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Early Modern Tragicomedy

Early Modern Tragicomedy

Subha Mukherji
Raphael Lyne
Volume: 22
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 228
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  • Book Info
    Early Modern Tragicomedy
    Book Description:

    Tragicomedy is one of the most important dramatic genres in Renaissance literature, and the essays collected here offer stimulating new perspectives and insights, as well as providing broad introductions to arguably lesser-known European texts. Alongside the chapters on Classical, Italian, Spanish, and French material, there are striking and fresh approaches to Shakespeare and his contemporaries - to the origins of mixed genre in English, to the development of Shakespearean and Fletcherian drama, to periodization in Shakespeare's career, to the language of tragicomedy, and to the theological structure of genre. The collection concludes with two essays on Irish theatre and its interactions with the London stage, further evidence of the persistent and changing energy of tragicomedy in the period. Contributors: SARAH DEWAR-WATSON, MATTHEW TREHERNE, ROBERT HENKE, GERAINT EVANS, NICHOLAS HAMMOND, ROS KING, SUZANNE GOSSETT, GORDAN MCMULLAN, MICHAEL WINMORE, JONATHAN HOPE, MICHAEL NEILL, LUCY MUNRO, DEANA RANKIN.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-535-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. viii-x)
    (pp. 1-14)
    Raphael Lyne and Subha Mukherji

    This is how John Fletcher summarises the characteristics of tragicomedy for the readership of The Faithful Shepherdess (first performed 1608–09, printed c.1609). Its theatrical audience had not been won over by its version of the latest trends in Italian pastoral drama, so this is an attempt to answer their objections. As a brief rejoinder to some basic incomprehensions about what a tragicomedy might have in it, it serves its function, but as the most famous contemporary statement explicitly about this emerging genre on the English stage, it is partial and misleading. For there is nothing here that can keep...

  6. 1 Aristotle and Tragicomedy
    (pp. 15-27)

    Aristotle is, to modern thinking, a most unlikely champion of tragicomedy: for us, he is the tragic theorist par excellence. There are very few discussions of tragedy, even today, which do not register some debt to Aristotelian theory, and the Poetics has provided us with a set of terms and concepts which have become something of a fixture in our critical vocabulary. Here we might think of the ‘Aristotelian Unities’ – an idea which is not straightforwardly Aristotelian at all, but was first formulated in the terms that are now familiar to us by the Italian critic Lodovico Castelvetro (c.1505–71).¹...

  7. 2 The Difficult Emergence of Pastoral Tragicomedy: Guarini’s Il pastor fido and its Critical Reception in Italy, 1586–1601
    (pp. 28-42)

    As was so often the case with debates over new literary works in sixteenth-century Italy, the dispute over Battista Guarini’s Il pastor fido (1581) engaged its participants in reflection on both the details of the text, and broader literary theory. Criticism of the two most widely debated works of narrative poetry of the period, Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso and Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata, for instance, had provoked discussion of broader questions over the validity of their respective genres, their moral utility, the role of pleasure in the reader’s experience, and the appropriateness of their linguistic style.¹ At stake in this...

  8. 3 Transporting Tragicomedy: Shakespeare and the Magical Pastoral of the Commedia dell’Arte
    (pp. 43-58)

    Early modern tragicomedy was an international genre, originally emanating from the particular alchemy of theory and practice that distinguished sixteenth-century Italian humanist drama, and in large part sustained by the professional companies whose zenith in Italy closely corresponded to Shakespeare’s lifetime. An international, Italian, perspective on tragicomedy, which this essay aims to provide, can cast the dramaturgy, motifs, character system, and emotional registers of English tragicomedy in a new light, especially in regard to Shakespeare, who among English early modern playwrights has the most affinity with Italian dramatists if we consider genre systems and theatrical structures, as opposed to merely...

  9. 4 The Minotaur of the Stage: Tragicomedy in Spain
    (pp. 59-75)

    Tragicomedy, notoriously difficult to define, is fundamental to early modern Spanish theatre, and especially to the period of its greatest success, which corresponds closely with the writing careers of the three best-known playwrights: Lope de Vega (1562–1635), Tirso de Molina (real name Gabriel Téllez, 1583–1648) and Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–81). However, the often vague classification given on printed editions means little, for the general term for plays was simply comedia, a term which did not preclude tragic content, and a play could be referred to simultaneously as comedia and tragicomedia.¹ While this is comprehensible, there...

  10. 5 Highly Irregular: Defining Tragicomedy in Seventeenth-Century France
    (pp. 76-83)

    French tragicomedy is a strange fish. If its impact were to be measured by the number of seventeenth-century tragicomedies which are still performed today, one could only conclude, to continue the angling metaphor, that tragicomedy is the one that got away. After all, the only tragicomedy from the period which everybody knows about, Corneille’s Le Cid, suffered the indignity (or should it be dignity?) of being renamed a tragedy by Corneille himself a number of years after the first performance. Yet, to assess tragicomedy on these terms alone would seriously underestimate the importance of the role it played in the...

