A tragicomedy is a comedy with serious elements or overtones*. To what extent can the History boys be classed a tragicomedy?

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A tragicomedy is ‘a comedy with serious elements or overtones’*. To what extent can the ‘History boys’ be classed a tragicomedy?

The play is comic and shows clear features of comedies throughout, such as slapstick humour and farce. This is combined with ‘serious elements’ (often used for humour) such as Hector fiddling the boys, which fits in with the genre of tragicomedy. The debate rises where the serious elements seem not to fit into a comedy, such as the protagonist dying, potentially preventing a happy ending. Some argue there are too many elements that do not fit into the genre of comedies, for ‘The History Boys’ to even be classed a tragicomedy.

Serious elements are used for humour in the play, which fits into the definition of a comedy with serious ‘overtones’. The obvious example for this is Hector fiddling with the boys. When Dakin asks Scripps ‘What happened with Hector? On the bike?’ he replies with comic dialogue, saying ‘I think he thought he’d got me going. In fact it was Tudor Economics Documents, Volume Two’ (pg21). This line always gets a laugh from the audience, and the humour fits into the genre of comedies. As the boys do not take the paedophilia seriously (the audience is aware Scripps is not affected, as he cracks a joke and acts normal), the audience do not either. This distancing effect of comedy allows the ‘serious elements’ to be viewed in a comic, light-hearted way, which fits in to the definition of a tragicomedy. Another example is when Hector hits the boys for using ‘foul, festering, grubby-minded’ language. This is slapstick humour, commonly found in comedies, originating out of a serious ‘element’ of a teacher hitting their students.

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However, some would argue the play couldn’t be classed as a comedy at all, as it does not have a happy ending, which is vital for comedies. The protagonist, Hector, ‘came off’ his motorbike in a crash. Scripps makes what happened to Hector clear when he says ‘someone dies at school and you remember it all your life’(pg 106). Normally in a tragicomedy the ending will have a sense of catharsis, but there is arguably not one in the play, as it ends on what seems to be his funeral, where (according to stage directions) there are ‘photographs of ...

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