Critical Summary: Bernard Shaw’s Tolstoy: Tragedian or Comedian?
Shaw begins his critical article by explaining the differences between the popular and classical definitions of comedy and drama. He then expresses his belief that the British school defies these definitions by intermingling them together within their literary works, thereby creating a “…third variety of drama” (Gerould, 430). Shaw defines the typical formula of this third theatrical form of drama by describing its beginning as a tragedy that evolves into a bitter and ironic comedy by its end. He resists the impulse to refer to this form as a melodrama. He does this by defining the interplay of tragedy and comedy within this third theatrical form as a juxtaposition, rather than a combination, of the two theatrical forms. Shaw believes that the intermingling of tragedy and comedy within this third theatrical form strengthened with the formation and growing popularity of the novel. He supports this idea by describing the artistry of effective incorporation of tragedy and comedy within literary texts, using the works of Dickens and Antole France as examples.
After completing his discussion about Dickens and France, Shaw expresses the belief that comedy transformed itself into the third theatrical form what was defined as tragi-comedy. He continues this argument by describing how comedy’s indulgent and outrageous horseplay declines into serious and catastrophic ironies. Shaw argues that this tragi-comedy became even more severe than tragedy itself through the works of Ibsen. He believes that Ibsen’s plays accomplish this by posing challenging and socially relevant and provocative questions to his spectators. Shaw believes that this results in the elevation of comedy, resulting in the modern tragi-comedy as a theatrical form that is able to progress from previous forms of tragedy and comedy.