Comic Relief Examples
Some texts deal with heavy subject matter and/or include tragic events. A specific type of drama, called tragedy, lives up to its name-including tragic events that alter characters' lives in major ways. When the subject matter is too heavy or tragic, writers will often follow an especially dark moment with something more light-hearted and amusing. This is called comic relief.
Comic relief, by definition, is a literary device used to introduce more light-hearted, amusing events between tragic scenes or events. Authors do this deliberately to help the audience feel some relief from the tragedy. While the purpose may be for comic relief, the events also do help move the plot of the text along.
Shakespeare often used comic relief in his tragedies. This example from Macbeth is from Act II, Scene 3, and it occurs between the murder of the king and when his body is discovered. The porter entertains the audience as he goes to answer the door.
Here's a knocking indeed! If a
man were porter of hell-gate, he should have
old turning the key.
knock, knock! Who's there, i' the name of
Beelzebub? Here's a farmer, that hanged
himself on the expectation of plenty: come in
time; have napkins enow about you; here
you'll sweat for't.
knock! Who's there, in the other devil's
name? Faith, here's an equivocator, that could
swear in both the scales against either scale;
who committed treason enough for God's sake,
yet could not equivocate to heaven: O, come
knock, knock! Who's there? Faith, here's an
English tailor come hither, for stealing out of
a French hose: come in, tailor; here you may
roast your goose.
knock; never at quiet! What are you? But
this place is too cold for hell. I'll devil-porter
it no further: I had thought to have let in
some of all professions that go the primrose
way to the everlasting bonfire.
Anon, anon! I pray you, remember the porter.
In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Merry and Pippin provide comic relief as Bilbo Baggins and crew take a perilous journey to destroy the ring. Throughout the journey these two consistently show themselves as practical jokers as well as light-hearted companions for Bilbo:
"I don't think he knows about second breakfast, Pip!"
"What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn't he?"