Tragicomedy: what is it, what are its characteristics, origin, authors and more


What is tragicomedy?

It is one of the most representative subgenres of the dramatic genre in literature, characterized especially for including and mixing elements of tragedy and elements of comedy, a fusion of subgenres that can provoke laughter and tears in the audience.

What is tragicomedy

In this type of classification, in tragedy, the characters are brought into situations with strong emotions due to the tinge of uncertainty of the environment in which they find themselves, there are forces beyond nature, often associated with destiny, which are against human purposes. While in comedy, the funny touch is added in which the characters live confusions, exaggerations and funny situations to entertain the audience.

Meaning of tragicomedy

The term links etymological part of tragedy and comedy, referring to the fusion that this subgenre creates from other subgenres of drama to present a staging that exposes elements of both parts and that generates as a result its own personality that is inscribed within realistic literature.

Definition of tragicomedy concept

The tragicomedy can be defined as a dramatic piece that links the tragic and the comic, presenting a realistic type of work, which presents the trajectory of a hero whose goal is related to justice, ambition, love, honor, among other issues, and the process he follows to achieve it or not. Thus, it can have either a positive or negative ending.

Origin of tragicomedy

The birth of this dramatic subgenre dates back to Ancient Greece, being Aristotle the first to raise the first bases of its composition. In these first steps, tragicomedy was one of the most important shows, which is why it managed to gather a large number of audiences eager to see the representation of legends that were already part of their own culture, anticipating the presence of tragic and comic dyes in its content.

Later, during the Renaissance, classical texts were recovered and works such as Plautus’ were a source of inspiration for future authors such as Shakespeare and Moliere.

Characteristics of tragicomedy


The tragicomedy is in charge of presenting to the public the path of a tragicomic hero, who with the passage of time faces a series of obstacles that are placed in front of him and make it difficult for him to reach his goal, whether sentimental, social, political, etc. In particular, it can lead to both positive and negative ends. It resorts to universal themes.


Particularly in tragicomedy, the characters are subjected to a great variety of situations in which they are confronted with intense feelings and emotions that can oscillate between pleasant or unpleasant, positive or negative sensations, and which compose that ambiguity and clear mixture within the usual life of human beings.

That is why the characters of the tragicomedy are realistic, also implementing a language that can be adapted to the social classes and the context in which it will be presented. Among the types of protagonists we can identify the protagonist, almost always a gallant, the antagonist, a lady, a wise man, the funny character and the servants.

External forces

The characters in these stories are progressively brought into strong situations in which they face another series of conditions, however, this has a lot to do with the atmosphere that is created, since it is the one that forces these characters to face them. Fate is often spoken of, alluding to an external force, such as the elements of nature, which maximizes the tension of the piece. A sample of this are the stories known as the “hero’s journey”.

Human contradictions

One of the most frequent aspects of this subgenre is that it highlights a series of human contradictions that are configured in realistic pieces in which the characters face situations that generate dilemmas between feelings, emotions, decisions, etc.


Although tragedy and comedy are present throughout the play, sarcasm is another of the most important elements of tragicomedy, since it increases the intensity of human dilemmas and contradictions. Sarcasm is presented from the comic element with the incorporation of parody, taking into account the popular context.

Strong ending

Although it depends on the way the play is developed, the main character can experience a positive or negative ending. Thus, if the character has had a comfortable life, his ending will automatically be tragic, while if his life has been tragic, he will have a comic ending. However, it must be taken into account that the message it constitutes for the audience must be clear, and it is not a general rule the way of ending.

Structure of the tragicomedy

Taking into account the brevity of this type of work, there is no established set of parameters for the composition of the tragedy beyond the incorporation of the characteristics that we initially presented. That is why the characterization of characters, seated in a specific role, social class and mode, allow the play to be reproduced more quickly and from the beginning the audience has an idea of the forms of each character in their ways of acting and thinking, as the initial identification of the unfortunate, who will be the object and victim of the circumstances. In this way, all the information is obtained quickly and the basis or plot of the play is passed on.

The ending, on the other hand, after the almost joint approach and development, will be presented immediately, almost always evident in the last minute of the work. Often authors tend to develop a happy ending after a whole path of suffering and pain, although this may vary in the works, contexts and contents of the stories.

How to write a tragicomedy

How to write a tragicomedy?

Now, taking into account all the above, the steps to write a tragicomedy would be as follows:

Plot the plot 

Keep in mind that the tragicomedy consists of only one act, so the writing of the play must be, for the most part, concrete and clear for the audience, since the brevity of its duration requires it to connect with the spectators and achieve their complete understanding.

Tragicomedy links universal themes, so you can choose almost any type of theme to develop your play, for example, the impossibility of the protagonist to manage to keep a kingdom, the escape from reality, among others, as long as you can include both tragic and comic elements in its content.

Identify the characters

In the characteristics section, in the characters, you will find a list with the most representative figures of the tragicomedy. Each of them has a role, such as the servants, related to farm work and labor, the protagonist who is usually the tragic hero, the lady who is usually the one who waits for her hero, etc.

Do not leave out the funny character, it will be the focus of attention to generate humor within the play. In many cases it is usually represented through one of the servants, so that increase the misfortunes in his life with those humorous dyes.

Develops the content 

It raises the plot from background, a conflict, confusion or fact that manages to bring to the climax of the play for its final and immediate outcome. This moment will be the most tense, so it must be developed in a clear way for the viewer with a language that is specific to each type of character.

Finally, the way in which the tragicomedy ends must be forceful and clear, after the combination of happy and sad moments, the end must be developed in a concrete way almost in the last moment after much suffering or excess of comedy, this depends on the particular intention of the author.

Check the result 

Once you finish writing, check the content very well. In many cases, authors prefer to review the text after several hours to let the idea rest and see if there are any modifications or arrangements they wish to make. Correct spelling, dialogue or whatever is needed. Read it aloud and accentuate the tone in those dialogues of greater force that highlight the tragic and comic tinge in a concrete way.

Remember that before you start writing, it will be necessary to review some references such as the ones we present in a moment, they are classic tragicomedies that will allow you to expand your writing boundaries, experience different situations and in general, nurture your imagination when writing.

Most important authors and plays

The first tragicomedy play of which there is evidence is called “Amfitrión”, a play written by Plautus, an author born in Rome around the third century BC. Some other exponent authors who worked on tragicomedy are: Pedro Calderón de la Barca, Lope de Vega, with works such as “La vida es sueño”, “La dama boba”, among others. Other works of which there is evidence of this subgenre are “La Celestina”, tragicomedy written by Fernando de Rojas, whose original title was “Calisto and Melibea”.

Example of tragicomedy

The following is an excerpt from the play “La vida es sueño”, written by Pedro Calderón de la Barca:

Know if the sight of me today frightens,

that my master was my master a dream that tells me and disenchants me

that it is a sweet lie

all that happens in this life:

because when I woke up,

all is wind, all is nothing.

Well as the representative,

who having been a Monarch,

returns to be your slave,

when the Comedy ends;

And humbly beseeches you,

that you forgive him his faults.

What do you admire? what frightens you?

if it was my master the dream,

and I am fearing in my anxieties,

that I shall awake, and find myself

again in my closed

prison, and when it is not

dreaming is enough:

for thus I came to know

that all human happiness

in the end passes as a dream;

and today I want to take advantage of it

as long as it lasts,

asking for forgiveness for our faults

forgiveness, for it is so proper for noble breasts

it is so proper to forgive them.