Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Selma A. Zebouni


This study has attempted to identify the specificity of tragicomedy in light of the lack of any critical consensus as to its nature by looking at tragicomedy as theatre. Theatre's difference from other genres lies in the importance of the spectator's role in the theatrical event, and it is the premise of this analysis that it is in the role of the spectator that the specificity of tragicomedy is to be identified. Whereas in tragedy and comedy the spectator is made to participate in closure by a well-constructed structure which leads him/her to a conclusion ("catharsis" or "epiphany"), this study finds that in tragicomedy (s)/he is denied this role. In order to understand why at a certain period---in this case the Baroque---a specific genre dominates, it was necessary to look to the intellectual milieu of the Baroque. This milieu is identified as a period of transition: from a world envisioned as a totality (cf. Foucault) where reaching Truth of Essences is considered to be possible---to the episteme which displaces it: that dominated by the possibility of attaining knowledge of phenomena as truth (modern science). There is a shift from the notion of Truth in the word/world to that illustrated by Descartes' Cogito where knowledge is founded in the individual consciousness: a positing of a subject that can attain knowledge of the world as object. The period being identified here is the Baroque: characterized by the "impossibility" of attaining Truth of Essences while at the same time not yet attaining knowledge. The characteristics of the period (illusion, ambiguity, emphasis of appearance over reality) are present in tragicomedy as well---with the end result that there is a disruption of the traditional structure and function of theatre. In this study some of the devices used in tragicomedy to destabilize the role of the spectator have been identified by the analysis of certain plays of the period with the conclusion that the specificity of tragicomedy lies in its denial of the role the spectator plays in traditional theatre.