A tragicomedy is a play that has both tragic and comedic elements. It can be a tragedy with a happy ending, or it can be a tragedy with enough comic relief that the mood of the entire play is improved.
Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice is a tragicomedy. The play includes tragic elements-Antonio's fleet is lost at sea, so he owes a "pound of flesh" to a Jewish money lender. Portia's father dies and she must marry the man who chooses the correct casket from among three choices. But, in the end, everything turns out well. The Jewish moneylender is tricked (by Portia disguised as a law expert) not to take the pound of flesh, and after all that, the fleet is actually discovered to be safe. Portia's former suitor, Bassanio, chooses the correct casket.
The movie O Brother, Where Art Thou is a modern example of tragicomedy. Three escaped convicts experience much difficulty traveling to the leader's (Ullyses Everett Magill) homestead to retrieve a treasure. The homestead is flooded before they can get the treasure, and Magill finds out that the wife he left behind is marrying someone else. But, along the way, there are many comedic elements-including "sirens," women who lure the men and turn one of them into a frog, and in the end, the convicts put out a hit record as the "Soggy Bottom Boys."
The book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg is an example of tragicomedy. The main character, Idgie Threadgood, is an elderly lady telling her story to Evelyn. Idgie's beloved older brother died when she was a little girl, but Idgie forms a bond with Buddy's love interest Ruth. Ruth marries someone else, who abuses her. Idgie, now a young woman, goes to rescue Ruth, and the two women live together-raising Ruth's son-who loses an arm when hit by a train. Idgie tells Evelyn many events from her life-some funny, some tragic-and over the course of the novel, Evelyn's own life is transformed through what she learns.
Literary Terms Examples