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Tragedy or comedy or tragicomedy...

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  • Tragedy or comedy or tragicomedy...

    Just found myself wondering about the storytelling modes that contributors to Prototype X found themselves gravitating towards.

    Did people feel more comfortable with tragedy, or comedy? Or something in between?

    I like Shakespearean and Racinian tragedy quite a bit, but I didn't even consider essaying something in that mode. For genuine tragedy to work, one must start with a protagonist who is in some (or many) ways admirable, then show his fall due to circumstance or personal failing.

    Constructing a character that one feels is in some way "great" is a daunting task. It's much easier to describe something we find silly or funny or contemptible -- or all 3 at once.

    I wonder how other people feel about this issue.

    LSN ("anything for a cheap laugh")

  • #2
    I always felt that the Great Bard did a fab job with 'King Lear' in that the main character was great and silly, funny and contemptible, all at the same time.

    I find I gravitate towards the comic relief characters in the tragedies and so I guess I prefer the comedy in the tragedies rather than the other way around. That having been said, I'm a sucker for the surprise good ending (when it doesn't stretch credibility too far) in something that seems like a tragedy but which obviously is not.

    I also think wonder is under-rated. I love good sci/fi that leads to a sense of "Wow!", especially when delivered in the form of a 'twist' or totally unexpected ending.

    Liked your morbid entry in Perdix' new lexicon for comic-book soldiers by the way :lol:


    • #3
      Re: Tragedy or comedy or tragi-comedy...

      Originally posted by L_Stearns_Newburg

      Did people feel more comfortable with tragedy, or comedy? Or something in between?
      Has anyone seen Woody Allen's new move Melinda and Melinda about this topic. A bit disappointing I thought (the comedy not comic enough). 'Tragi-comedy' - that's 'Waiting for Godot', is it not? Probably closest to real life, which constantly seems to aspire to tragedy, but then falls flat on its face. I don't know, though, I'm partial to a bit of both, myself. But how often do we get the genuine article?
      \" ape reft of his tail, and grown rusty at climbing, who yet feels himself to be a symbol and the frail representative of Omnipotence in a place that is not home.\" James Branch Cabell


      • #4
        Technically speaking its a comedy if no one dies onstage and a tragedy if someone does. :? There's actualy no such thing as a Tragi- comedy.
        Pedantic I know but still valid. I don't particulaly like it either.


        • #5
          Originally posted by Judge
          Technically speaking its a comedy if no one dies onstage and a tragedy if someone does. :? There's actualy no such thing as a Tragi- comedy.
          Pedantic I know but still valid. I don't particulaly like it either.
          Also completely untrue. It's a technical term describing a very specific mode.

          A tragi-comedy is a drama that follows the forms of tragedy, and sets up a "potentially tragic" situation, then deflates it at the end such that everyone and everything is more or less "happy."

          Examples: "The Tempest," "A King and No King," "The Devil's Law Case," etc.

          I don't agree with your definitions of "comedy" and "tragedy," either.


          • #6
            Adlerian makes an interesting point. I wouldn't "completely" subscribe to the definition of tragedy (an old one) that requires that the tragic protagonist be noble, but it's the archetype.

            Modern tragedies are forced to imbue the tragic protagonist with something like "nobility" by showing them to be "great" via some high intellectual, social, or military distinction won by personal merit.

            Some examples from Thomas Mann, "Death in Venice," Doktor Faustus.

            An example from sf: Roger Zelazny's "He Who Shapes."

            If the character isn't in some way exalted, he can generate pathos, but not the sense of tragedy that derives from the classical mode.

            Less than exalted characters are good for comedy, of course. The picaro is one classic model.



            • #7
              Tragedy only applies to Royalty? Yeah! Our Royal Family has become a living, breathing, reality-TV Tragi-comedy!

              I'm afraid 'classical' tragedies always make me laugh, inappropriately, in that back-of-the-classroom fashion. Terrible. Much as I love the play, the end of Romeo and Juliet just cracks me up. I mean, daft cow. And as for him...hilarious.

              Rotten, aren't I? We spent quite a large part of Literature classes writing new, farcical dialogue for 'dark' classics. Encouraged by the teacher, oddly enough...wouldn't be allowed now, I shouldn't think; involves too much freedom of thought


              • #8
                Beeep! Sorry, Perdix, and thank you for playing.

                It's not "Royal" -- it's "Noble". I know that Adlerian wrote "royal," but we know what he meant, and in books from a certain time, one was regarded as a prerequiste for the other. (We've outgrown such foolish notions in modern times, right?) If you subscribe to the antiquated notion that a person can be "noble" simply because of an accident of birth, I suppose you'll believe that the Windsors are "noble." I'd say they were "Royal" (more or less), but hardly possessed of "nobility."

                Modern literature looks for merit in the character that will grant him the possession of nobility of mind or spirit. I'm afraid that disqualifies your "Royals" (such as they are) from consideration.

                Of course, long ago, one had to be "Royal" to be "Noble." Possession of both characteristics seems theoretically possible, but it's not necessarily what one would expect.

                Postscriptum: A number of tragicomedies involved scenarios not unlike those provided by the Windsors: a character who at first glance should be noble, but on closer examination, definitely isn't. Beaumont & Fletcher used this pattern in A King and No King.

                (It contains that immortal speech, "I'm old and rough, and every part except that which should grows stiffer.")



                • #9
                  As for Romeo and Juliet, it's extremely immature. Mercutio steals the show, then he gets killed. We're left with the idiotic Juliet, and the even more mentally deficient Romeo, to entertain us the rest of the way. "A plague on both your grouses!"

                  "Do you bite your thumb at me, Sir?"



