Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tragedy is just comedy cut short?

If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.
Orson Welles

I mean, of course, comedy in the sense of a positive ending, not ha-ha. I was thinking that in popular fiction, we have the same structure as a tragedy, but the tragedy happens in the dark moment ("When the worst that can happen happens"), not at the climax-- in "comedy" there's a climax where the tragedy is resolved and maybe fixed or at least transcended. (The tragedy, I suppose, does have to be fixable-- you don't really have much room for a happy ending tacked on to Hamlet, after all! Everyone's dead! But you know, it IS a happy ending for Fortinbras, who gets a new kingdom without any work at all.)

Hey, I learned something! I was wondering why there's this trend in performances of Shakespeare comedies to have all the actors appear at the curtain call and then dance to some happy music (usually pop). I assumed there was some Journal of Shakespearian Comic Theatre and they'd had an article saying that audiences like this, so all the directors stole the idea. Turns out this has been done since S's time, and it's called "the Jig," and the purpose was to get the audience to see that all the actors were alive again and everyone was happy. (I don't know why they didn't have those after tragedies, where you think they'd be more needed.) What a good idea. It's fun, but what if you could act but you couldn't dance???


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

This post reminds me of the ending credits on Slumdog Millionaire, a dark film iced with a Bollywood dance sequence. I was confused by it, at first, but the intent may be what you mention--to show it was a story, and the actors are all fine, thank you.

writtenwyrdd said...

Interesting tidbit about "the Jig." I'd never heard of it before--despite having been involved with An Actor in my distant past, lol! And even more interesting about comedy vs tragedy. Makes it seem less complicated, which I like. :)

Jami Gold said...


Yes, I see this structure quite a bit in trilogy stories as well. Think Star Wars (and I'm referring to the originals here).

The first movie had a happy ending because no one ever knows how well it's going to do, so they want to make it a stand-alone story with a hint of something more to come (Darth Vader escaping). The second movie was more similar to a tragedy (Han Solo stuck in carbonite, etc.), but most just because the movie ended in the middle of the story. The third movie was really just a continuation of the second, and by the time it ended, we had our happy ending again.

Many people either love or hate the second story in a trilogy for exactly that reason, I think. It doesn't give a clear-cut ending and in some ways is all set-up for the third story. If the writer isn't careful, it can be the "sagging middle" of the overall arc of the trilogy.

(I've thought about this a lot, as I'm writing a trilogy and have to figure out a way to make the second story work. :) )

Jami G.

Likari said...

The Jig -- I love it!

You know those epilogue-like things at the end of books and movies where they tell you what happened to the characters later in life? (i.e., John "Bluto" Blutarsky went on to become a United States Senator)

From now on, I'm going to call that The Jig.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

Interesting fact about The Jig. I actually saw a comedy this summer that ended with the characters singing and dancing. I thought it was just an artistic choice, but now I understand why the director would use it. It really did show the happiness of the characters at overcoming their struggle.

I think that's why there's always "falling action" after the climax. You need to prove that things have worked out.

Dave Shaw said...

Just finished a book that had a few comments on endings at the start of the last chapter. The last comment goes:

However, the number one most overused quote on the subject of endings, happy or otherwise, comes from an old man who lived on a pole in Hawalius, who said simply that "there is no such thing as an ending, or a beginning for that matter, everything is middle."

- And Another Thing..., by Eoin Colfer, the new sixth book in Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy.

Of course, he follows this with more middle that just sort of cuts off.

Cellophane Queen said...

Hmm. Is this where the phrase "the jig is up" started?

I seem to recall a few comedies I went to in Ashland (Oregon Shakespeare Festival) included the cast members coming out and singing during the curtain call.

Leona said...

I love it - the jig is up! I am inherently curious and one of my favorite bits of knowledge is where did something come from. I'm having the same problem as Jami - how to keep the middle from sagging - and still write what needs to be done so that the conclusion isn't a "cheat".

I like the idea of the tragedy proving that life is still there. I recently helped my husband write a three page review (He is the problem child with edits. His paper is "fine the way it is. If I change it it will be messed up." LOL) and one of the points that came up is the zietgist. (Did I spell that right?)

I think the jig is an example of that. The idea to show everyone is okay at the end is strong now like it was then.

And Marva congrats on going to an Oregon Shakespear Festival :)

BTW, all those who know me, I'm back on the internet. We found a house, but couldn't get hooked up until yesterday. I've been going through withdrawals :() lol