The UVic Writer's Guide


Tragicomedy is drama in which the action moves towards catastrophe like a tragedy, but fortunate events or actions intervene to bring about a happy ending.

This plot pattern is described in Aristotle's Poetics (fourth century B.C.) as a kind of tragedy involving mistaken identity among close relatives or friends, in which a timely recognition prevents the protagonist from killing a loved one (as in Euripides' Iphigenia at Tauris (ca. 413 B.C.).

But the term tragicomedy is also applied to Elizabethan and Jacobean drama which follows these patterns and often includes characters of different classes (instead of only those high in degree). Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale (1610), which also combines aspects of romance and pastoral traditions, has a tragicomic plot in which Queen Hermione is falsely suspected of adultery and condemned to death, seems to die, and in the last scene is reunited with her penitent husband.

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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated May 13, 1995