  11. 6 In Lieu of Democracy, or How Not to Lose Your Head: Theatre and Authority in Renaissance England
    (pp. 84-100)

    This chapter traces a journey that began for me in 1996 at the Globe Theatre in London when I became dramaturg for a production of Richard Edwards’s play, Damon and Pythias. This, the first designated tragicomedy to be written in English, had its likely first performance at court by the children of the Chapel Royal during Christmas 1564–65. It is thus twenty years earlier than Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido, and more than forty years earlier than The Faithful Shepherdess, John Fletcher’s version of Guarini, and the play with which most critical accounts of tragicomedy in England begin.¹ Edwards’s play,...

  12. 7 Taking Pericles Seriously
    (pp. 101-114)

    Sometime in the early winter months of 1609 two young men must have had a rather unhappy and worried conversation. Perhaps for mutual support both emotional and physical they had it in the bed they so famously shared – as it was no doubt cold, and the conversation was largely about failure. As the new year began Francis Beaumont (b. circa 1585) was about twenty-four; his good friend and collaborator John Fletcher (b.1579) was turning thirty. They had worked hard since coming to London and had already written, separately and together, at least four and possibly as many as six plays,...

  13. 8 ‘The Neutral Term’?: Shakespearean Tragicomedy and the Idea of the ‘Late Play’
    (pp. 115-132)

    Critics seem largely to agree that the problems involved in calling the group of plays in the Shakespeare canon from Pericles to The Two Noble Kinsmen ‘tragicomedies’ or ‘romances’ are sufficiently substantial that it is best to avoid doing so altogether. Both terms are seen as too limiting and exclusive adequately to embrace the plays’ extraordinary generic dependencies and possibilities. There are exceptions, though. Alison Thorne’s recent ‘New Casebook’, for instance, in calling the plays ‘Shakespeare’s Romances’, sustains the legacy of E.C. Pettet, Northrop Frye, Stanley Wells, Howard Felperin, Robert Uphaus and others who have championed ‘romance’, though she is...

  14. 9 Shakespeare by the Numbers: On the Linguistic Texture of the Late Plays
    (pp. 133-153)

    Since the late nineteenth century, critics have tried to group some or all of the plays Shakespeare wrote late in his career – Coriolanus, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, Pericles (co-authored with George Wilkins), Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen (both co-authored with John Fletcher) – into a single critical category, usually on the basis of thematic, dramaturgical, or linguistic similarities among members of the group. While there is no consensus on which category is most appropriate for such a grouping (designations such as ‘late plays’, ‘romances’, and ‘tragicomedies’ have been proposed), there is nevertheless a persistent feeling among Shakespeare’s...

  15. 10 Turn and Counterturn: Merchanting, Apostasy and Tragicomic Form in Massinger’s The Renegado
    (pp. 154-174)

    When The Renegado was first published in 1630, it was advertised on its title page as ‘A Tragicomædie’. Since the play was evidently printed under Massinger’s close supervision, and since the dramatist’s formative professional years had been spent as the collaborator and protegé of the pioneer of English tragicomedy, John Fletcher, the descriptor must have been carefully chosen. Taking his cue from the theory and practice of the genre’s Italian progenitor, Giambattista Guarini, Fletcher had done more than anyone in the English theatre to establish the status of tragicomedy as a legitimate ‘third kind’, distinguished from the ‘mongrel’ gallimaufries denounced...

  16. 11 Dublin Tragicomedy and London Stages
    (pp. 175-192)

    James shirley’s narrative poem, Narcissus, or the Self-Lover, was accompanied on its publication in 1646 by a selection of ‘PROLOGVES AND EPILOGVES; Written to severall Playes Presented in this Kingdom, and else-where’. These include a series of prologues written in Dublin between late 1636 and spring 1640: ‘A Prologue to Mr. Fletcher’s Play in IRELAND’; ‘A Prologue to the ALCHIMIST Acted there’; ‘A Prologue there to the Irish Gent.’; ‘A Prologue to a Play there; Call’d, No wit to a Womans’; ‘A Prologue to another of Master Fletcher's Playes there’; ‘A Prologue to a play there; Call’d, THE TOY’; ‘To...

  17. 12 ‘Betwixt Both’: Sketching the Borders of Seventeenth-Century Tragicomedy
    (pp. 193-208)

    Whether or not you concur with the ‘truism’ outlined above, it certainly seems to have become commonplace to claim that tragicomedy and Ireland are thoroughly enmeshed. Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, as the full title announces, is A Tragicomedy in Two Acts; many of Brian Friel’s plays, not to mention recent international theatre hits such as Marie Jones’s Stones in his Pockets or Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane, have been described, in both critical study and newspaper review, as tragicomic; Verna Foster’s recent study of the genre includes discussion of eight examples of modern tragicomedy, three of which...

  18. INDEX
    (pp. 209-216)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 217-219)