                  • #10
                    Some of Shakey's plays appear to deliberately place the farcical emphasis on the 'nobility' or ostensibly central characters; I mean look at Orsino. Right airhead.


                    • #11
                      Quite true. They're usually comedies with an element of fantasy (e.g., "Midsummer Night's Dream") or problem comedies, which is to say, tragicomedies. "Measure for Measure" fits into this category of yours, as does "Twelfth Night." The latter play gives us another pattern: "noble" characters incognito, and put into an absurd situation, sometimes vis-أ -vis "low" characters, like Malvolio.



                      • #12
                        ...tragedy,comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical,
                        historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-
                        comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or
                        poem unlimited...

                        There were quite a few genres in Shakespeare's time too...:lol:

                        Those 'noble' characters incognito mentioned by LSN sound like a development or variation on the classical Greek eiron eg. Odysseus.

                        I suppose comedy should end upbeat with all the characters integrating happily with their circumstances after much ado, wheras tragedy should end downbeat with the 'great' characters suffering disintigration as a result of, in Hamlet's words 'some passion grown too much', for Macbeth - ambition, for Othello - jealousy, for Lear - pride etc.

                        Twelfth Night should technically be a comedy but the characters are not 'integrated with their circumstances' at the end in the classical mould in that Malvolio stalks off in a genuine fit of pique and Orsino never quite convinces that he's going to be happy with Viola, thus implying that Viola won't be either. Olivia, Antonio, Toby and Maria all end with classical comedic integration. That's my take on why Twelfth Night is a 'problem' comedy.

                        Elric is a really great modern character in the Tragic mould, more sophisticated than Shakespeare's chappies, and of course not only the hero (anti-hero) ends in a state of disintigration, so does the whole world (even though Elric heralds a new age with the Horn of Fate you never can feel quite happy about Stormbringer dancing off to be a part of it). And Dancers is a great example of the Comic method, all characters ending in a state of integration with their circumstances.


                        • #13
                          An addendum to this topic occurred to me the other day. (I've been so busy -- still am -- that I've not had time to post it.)

                          The original formula to which Adlerian alluded, that the tragic protagonist must be "noble" (or once, "royal") was an outgrowth in part of the structure of societies in bygone times. The goal for a tragedy was that the the protagonist had to make some decision, or come to some fate, that led to his downfall or death. The trick was that we had to care about the character beyond mere identification and the consequent pathos.

                          In order to have the audience "care" about the character's fate, it was reasoned that he had to have an effect on society outside his immediate sphere of friends and acquaintances. It followed that characters from the highest strata of society (i.e., great nobles of distinction) were the obvious choices. Kings and dukes and princes had enormous impact on the lives of those on the lower steps of the social/political pyramid. People had first hand experience of the sometimes wrenching changes that accompanied the death of one of these people, so that their fate had both a public and a private dimension.

                          Modern tragedies must construct other reasons for why the reader should feel a sense of more than personal loss and purgation when a tragic protagonist dies, for instance. It's very difficult. Thomas Mann built up Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice to try to produce this effect. I'm not sure he succeeds in producing more than deep pathos; most readers just don't feel that strongly when a famous writer or artist dies (although some of them do). The artist just doesn't usually have that much of an impact on the lives of the general populace.

                          There are occasions in real life which elicit this sort of response, perhaps. (Maybe the death of John Lennon for some?) But it's not that easy to pull off in modern fiction. Times and circumstances change. Still, I think it can be done, just not easily.

                          Mes 10 centimes.



                          • #14
                            An interesting book that deals with this topic that I have recently reread after a long hiatus: Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study, by H. D. F. Kitto. Highly recommended.

                            I'm still interested in what others have to say about this topic.



                            • #15
                              Well I'll just add this from a site I found on the net.

                              Aristotle's definition of tragedy: A tragedy is the imitation in dramatic form of an action that is serious and complete, with incidents arousing pity and fear wherewith it effects a catharsis of such emotions. The language used is pleasurable and throughout appropriate to the situation in which it is used. The chief characters are noble personages ("better than ourselves," says Aristotle) and the actions they perform are noble actions.

                              Central features of the Aristotelian archetype:

                              1. The tragic hero is a character of noble stature and has greatness. If the hero's fall is to arouse in us the emotions of pity and fear, it must be a fall from a great height.

                              2. Though the tragic hero is pre-eminently great, he/she is not perfect. Tragic flaw, hubris (excessive pride or passion), and hamartia (some error) lead to the hero's downfall.

                              3. The hero's downfall, therefore, is partially her/his own fault, the result of one's own free choice, not the result of pure accident or villainy, or some overriding malignant fate.

                              4. Nevertheless, the hero's misfortune is not wholly deserved. The punishment exceeds the crime. The hero remains admirable.

                              5. Yet the tragic fall is not pure loss - though it may result in the hero's death, before it, there is some increase in awareness, some gain in self-knowledge or, as Aristotle puts it, some "discovery."

                              6. Though it arouses solemn emotion - pity and fear, says Aristotle, but compassion and awe might be better terms - tragedy, when well performed, does not leave its audience in a state of depression. It produces a catharsis or an emotional release at the end, one shared as a common experience by the audience.

                              Seems appropriate to post a summary of Aristotle's definition of the tragic hero here in this thread. This is probably the classic template and I'm pretty sure Shakespeare was aware of it when writing his plays ie for step 5 above remember Hamlet's 'the readiness is all' speech to Horatio, and for Macbeth a twisted cynical version as his personal 'enlightenment' is pretty much expressed in his 'tommorow and tommorrow and tommorow' speech.

                              Now, what I'm thinking is that there's a fairly strong case to be made for Elric fitting the mould of tragic hero in the Aristotlean sense. This, in addition to all the other stuff Mike worked into the Elric saga as well at such a young age.