The two major forms of Greek drama were the tragedy and the comedy.
Plato, who was Aristotle’s teacher, used the rhetorical definition of comedy and tragedy.
According to the rhetorical definition:
Modern literary definitions of comedy and tragedy are mostly based on Aristotle’s idea, although the definition has been simplified. There are two ways to look at it.
One way is to say that a comedy is a story that treats characters and situations in humorous way and ends happily for the protagonist, and that a tragedy is a story that ends unhappily for the protagonist.
Another way is to look at it in terms of the protagonist. If the protagonist succeeds in his or her goal, the story is a comedy, and if the protagonist fails it is a tragedy.
This last definition is my favorite because it cleans up a lot of messy situations. For instance, Cyrano de Bergerac is considered a comedy, but consider the ending. Cyrano is poor. He is murdered in a cowardly fashion by his enemies. Roxane has withdrawn from life and is living in a convent. So how is this a comedy? Cyrano has accomplished his two goals. First, in spite of tremendous pressure, Cyrano has stayed true to his principles. His enemies were never able to break him and make him bow under pressure. Second, Cyrano has confessed his love to Roxane, and she comes to realize that she has loved him her whole life.
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