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Tragicomedy is a literary genre that blends aspects of both tragic and comic forms. Most often seen in dramatic literature, the term can variously describe either a tragic play which contains enough comic elements to lighten the overall mood or a serious play with a happy ending.
There is no complete formal definition of tragicomedy from the classical age. It appears that the Greek philosopher Aristotle had something like the Renaissance meaning of the term (that is, a serious action with a happy ending) in mind when, in Poetics, he discusses tragedy with a dual ending. In this respect, a number of Greek and Roman plays, for instance Alcestis, may be called tragicomedies, though without any definite attributes outside of plot. The word itself originates with the Roman comic playwright Plautus, who coined the term somewhat facetiously in the prologue to his play Amphitryon. The character Mercury, sensing the indecorum of the inclusion of both kings and gods alongside servants in a comedy, declares that the play had better be a "tragicomoedia:"
Plautus's comment had an arguably excessive impact on Renaissance aesthetic theory, which had largely transformed Aristotle's comments on drama into a rigid theory. For "rule mongers" (the term is Giordano Bruno's), "mixed" works such as those mentioned above, more recent "romances" such as Orlando Furioso, and even The Odyssey were at best puzzles; at worst, mistakes. Two figures helped to elevate tragicomedy to the status of a regular genre, by which is meant one with its own set of rigid rules. Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio, in the mid-sixteenth century, both argued that the tragedy-with-comic-ending (tragedia de lieto fin) was most appropriate to modern times and produced his own examples of such plays. Even more important was Giovanni Battista Guarini. Guarini's Il Pastor Fido, published in 1590, provoked a fierce critical debate in which Guarini's spirited defense of generic innovation eventually carried the day. Guarini's tragicomedy offered modulated action that never drifted too far either to comedy or tragedy, mannered characters, and a pastoral setting. All three became staples of continental tragicomedy for a century and more.
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