Comedy is defined as a literary work that is written with the intent to entertain and amuse readers. In a comedy, characters may suffer in some way, but they are typically comedic situations with positive outcomes.

Comedy Genre Key Characteristics

Although the genre is called comedy, not all literary comedies are funny in the traditional way. As opposed to protagonists in tragedies, who are often complicated and flawed, comic protagonists tend to be less realistic, simple, and even foolish. Comic plots tend to include some elements of sadness and suffering, but often result in a happy ending, with the protagonist coming to a positive realization of some sort.

There are important elements to a well written literary comedy. First, There must be a lot of expression and communication between characters and the characters and the reader. Second, they must be original and lighthearted, with intelligent writing. A good comedy has the perfect mix of silliness and entertainment, while not being too crass, but sometimes just crass enough. Finally, the timing and rhythm is important. To keep readers entertained, the use of certain words at certain times, and the pattern of the story is critical.

The word comedy is connected to the Greek verb meaning “to revel”, and takes inspiration from the playful antics of Greek god Dionysus, a god of wine and theater. Aristophanes, a comic playwright, wrote over forty comedies, some of which were obscene and offensive. The ancient Greeks often used comedies as ways of mocking powerful and vain men, portraying them as foolish and overindulgent. William Shakespeare wrote several comedies, which differed from his dramatic tragedies. Some common plot patterns that he used include arguments between characters, mistaken identities or disguises, deception, and characters overcoming obstacles so that they can reunite. Most of Shakespeare’s comedies revolved around love, and the tension and passion that goes along with it.

There are many types of comedies including tragicomedy, romantic comedy, sentimental comedy, and dark comedy. Although the works in the comedy genre originated primarily as plays, there are many modern novels that are considered comedy and entertaining for children to read.

Examples of Comedies

Comedic Plays

  • Lysistrata by Aristophanes
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
  • The Pillowman by Marin McDonagh
  • Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

Shakespearean Comedies

Comedies for Kids

  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl
  • The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John
  • Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
  • New Kid by Jerry Craft
  • The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier

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Learn more about genres of literature in our Picture Encyclopedia of Literary Genres!
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