Comedy and tragedy

Authored by: Tanya Pollard

The Routledge Research Companion to Shakespeare and Classical Literature

Print publication date:  April  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9781472417404
eBook ISBN: 9781315613550
Adobe ISBN: 9781317041689


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Although Shakespeare wrote in a wide range of genres, his popular reputation today rests especially on his comedies and tragedies. These genres are often assumed to have been well established in the early modern period because of their classical roots, but their re-emergence was still new, and Shakespeare’s interventions in defining them were both substantial and influential. Scholars have long seen Shakespeare as breaking free from the restrictions of classical models, especially by challenging the boundaries between genres in order to create flexible, hybrid forms with more vivid appeal to audiences. 1 As early as the eighteenth century, Samuel Johnson famously wrote, “Shakespeare’s plays are not, in the rigorous or critical sense, either tragedies or comedies, but compositions of a distinct kind; exhibiting the real state of sublunary nature, which partakes of good and evil, joy and sorrow” (15).

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