tragicomedy as follows:

“A tragi-comedie is not so called in respect of mirth and killing, but in respect it wants deaths, which is enough to make it no tragedy, yet brings some neere it, which is inough to make it no comedie.”

I do not wish to delve further into the history of the definition of the term “tragicomedy”, nor present examples of plays which might be classified as tragicomedy (such as Measure for Measure, for example. Oops). Rather, my intention is merely to provide a basic explanation as to why I have chosen this title for a blog.

The reason is as follows. Owing to the difficulties of determining the meta-narrative of life until very close to its conclusion – except in the most extreme cases – it is fair to say that most lives contain sufficient elements of tragedy and comedy, so as best to sit under the rubric of tragicomedy. Often the two narratives vie with each other to establish themselves as the meta-narrative, yet until the curtain begins to descend, it is almost invariably too early to be certain either way. When the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai was asked in the 1960s, what the impact of the French Revolution had been, he replied “it’s too early to tell.” Whilst a human lifespan makes for a neater, more easily framed narrative than the ongoing, seemingly limitless historical process, it is worth bearing this in mind when considering the difficulties in selecting the appropriate classification of an individual’s narrative.

Hence, Tragicomedy, is the best candidate in the interim, and it is the tragicomic aspects of life, among other things, that I intend to discuss in this blog. Ideally, over a hot cup of cocoa.

A further few points…

The quote attributed to the American comic actress and writer Carol Burnett, that “comedy is tragedy plus time”, perfectly illustrates the difficulties in identifying the trajectory of the narrative of many of life’s subplots, let alone the nature of the meta-narrative, if one is ever able to be identified. What seems awful today might take on a more ironic aspect once the more apparent and immediate impact of consequence has passed. Equally, what seems funny and insignificant today might later prove the foundation of a great tragedy.

Success is as much a consequence as it is a cause of confidence and self-assurance, yet it is also greatly subject to luck. Equally, failure can be both a consequence and a cause of a lack of confidence and self-assurance, yet luck can bring about a rapid change of fortune for better or worse. It would be folly to ignore the potential for tragedy to strike, just as it would be folly to dismiss all hope of a stroke of good luck. We must also bear in mind that attitude and perspective will inevitably play a role in our ability to respond to any shift in fortune for better or worse. It is commonly understood that laughing at tragic circumstances is a viable means of coming to terms with them. Perhaps it can be said that in framing tragedy as comedy, we are taking charge of the narrative. I have no wish to say much more on the matter. The purpose of this discussion was merely to highlight the ways in which we fluctuate between comedy and tragedy through our action or inaction, and through simple good or bad fortune. In such a circumstance, until the narrative reaches its ultimate conclusion, how can we possibly, with any confidence, define life as anything other than tragicomedy?

Welcome then, one and all, to TRAGICOCOMEDIA!

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