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The Definition of Dramatic Comedy

The dramatic comedy is a centuries-old literary genre.

In many ways, it has been the dramatic comedy that has, from a performance perspective, transcended time with the least resistance. This is because technology has been very good to the dramatic comedy. For the dramatic comedy to work, it needs an audience that understands the norms of the society in which the story takes place. Through the mediums of radio, television and the Internet, finding the right audience has become easier, allowing for even more effective dramatic comedies.

Blanket Definition of Dramatic Comedy

A dramatic comedy eschews the almost vaudevillian approach to comedy, and instead infuses comedy within the structure of society. As such, the comedy within a dramatic comedy is propelled by the ways in which the characters’ thoughts and actions are in disharmony with those of greater society, and the perils that ensue as a result of these flawed thoughts and actions. Still, in the end, some remarkable twist of fate saves the characters and re-established them within the harmony of society.

Chiastic Structure

Most dramatic comedies follow what is known as a chiastic structure. This structure involves the characters of the play moving in opposition to society. At the same time, changes in society are accelerating that opposition, so the audience can see the inevitable clash coming. It is when the two meet that the comedic twist of fate intervenes, avoiding disaster and putting the character and society back on parallel paths.

Difference from Traditional Comedy

What separates a dramatic comedy from a traditional comedy is, oddly enough, the audience. For a dramatic comedy to work, the audience must have a sophisticated enough understanding about the culture in which the story takes place to understand how the actions of the characters conflict with said culture. Traditional comedies require much less understanding to that degree, and can rely more heavily on the basic understanding of human nature and even simple slapstick to get laughs.

Happy Endings

Dramatic comedies rely on happy endings to convey the comedic message in full form. If it did not, it would tread too closely into the territory of a classical tragedy, wherein the protagonist is ultimately the victim of his own actions. While both the dramatic comedy and the tragedy can freely use irony as a literary device, it is the happy ending that preserves the comedic element of the dramatic comedy.

About the Author

Geoff Hineman has been a professional writer since 2001. His work has appeared in Dodge Magazine, The Ann Arbor Paper and online. Hineman holds a Master of Arts in writing from Northern Michigan University.