Melpomene and Thalia have it out

If the theme of comedy (in the oldest sense) is reconciliation and restoration, as Holly wrote in her piece about Thalia, then tragedy must be the opposite – a tale of the irreconcilable and broken. Therefore, in addition to being a great dancer and singer on the weekends, Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, makes her living most days as Chief Instigator of Heartbreak. You have to wonder about this one.

In tragic stories, a frame serves a useful purpose. Even comedy relies on a good tragedy. How else can two be brought together in reconciliation if at first they were not torn apart? But the tragic tale ends before the restoration can take place.

And so it is with Melpomene. She is very good at keeping our vision on the current crisis, framing our situation as irreconcilable and permanently broken. Such is tragedy.

Life is full of tragic moments (even seasons), but we know from experience that there is always more to the story. In the end – the very end – the comic will prevail and it is those (and only those) with broken hearts that will be healed.

Romeo and Juliet had to die at the end of their famous story because, that day, William Shakespeare was writing a tragedy. He’d already chosen his frame. The next day, if he were writing a comedy, perhaps he would have added a scene explaining all that came before as a dream sequence.

No, that would be silly.

Instead, Shakespeare hints at a greater comedy, as the death of the two lovers leads ultimately to the irresistible reconciliation of the feuding families – a healing on the other side of the grave.

Romeo and Juliet remains Melpomene’s – a tragic tale among many such tales in this sad world. But surely Thalia has the last laugh.


Image by Andreas Krappweis via

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