Comedy and Tragedy

All drama can be seen as a conflict between our biology and our social context. In Comedy the biology has the balance of the public’s sympathy. In Tragedy it is the social context that has the sympathy. Comedy forgives the appetites of the body, the needs of the child; tragedy promotes our moral values, the aspirations of the adult. "Yes Harlequin, we will still love you if you steal the pie."  "No Oedipus, it is not so cool to sleep with your mother."

Comedy is populated by neurotics. Tragedy is populated by psychotics. (During the twentieth century, playwrights, directors and actors tried to reverse this formula: Comedy became Absurd, and Tragedy was flushed down the kitchen sink.)

In Comedy the characters react and apologize. “Excuuuuse me!” In Tragedy the characters take action without shame. “I will deliver us unto our common fate!

Comedy contains a succession of little “ah-ha” moments. Tragedy contains one long drawn-out “ah-ha.”

Comedy pumps along with vertical movements, peering over horizontal fences, and jumping up out of boxes wearing horizontally striped jerseys. Tragedy glides horizontally, processing past majestic vertical columns in long draped gowns.

Melodrama, or tragicomedy as it is sometimes called, is all about diagonals.

Watching Comedy and Melodrama, the audience is asking “What will happen next, and what will the ending be?” In Tragedy they already know what will happen; the story is familiar and the oracle has spoken. The questions thus become more sophisticated: “How will we get there, and why?”

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Jonathan Paul Cook © 2010