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The Tragicomic Passion

A History and Analysis of Tragicomedy and Tragicomic Characterization in Drama, Film, and Literature


Faye Ran-Moseley

The Tragicomic Mode of literary discourse has become more prominent in the twentieth century than at any other previous time in Western literary history. Modern tragicomedy consists of four defining categories: an inconclusive double perspective, one lacking resolution, reconciliation or restitution: contradictory, ambivalent or incongruous mood and effect: a problematic and often protean protagonist and the incorporation of destabilizing and non-naturalistic modes or strategies such as surrealism, absurdity, fantasy, and the grotesque. The dualistic nature of tragicomic creation, perception and reflection, has led to a whole new sense of character, structure and the role of the protagonist or of the protagonist or «hero». These new protagonists reject the notion of reality as a closed system with finite possibilities. Theirs' is a prismatic refraction of the rational and irrational, the mundane and the transcendental, the normative and the anomalous. Their ubiquitous presence in tragicomedy exemplifies our modern penchant for dialectical subversiveness and multifaceted indeterminancy. In twentieth-century tragicomic drama, film and literature, writers, dramatists and filmmakers invariably choose antinomian protagonists or fool figures to embody their explorations of the universal and tragicomic encounter of self and society.