Compare and Contrast Tragedy and Comedy
Length: 1019 words (2.9 double-spaced pages)
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A tragedy is defined as beginning with a problem that affects everyone, i.e. the whole town or all the characters involved, the tragic hero must solve this problem and this results in his banishment or death [run-on sentence]. A comedy is defined as also beginning with a problem, but one of less significant importance. The characters try to solve the problem and the story ends with all the characters uniting in either a marriage of a party. Although these two genres are seen as being complete opposites of each other, through further analysis one can gather that though they are different certain similarities can also be seen.
One aspect of these genres that can be compared and contrasted is the narrative or plot. A comparison can be analyzed in that both begin with a problem. In Oedipus Rex, the play begins with a plague devastating the city of Thebes. In A Midsummer Night's Dream there is also a plague that is upon the land. However, a difference between these two beginnings is that in Oedipus Rex the citizen are effected by it to the point that they look towards Oedipus for a solution to their suffering; while in A Midsummer Night's Dream, the effects of the plague are never shown to the audience and it seems a minor detail. Another difference is the cause of the plague in the two plays. In the tragedy, Oedipus Rex, the hero ends up being the cause because he murdered the king; while in A Midsummer Night's Dream the cause is a fight between Titania and Oberon.
Another point that can be compared and contrasted is the search for a solution in the plots. In Hamlet, Hamlet is searching for the truth to discover if his father was really murdered by his uncle and if this is true he must correct the situation by killing his uncle. Also, in Oedipus Rex this plot is seen in that Oedipus is searching for the truth about the murder of the old king, Laios, and the situation will be resolved by the murder being banished from Thebes. In contrast A Midsummer Night's Dream is more centered around the lovers trying to overcome the forces that separate them and Oberon seeking revenge on Titania.
However, in Desire Under the Elms, the characters Abbie and Eben are trying to overcome the forces that keep their love in secrecy. The end of the plays is another contrast because all the tragedies end in death or banishment but in A Midsummer Night's Dream they all live happily ever after and unite in marriage and have a party. The plague mentioned at the beginning is forgotten and the character puck tells the audience that all is well.
Another aspect of comedy and tragedy that can be compared and contrasted is the characters of the play. A similarity is that in the tragedies of Hamlet and Oedipus Rex the main characters are royalty, and in the comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream the characters of Titania, Oberon, Hippolyta, and Theseus are royalty. Also, in Desire Under the Elms the characters are farmers and in A Midsummer Night's Dream the characters of Bottom and the other persons in his play are also men who work with their hands. A difference between all these characters is that in the tragedies all the characters are dealing with serious issues that effect the whole outcome of their lives in that they die due to the problem or are banished as outcast from their homes or are sent to jail and are uncertain of if they will live. While in comedy the characters are faced with serious problems but it is handled in a humorous way with a sense that all will end well. This is in A Midsummer Night's Dream when Hermia is faced with the serious option of a loveless marriage, a life as a nun, or running away from home; however the consequence of her choice to run away from home is solved with magic and the silly switching of loves that is righted in the morning. [well-put] Another aspect of the characters is the use of humor in the plays. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the characters of royalty use high humor and wit; likewise Hamlet uses wit and at the party in Desire Under the Elms a kind of wit is used. Also, in A Midsummer Night's Dream the character Bottom uses low humor by inappropriately using words, using body and food humor. This is also seen in Hamlet with the gravedigger scene in that they mispronounce words; and in Desire Under the Elms in that the brothers Simeon and Peter use low humor. One of the big differences between the humor used by the characters in comedy and tragedy is that the humor in tragedy takes on a dark tone due to the context that the humor is used in. It can't be light humor because it's about serious subject matter like death and incest.
Finally, the audience appeal in comedy and tragedy is an aspect of the two that has similarities and differences. The audience in a tragedy leaves that tragedy with a sense that they have witnessed something so horrible that their lives are good in comparison. Also, in the case of the three tragedies we have studied the audience gets to vicariously fulfill the taboo of the Oedipus complex and see the horrible consequences to that desire. The audience appeal in comedy is that they get to see serious problems dealt with in a humorous manner that can help them see that their problems may not be as serious as they thought. While the audience sees the subjects dealt with in different ways both comedy and tragedy help them to gauge their own problems in comparison.
While comedy and tragedy are usually viewed as two entirely different subjects, there are some similarities between the two. They both begin with serious problems but the true difference is in the way those problems are handled and the consequences that the characters suffer from those problems.