The Tradition of Tragicomedy throughout English Literature

Stated simply, tragicomedy is a blend of the elements of tragedy and comedy. To quote the seventeenth century playwright john Fletcher from the preface to his play The Faithful Shepherdess ; Read More Criticism a tragicomedy 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 near it, which is enough to make it no comedy.

In the 18th century Dr. Samuel Johnson defined tragicomedy as “drama compounded of merry and serious events”. Read More Criticism Contrary to classical injunction against mixing the tragic and the comic in one composition as is insisted by Socrates at the end of Plato’s symposium; Dr. Johnson praises Shakespeare’s mixture of the two, when he says, “Shakespeare has united the powered of exciting laughter and sorrow not only in one mind, but in one composition.” 

In Shakespeare’s tragedies the comic element, though a part of the play, nonetheless remains a distinct constituent in the sense that whereas it intensifies the tragic effect, it doesn’t threaten to influence the action of the play. Porter in Macbeth, fool in King Lear, and grave digger in Hamlet, are a case in point. In Shakespeare’s tragicomedies too, the tragic element constitutes a significant part of the action of play. But here too, tragedy is threatened, yet avoided in time so that ultimately it doesn’t affect the fortunes of the protagonists. The two elements, the tragic and comic, thus remain distinctly apart, as is the case in much ado about nothing and other tragicomedies. Read More Criticism One best example of tragicomedies by Shakespeare is so-called reconciliation plays, such as The Winter's Tale , which reach a tragic climax but then lighten to a happy conclusion.  In fact, Shakespeare's experimental later plays is known as tragicomedies or romances. These plays differ considerably from Shakespeare’s earlier comedies, being more radical in their dramatic art and showing greater concern with reconciliation among generations. Yet like the earlier comedies the tragicomedies end happily with reunions or renewal. Typically, virtue is sorely tested in the tragicomedies, but almost miraculously succeeds. Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale as mentioned earlier, and The Tempest are the great four tragicomedy in the English text.

A tragicomedy becomes the usual form for plays in the tradition of the theater of the absurd, such as Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot was originally written in French, En attendant Godot. The French version did not have the subtitle underscoring its nature. Beckett translated the play himself into English and gave it the subtitle: "a tragicomedy in two acts," we shall see how this play is different from tragicomedies of the past.Read More Criticism
In order that you are to appreciate the play better, especially in relation to Beckett’s  use of the resources of the performing arts, and a literary genre (i. e. as a tragicomedy),  it is better to read T. S.  Eliot’s essay, Tradition and the Individual Talent. The reading of this essay should enable you, in general, to see Eliot’s ideas of tradition and the individual talent, you should be able to see how the tradition of tragicomedy is by Beckett and how it undergoes a change at his hands. Read More Criticism  Modern playwrights, as we know, mix the two elements differently and perhaps far more effectively. The two elements interpenetrate within the same character and the boundary between the two in a composition is blurred.  Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead  is one of the best examples of it . The play is Conceived as a satirical meditation on Hamlet, by English playwright William Shakespeare. Stoppard's play focuses on the sadly existential but frivolous meanderings of two of Hamlet's marginal characters, a pair of quarrelsome courtiers. Tom was associated with the continental European theater of the absurd, a movement that lamented the senselessness of the human condition. He fused the English tradition of the “comedy of manners”   with contemporary social concerns by concentrating on the intricate and comical duplicities of everyday conversation within a wider, and often menacing, historical perspective. Read More Criticism This also projects their conception of the human  existence and the concept of audience. According to Styan, “is treated to the absurdity of human life inoculated first with laughter.” So you will see that in waiting for go dot, Beckett has to use stay’s words again, “filtered the nightmare of human existence through the screen of laughter.” Or, shall we say that the protagonists in Waiting for Godot laugh to save their tears?